Written by: Anshul Bhagi
Jan. 31, 2011
Over 100 guests attended the event, including representatives from Google, Samsung, iHub, Safaricom (largest telephony provider in Kenya), and a number of start-ups. Also in attendance were professional photographer Eric Gitonga (who has graciously provided the photographs included in this blog post), MIT/Harvard documentary film-maker Diane Hendrix, and members of the media/press, most notably KTN (Kenya Television Network).
The event kicked off with a presentation from Dr. Sevilla, the former Dean of the Faculty of Information Technology at Strathmore University and the man behind the innovative Masters program that our 21 students are a part of. Following Dr. Sevilla's opening, Austin and I, the course instructors, addressed the crowd and invited representatives from Google and iHub to the stage to speak about the future of smart-phone technologies and mobile innovation in Kenya.
Following these introductory presentations, we commenced the student presentations, the main part of the event. One at a time, each of the 7 groups took the stage and addressed the crowd for five minutes. Each presentation was followed by a Q&A session in which the audience was encouraged to address questions to the presenting group. For the majority of groups, the flow of questions from the audience was endless, and I had to repeatedly interfere on the microphone and request that we proceed with presentations and save the unanswered questions for the end of the event.
The group presentations were followed by a networking reception during which the seven groups were arranged on separate tables in science-fair format and event attendees could hop from table to table, checking out each group's website (on a laptop) and Android application prototype (on an Android phone).
The event set-up was quite conducive to mingling: tables for the student groups were on one side while tables with food (samosas, sandwiches, and pizza-bites) and beverages were on the other side. In between, there were ample round-tables where people could (and did) gather to make conversation and exchange business cards and ideas.
During the networking reception, I was pleased to see company representatives (Google and Safaricom, especially) approaching groups to express interest in their ideas, to offer feedback, and to suggest next-steps. This, for me, was a sign that the time and effort our students had invested in their projects had produced returns; our teams had been acknowledged by local innovators and technology experts and conversations (about synergies, opportunities for collaboration, funding, employment) had been started that could continue in my absence.
From a sustainability point of view, this was key. The fact that this first "IAP-Africa" produced ideas that were so well received by the local community, and that local companies and individuals are interested in working with Strathmore University to make sure these ideas reach fruition and are actually turned into companies, bodes extremely well for future years and future iterations of the program. It is my goal now to take this success story and share it with stakeholders and potential future sponsors in US and at MIT, so that the impact and accomplishments of this year's IAP-Africa program can be repeated year after year.