The Nairobi Industrial and Technology Park is a project that could spark further growth of the technology industry in Kenya. The project is an initiative by Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology (JKUAT), the government of Kenya and the private sector. The project plans on creating an environment that will facilitate collaboration between universities, R&D institutions, the industry and general market.
In addition, the project aims to enhance locally manufactured technology and encourage uptake of research results by industry, policy makers and society. The project is part of Kenya’s Vision 2030 that recognizes the value of developing at least five small-and medium-enterprise (SME) industrial parks in key urban centers. As stipulated in Vision2030, Kenya recognizes SME Industrial and Technology Parks as key in supporting growth of technology incubation in the country.
“We don’t have industry defined problems. In other places industries define their problems and seek out people to solve them, which then leads people to form businesses around that problem. Individuals who provide those kinds are not very many in Kenya, so that kind of information is very limited. In the end, you find a disconnect between what people are inventing and what the market really requires,” noted Mr. Calvin Kebati, Acting Director at Industrial Park in charge of incubation, innovations and tech expo.
The project idea was initiated in 2008, but the Park itself has been in operation since 2013. The project has three phases, project formulation, development of infrastructure and entrance into the park. So far, the Park’s initial infrastructures have not been constructed. Thus, the Park operates in JKUAT, using the university’s premises and facilities. There are also workshops around the campus that some projects are taking place. Still, the project idea is not operating to the full extent of its capabilities because of lack of space. The park, which is to be constructed on 32 acres of land donated by JKUAT, is expected to have its first offices up by the end of this year, so far though only a perimeter wall has been constructed. Nonetheless, in the next five years, the plan is that the Park will total 200 acres of land, have at leach 60 park staff members, 100 private enterprises, 2000 employees, and graduate at least 30 firms ever year. While the Park’s infrastructures are still under construction, the Park still offers necessary services to current innovators. Some of the services that the Park offers and hopes to offer once full construction is completed are as follows:
•Research and Development support
•Provision of space and infrastructure (roads, water, energy, premises) at subsidized rates
•Other services (to the public) like banking, restaurants, museums, theatres and shopping malls may be provided in future to further subsidize the costs for incubated firms.
“The Industrial Park project is a culmination of implementation of the objectives of [JKUAT]; the first objective is teaching, the second one is R&D (research and development) and the third one is technology transfer. That technology transfer is what stimulates development,” said Dr. Sulema Okech, Director of Nairobi Industrial and Technology Park.
As of now, the Industrial Park project main priorities lie in agro-processing, agro-machinery, electric and electronics, metal, biotechnology, ICT and packaging, but the list is not final yet. Moreover, not all the sectors are presently active. Nevertheless, the Park is currently undertaking four major projects; tractor building, biogas cooking, GoIp and laptop assembly. A different member of the Industrial Park manages each project. Mr. Peter Nyariki is the project manager for the tractor project, Eunice Auma Omollo, the marketing and technical officer is working on the home biogas system, Emmanuel Simiyu , a JKUAT alumni is the brain behind GoIP and finally Mr. Calvin Kebati who is also the Acting Director at Industrial Park oversees the laptop assembly project. The two projects that have already kicked off are the GoIP and the laptop assembly projects.
“If you have for example developed something like a biometric, [Industrial Park] give you space to crystallize the product, we help register it and after we help you commercialize and promote the product. Our first mandate is to provide an enabling environment for development for the university and the country. So while JKUAT graduates students, the industrial park graduates businesses,” Dr. Okech added.
For some time now, JKUAT has been involved in the Madaraka Computer initiative, a Vision2030 flagship project and has overtime built its capacity in assembling affordable computers. Therefore, with the Industrial Park, this capacity is improving, and as of now, the Industrial Park is building and putting up an international standard computer assembly workshop, which should be ready by the end of April. The new workshop will have appropriate features for laptop assembling including; dust proofing, anti-shock floor to prevent electrocution as well as an automated conveyor line.
With JKUAT’s niche in the ICT and technology field and policies that require students to bring their own laptops, the Industrial Park has taken the opportunity to assemble high-end laptops for JKUAT students. So far, around 4000 laptops have been assembled using components from a Chinese company who are collaborating with for the laptop assembly project. The laptop, Taifa, is a progression from EMOD, a desktop that was previously assembled by the Industrial Park. The Taifa laptops are high-end and are actually built based on students’ prescriptions. The Intel core i3 fourth generation laptops have sufficient RAM and specs to handle heavy programs such as AutoCad, a designing software for architects and engineers. In order to make the laptop affordable for students, the laptop costs around KES 51,700 VAT inclusive and can be paid in installments. The laptop has been sold to both students and general market.
The laptop assembly project is aiming to produce around 6000 laptops in the new workshop. The ultimate goal for the Industrial Park is that after 3 years, the Taifa laptop will eventually grow into an established company, Taifa Electronics Limited and produce a range of laptops as well as smaller gadgets. This ambitious project has allowed for employment as well as student participation. While, only a few senior students get to part-time in assembling the laptops, hopefully by the time Taifa Electronics Limited fully emerges, it will offer more opportunities for JKUAT students.
The projects currently are being supported by the Industrial Parks’ deal with different areas of development in Kenya. The tractor project under Peter Nyariki, deals with the issue of mechanization in Kenyan agricultural sector. The project consists of building a small tractor to plow small-scale farms. According to Nyariki, the tractor can plow one acre with just four liters of diesel. Kenyans rely too heavily on manual labor, using ox for plowing, which reduces the crop yield and the tractor project hopes offer Kenyan farmers affordable and efficient means of farming. Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions (SRISTI), the company they are collaborating with for the project, provides components for assembling the tractors. Still, according to Dr. Okech eventually the tractor will be 100 percent Kenyan, especially with the upcoming steel industry and their partnership with a Kenyan company called Numerical Machining Complex.
As the Industrial Park continues to develop, they are seeking partnerships not just with local industries but also with international companies. In most cases, these companies provide materials or components for specific projects that the Park undertake. For example, the Rehau Biogas cooking project is being done in collaboration with a company in Germany, Rehau. In addition, USAID India is sponsoring the tractor-assembling project. These partnerships are being formed mainly because most of the needed materials are not produced in Kenya, although the Industrial Park hopes that overtime, most of their projects will be self-sustaining.
The importance of developing an Industrial and Technology Park cannot be overstressed. The project will address the issue of innovation and investment into local technology businesses. There is a wide gap between the academia and the industry, especially when it comes to technology and an Industrial Park is one method of dealing with the problem. Most emerging economies have an Industrial and Technology Park; from China with over 80 Industrial Park to Brazil with 50 Industrial Parks illustrating that technological innovation is the future. As the world increasingly turns to technology to find solutions for various problems, Kenya must endeavor to become a powerful hub of technological development.