Paul Akwabi: “Partnerships are more valuable than money when it comes to building a business”
Give us a brief history of yourself?
My name is Paul Akwabi. I am the firstborn in a family of 4 boys. I was born and raised in Nairobi until the age of 9. My dad worked as a civil servant under the ministry of works and my mum stayed home to take care of us. My family did not have much, during our stay in Nairobi, we lived both in Kibera and Mathare slums. Things took a turn to the worst after my dad passed away and my mum was unable to take care of us. I was forced to live with my relatives in Uasin Gishu.
When did you discover that you were passionate about innovation and technology?
When I was 11, I dismantled my aunt’s phone because I was trying to figure out how the mobile device works. I still remember the beating I got that day. I have always had a curious mind. Innovation has always been a part of who I am. In addition to technology, I love acting. Acting gave me the confidence I needed to present my innovations before a crowd. When I was in form 2, I was the first student from my school to get to the National level with a solo verse that I had written. In form 3, I presented 2 innovations, one in physics and a computer software that went all the way to the National level.
While I was still in form 3, I bought a mandazi with the last Kshs 10 that I had. The newspaper that had wrapped my mandazi had an article talking about the Technical University of Mombasa being the best university in Robotics. I decided to go there that day.
How were you able to finance your campus education?
After high school I moved to Busia where I became a hawker, I needed to save money to move to Mombasa to pursue my dream. I used to sell nylon sugar bags. When I was still hawking, I met with the Provincial Police Officer (PPO) of the coastal region Mr. Leo Ijora Nyongesa and he offered to help me out with school fees. I dropped everything, moved to Mombasa, and enrolled at the Technical University of Mombasa. Within my first year of school, I came up with the first mobile application for the university, it was called Academic Digital visitors book. The students downloaded the app to read the university handbook. Through the app the management would communicate to students. The university vice-chancellor was so impressed he forwarded my name to the founder of Techbrige, one of the innovation hubs in Mombasa to help me with my innovations.
How did the idea of TechKidz come about?
The founder of TechBridge introduced me to a 9-year-old kid from Norway. The kid was so conversant with technology, he would even advise me on the technology to use. I was curious to know how he knew so much at a very young age. He told me that he was a member of different technology clubs that helped him learn. I started thinking about coming up with an initiative that would help young kids in Kenya who are passionate about technology. I registered TechKids in 2017 and immediately got 2 students who were willing to sign up for the program. In the same year, I applied for the Make-IT accelerator program at Nailab. This was the first accelerator program that I had ever attended and there I learned how to grow my idea into a profitable business.
What is your most memorable moment while at Nailab?
When we flew to Germany in 2018, I will never forget that. The program sponsored us to attend the CEBIT innovation festival. The exposure opened my mind to a whole new world of possibilities. I decided to build TechKids to be a company that can be scaled globally.
What exactly do you do at TechKidz?
At TechKidz we customize curriculums for training on coding, software development, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and online safety for kids aged between 7 and 18 years. In addition to that, we fabricate robotics that we use for training.
What is the most valuable lesson that you learned while running your business?
Partnerships are more valuable than money when it comes to building a business. Partnerships have played a big role in our success. Allow me to give a few examples; In 2018, we partnered with Young Scientists Kenya and together we trained people in 27 counties in robotics, design thinking, and coding. While still at Nailab I met with Jonathan Mativo who offered to give me 15 laptops to help us in our training. Earlier this year we received a donation from Arrow who gave us the robotic kits that we are currently using for training.
How has the Covid-19 affected your business operations?
Let me be very genuine with you, TechKidz did not make a single shilling in the first half of this year. It was a very stressful time for us, especially me because I had to figure out how to meet business expenses such as salaries. I almost gave up on the business because things were not working. In June, my team and I sat down to brainstorm on the future of Techkidz, we did this for 3 weeks. We decided to conduct the training online, we all had our doubts because online training is not something that we had attempted to do before. We created a poster and we shared it online. To our surprise, we received the biggest application ever. We got 75 applications, 35 from Nairobi, and 40 from the coastal region. We sent the robotic kits as parcels to the students and we began the 3 weeks training program. The training went so well we were shocked. In the next intake, we had 120 students, the number was overwhelming and we found ourselves in a position where we needed to create timetables and divide the students into different classes and time slots.
How were you able to grow TechKids from 2 students to this?
We worked so hard to ensure that the curriculum we were using was giving our students value. The 2 students that we had referred us to their friends. Referrals worked very well for us by the end of the year 2017, we had managed to grow our numbers from 2 students to 34. Out of the 34 students 7 of them had their innovations featured in major newspapers in the country. This gave us credibility.
Has TechKidz ever received any funding from inventors or donors?
We have never received any funding and I would say that this is the best thing that has ever happened to us. Not receiving funding has allowed us to grow organically and this allowed us to channel all our energy in delivering the best services to our students which has allowed us to grow.
TechKidz Africa Website: https://techkidzafrica.co.ke/