They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also take a community to build a startup. It takes business partners, early adopters, investors, trainers, mentors, advisors, and most importantly fellow entrepreneurs to share experiences with. This is where The Somo Project comes in. Not only are entrepreneurs provided with the training to start their start-up, they are provided with space to develop their idea, and community of fellow entrepreneurs coming from different backgrounds and expertise and the potential of investment at the end of the program. Entrepreneurs part of Somo undertake a 12-week training program as a cohort. These cohorts are a group of business and community driven entrepreneurs. They collaborate, challenge each other, and support each other.
All of the entrepreneurs agreed, that teamwork is an important element of the training. “We were always bonding over the work, I won’t forget the training we share together”*, said Nyabuto, founder of Vitacakes. Exchanging ideas, discussions, and learning to manage conflict between members of the cohort were well learnt lessons that will follow the entrepreneurs into their future businesses. Learning to manage conflict with classmates would help her manage conflict with future employees pointed out Leo from Pendo la Mama (Day Care and Play School). All could remember a good moment with a classmate, may it be a shared smile, a funny jokes, or even simply working together to find a problem.
Coming from background of shared experiences matters too. Somo training is not the easiest, and asking entrepreneurs that have jobs and families to take care of to attend a whole day of classes once a week is a lot. Especially since it has been a long time since some of them have sat in a classroom. However, everyone interviewed feels that they have come out with concrete business skills, financials, banding, and computer skills, and life lessons that will keep motivating them. “Whatever happens, you can apply the training the rest of your life.” mentioned Benard, founder of Vessels, a music school for underserved youth in Kibera, pointing out the important lessons he learnt at The Somo Project like the importance of starting small and not being afraid of failure.
Such confidence is an important part of a cohorts journey through the training. May it be Elkanah, founder of DoubleServe, using his market research learnings to empower himself and reach new clients, or Rose, founder of Bountiful, an organic peanut butter, mentioning how learning how to be confident in herself, her business, and her pitch helped her talk about her business to more people and also grow her customer base, they all mention that learning to trust in the abilities they learn at some is important.
“When is was an Idea, I couldn’t imagine someone else giving an effort for that idea,” Esther will tell you with a smirk and a glimmer in her eyes as she holds her graduation certificate. Confidence was also an issue for her, but seeing the team at The Somo Project invest time into her venture helped her along the way. Rose also mentions the time and effort put in the Somo team. From the application to graduation day: “They took us step by step until we felt competent”.
They all share a sense the Somo Project was helping more than just them. “When you impact an entrepreneur you impact his family, and a whole community” points out Meshack and Susan, founders of AfriKnit dolls. ”Somo is innovative and kind-hearted, because they want to see change happening in the slums,” Benard explains, “people don’t believe new things can come out of Kibera, Somo is willing to invest into people and their ideas. It sees beautiful people with potential, they don't see people who failed.” Lucy from Mfalme Biogas has her own way to put it: “Somo is a great future for Kenyans, because they help Kenyans improve themselves.”
In the end, may it be teamwork, self-confidence, and technical skills, all have completed the Somo Project training with a sense of having grown as a person. And they are thoroughly thankful for the opportunities they got during the 12 weeks. “Somo gave me a platform to help me learn how to do this, it was a need.” will tell you Leo. Nyabuto shared the same feelings: “Call it a success story, a success through training.”
By Dylan Hervé
*This article was written by collecting the thoughts of the participants through interviews following their graduation