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CS Mucheru challenges universities to establish business hubs

ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru has called on both Public and Private Universities in the country to establish business incubation hubs to nurture entrepreneurial ideas among ordinary citizens.

Mucheru has also challenged institutions of higher learning to shift focus on preparing graduates to take up roles in entrepreneurship rather than job seekers in an environment where graduates were finding it hard to secure jobs.

He observed that while the few Universities in Kenya that had business incubation centres were limiting the training and mentorship to their own students, most institutions of higher learning were focusing on theory only, leaving students with no skills for enterprise.

Speaking at Kabarak University’s Main Campus in Rongai Sub-County when he inaugurated the institution’s 11th International Research Conference, the Cabinet Secretary said if all institutions of higher learning provided launching pads for budding entrepreneurs, the current 40 per cent unemployment level in the country could be halved.

While delivering a keynote address during the conference themed ‘Digital Economy in Africa and Innovative Opportunities for the Youth amidst Emerging Economic Challenges’, the Cabinet Secretary indicated that admitting non-students to the business Incubation Centres was viable due to the high number of potential entrepreneurs whose ideas ended up wasted for lack of nurturing opportunities and funding.

He was accompanied by the University Chancellor who is also Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, Vice Chancellor Professor Henry Kiplagat and Dean School of Business and Economics Dr Patrick Kibati in the event that was also moderated via Zoom by Dr Nehemiah Kiprop.

“Cultivating business ideas among youths early holds the key to lifting the country’s economy to a higher pedestal, and could provide a solution to the ever rising cases of unemployment.  The business incubation hubs should have adequate capacity to empower students to be self-employed upon graduation, thereby reducing pressure on the ever thinning employment space.

“Centres for nurturing entrepreneurial ideas among learning institutions could help the country break the unemployment stalemate. The government has been consistently instituting sound policies geared towards encouraging more of these centres,” Mucheru pointed out.

The Cabinet Secretary suggested that in setting up such incubation hubs, Universities should seek public-private partnerships with financial institutions, donor and government agencies, industrialists and other stakeholders to enable budding entrepreneur’s access seed capital to kick-start their projects.

“Through business incubation hubs spread out in our learning institutions, we will be able to ignite the entrepreneurial spirit of potential businessmen and students and make them to rely less on formal employment through provision of seed capital and networking,” Mucheru added.

“Incubation programmes can play an integral role in bridging the gap between knowledge acquired in school and entrepreneurial skills. Most start ups face difficulties in patenting their products and finding markets for new products, a situation that can be remedied by incubation hubs. They can play a key role in serving as a place where academic and entrepreneurs’ strengths merge,” he said.

In the past, universities have been blamed for focusing on teaching theoretical courses which have driven students to rely heavily on the limited formal jobs market as the skills do not prepare them for enterprise.

Mucheru urged Universities to place more emphasis on producing graduates ready for employment by providing the requisite skills needed by the labour market and entrepreneurs who could create jobs for themselves.

“The incubation centres should be fashioned in a way that Kenyan Universities churn out fully-baked graduates and even potential employers to tackle joblessness,” he said

“The arrangement should be that relevant faculties in respective Universities responsible for business and economics offer the curriculum and professors who will take the trainees through the theories of enterprise management while established industrialists provide mentorship,” the CS indicated.

World over, he noted, the traditional universities’ role has changed and entrepreneurial universities are now needed to redirect new knowledge for economic development through business incubation hubs.

Mucheru said it was only through such hubs where research outcomes could be linked with the industry and development through creation of an environment in which investors, financial institutions, innovators and industrialists among other stakeholders could help budding entrepreneurs put their new ideas, special skills and abilities into new businesses.

“The affiliation or management of a Business Incubation programme inside a university represents a great advantage for the entrepreneurs, as these institutions can provide links to the industry, society and government entities,” said the CS.

“Over the past two decades, there have been growing calls for universities to become more accountable to the wider public and to contribute directly to the local, regional and national economic development through taking on a range of “third mission” activities such as incubation of start-up firms, knowledge commercialisation, the development of knowledge transfer partnerships and providing entrepreneurship courses,” observed the Cabinet Secretary.

He indicated that business incubation hubs would transform universities into strategic partners in supporting entrepreneurs to fill the gap by using research results for economic development.

“Well run and adequately equipped business incubation hubs present a variety of economic and socio-economic policy needs which can include wealth creations, supporting high potential small businesses growths, transferring technology, promoting innovation, enhancing links between universities, research institutions and business communities,” said Mucheru.

“Entrepreneurs can benefit from the well-prepared laboratories with computer systems provided by the universities in addition to the well-trained human resources and experts in specific fields. Students, on the other hand, have the opportunity to implement their acquired information to real business cases, supporting entrepreneurship among them,” he added.

Mucheru stated that business incubation hubs would also reinforce links between universities and business communities through transferring technological advances and research outcomes to the market through commercialisation channels.

By Anne Mwale/David Opingo

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