“I am Sankei Kenga, CEO of Cool4Skul, a startup that provides digital access to university students as a way of pushing for a vision driven economy.”
Before we get down to what Sankei had to say and what Cool4Skul is all about, anyone who has passed through university will tell you that laptops are a treasured resource on campus. Whether you will use it to catch up on series, do some gaming or finish up assignments two hours before they are due, it is always better to have your own machine than relying on the school’s computer lab.
That aside, the problem of “half-baked” university graduates is nothing new in the Kenyan space and various factors can be attributed to it, but one that stands out of the stack, is that graduants do not have the skills required by the current job market. This has left many unemployed, despite their educational background.
According to public records, out of a working age population of 24 million Kenyans, one in every six is unemployed. Global Talent Competitiveness index of 2017, places Kenya at the 97th spotout of 118 economies globally, when it comes to talented skill.
The study, states that Kenya is lagging behind the sub-Saharan mean in several key indicators, including vocational and technical skills, retention of skilled talent and opportunities for growth and development of talent.
Being part of the change
Such statistics are what drove Mr. Sankei to start Cool4Skul. Cool4Skul aims to create an environment that will enable university students to get access to tools (digital devices) that will empower them to get skills like programming, design and entrepreneurship.
“If I am able to enable the university students develop a skill, commercialize or become entrepreneur, I would have enabled these young people to have a hope,” said Sankei. “I want to be part of that change that if I look back, I can say, I did my small part,” he added.
The small part he refers to, is not small at all. Modesty aside, the idea behind Cool4Skul, is to enable students to get laptops on loans and pay for them throughout their campus life in installments.
Universities would have to be signed up on the platform for their students to eligible to join the program. Students would then access the platform via cool4skul.com and apply to join the program. The loan repayment period and amount would depend on the year of study of the student, first year students would have more time and pay less per semester compared to third year students who apply to join the program.
Cool4Skul, in collaboration with other industry players, would then offer training through what Sankei refers to as “Ideas factory” to these students to build various relevant skills, in the digital space, that would adequately prepare them for the job market.
Achievements so far
For the past one year, since the company was formed, they have managed to bring together partners such as Microsoft, Dell, Jamii Bora Bank and JKUAT’s Taifa laptop.
Two private universities, Africa Nazarene University and St. Paul’s University, have also been onboarded and have been part of the pilot program since January 2017.
Cool4Skul, has managed to get the very first Microsoft Shape the Future – a program that allows education institutions to purchase devices with discounted Windows licenses from Microsoft’s partners – consideration in the region for these universities. This partnership is where Dell comes in, to provide the machines at subsidized prices.
So far, Cool4Skul has received over 300 full applications for laptops from the participating unversities and the company has projections of up to 7,000 applications during the upcoming September intake, thanks to the Kenyan government, through Africa Development Bank, offering laptop loans of up to $400 to students who will be enrolling to universities in September, in a bid to support the Ajira program.
“Manufacturers don’t take you seriously if you cannot talk numbers,” Sankei notes. During the conception of the idea, like many startups, Cool4Skul did not have backing from any incubation hub or funding from investors or even support from educational institutions. This meant that they (Cool4Skul), had to convince the manufacturers that they need to lower their prices for students, students that they could not quantify.
“It takes 20 years to become an overnight success”
Despite facing challenges that lasted about 365 days, Sankei was not ready to give up on his dream. “It takes 20 years to become an overnight success,” he starts, “a bigger hurdle was banks.” Currently, there is no model that allows a student to get a laptop without paying for it upfront, thus Cool4Skul had to get a financial partner, who would loan the laptop price amount to the students, and the student would be left paying off the loan.
Easy, right? Well, students do not have an income and they are what banks refer to as ‘high risk clients’ and for this reason, most banks did not want to get into bed with Cool4Skul. The unversities themselves would also not agree to take up the loans on behalf of the students, well, because in case a student defaults, it’s the university that would hang.
Miraculously, Jamii Bora agreed to work with Cool4Skul, a move that Sankei terms as “smart and forward thinking” as these students are likely to end up being Jamii Bora’s clients for life.
How the future looks like
Cool4Skul aims to reach 10,000 students in its first phase of operations. To drive towards hitting such high numbers, the company will fully automate its platform to allow universities to sign up without Cool4Skul stepping in. At the moment, onboarding of universities is done manually, with only the student registration being automated.
Mr. Sankei acknowledges that every business has to make financial sense and Cool4Skul makes money by charging an administrative cost for the service they offer, that means that out of every laptpop delivered to students, the company gets some revenue.
Cool4Skul is also aiming to get into the data mining game and utilize the data they will have, to correctly depict and predict the buying trends of students when it comes to computers.
It is not a secret that the startup space in Kenya is not easy to crack, but it is always encouraging to meet people like Sankei who swim against the tide. Mr. Sankei concludes, “Every young person needs to know that life is not a 100 metres dash, if you stick to your guns, work hard, stay driven and not give up, you can make it without taking any shortcuts.”