Sinapis: Growing small seeds of ideas into strong businesses

Sinapsis graduands

Entrepreneurship is no longer the ‘thing’ people do when they can’t get a job as Silvya Kananu puts it. “There needs to be practical education to help spur budding entrepreneurs to maximize their potential and be able to create scalable.”

Silvya Kananu, Country Manager, Sinapis Organization

Silvya is the Country Manager for Sinapis Organization-a business accelerator program that provides Start-Up entrepreneurs with advanced business training, mentorship and opportunity to compete for funding. In the following interview with Start-Up Magazine, she talks about the early-stage entrepreneurship scene in Kenya and how Sinapis empowers these entrepreneurs with important business tools to play important social and economic roles.

  1. Sinapis has a deeper meaning? Tell us about it and your mandate as a business?

Sinapis is the latin word for Mustard seed; we are a Christian organization and we got this name from the parable in Matthew 13:31-32 that says “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which when it grows becomes the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” We believe just like the mustard seed which is quite small grows to become a huge tree, similarly, at Sinapis we provide businesses with the tools entrepreneurs need to grow their businesses and become a pillar of support for their communities through job creation and economic development.

  1. What interests you about Start-Up entrepreneurs in Kenya?

Start-Up entrepreneurs in Kenya are truly inspiring; they are not your traditional “necessity entrepreneurs” who find themselves in business to survive. There is an increasing number of entrepreneurs who are well-educated, smart, hardworking people who even left good jobs to follow their entrepreneurial passion. They are positioned for success. However, while the passion and determination is there, one of the major areas they struggle in is little or no practical business training, and this gives them challenges in running a profitable and sustainable business, and this is where we come in-giving them practical business training in the most important business areas-Sales & Marketing, Finance, Operations, HR and Leadership.

  1. What programmes have you put in place to support their dreams?

We have a 4-month “mini-MBA” entrepreneurship program that we offer to entrepreneurs; one of the things that makes Sinapis different from other entrepreneurial courses is just how practical the program is. You learn about something in class, you are given a practical assignment in your business which you then implement, and then you see the results. The program is designed for business transformation and from what we hear from our 800+ alumni, this has been a success.

  1. Could you talk about the impact of your programmes and how businesses can take advantage of them to ignite their potential?

To date we have trained over 800 entrepreneurs, and the results have been amazing; 96 per cent of the entrepreneurs said they learnt something that saved their business from failure, with another 98 per cent who said the content was very relevant to their business. The impact has also been felt financially, with the Sinapis entrepreneurs experience an average revenue growth of 143 per cent one year after completing the Sinapis entrepreneurship program.

What I would encourage those looking to start or grow their business-invest in yourself. Many of the things you learn in Sinapis will help you avoid making costly mistakes, and in addition, you will get your horizons broadened and really start thinking big. Your business doesn’t need to remain small, through what you learn, you can turn it into a profitable and large business that will attract investors.

  1. What’s your competitive edge? How unique are your accelerator programmes as opposed to others in the market?

There are a number of accelerator programmes out there, true. But what makes us unique is 3 things: Values-driven, Practicality and Networks. We are a Christian organization and part of what we do during the training is help people understand what role their faith plays in their business; how they can apply and integrate their faith in their business. The program is however open to people of other or no faith, as what is key is learning the principals-we aspire to see a business community in Kenya where corruption is no longer the order of the day, and business is done with transparency and integrity.

Secondly, we are practical. No entrepreneur wants to go to class and learn high-level theories that won’t increase their profit at the end of the day. What we teach them is completely geared towards helping them in their every-day aspects of business; how to attract top talent even when you can’t pay competitively, how to manage your cash-flows so you are never cash-strapped at any point in your business, how to attract the right customers to your business who are willing and able to buy your products and so forth. You leave every Sinapis class with a tool that will transform one aspect of your business

Lastly, is the networks. By joining the class, entrepreneurs get to meet other entrepreneurs who over the 16 week journey will  become firm friends, confidants and will give each other business, or give referrals for business. This is not only limited to the class networks, but the entrepreneurs also join our large alumni network from where they can build even more friendships, get more business and exchange important connections with each other.

  1. From your experience, what do you think can be done to avert Kenyan startups failures and make them compete globally?

A lot of things actually. I think the first thing is to embrace the culture of entrepreneurship from an early age, by including it in the education curriculum.  Entrepreneurship needs to be credited as a viable career path otherwise it will never attract the best and the brightest, who can impact the world through their businesses and innovations. Entrepreneurship is no longer the “thing” people do when they can’t get a job. Entrepreneurship is the future of economic growth in a nation. There needs to be practical education to help spur budding entrepreneurs to maximize their potential and be able to create scalable businesses. Secondly, policies that favor and nurture entrepreneurship. If you look at most European nations, governments have played a significant role in promoting entrepreneurship through government-led initiatives; they have allocated budgets for entrepreneurship and innovation, they have set-up enterprise and innovation hubs as well as favorable tax incentives among others. Thirdly, financial institutions need to develop products that make sense to entrepreneurs-getting a significant loan as an entrepreneur in Kenya is quite difficult, and the banking world just doesn’t see entrepreneur ventures as financially viable. Access to finance is a key hindrance to making small businesses make the leap from a small to a large business.

  1. Other pertinent issue?

In as much an an enabling environment enhances the success of entrepreneurs, ultimately the success lies with you as an entrepreneur- so invest in yourself, your team and don’t be afraid to take on the challenges that come with entrepreneurship. After all, the higher the risk, the higher the reward.