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[NAIROBI] Kenyatta University has set up a business incubator on its campus in Nairobi, Kenya, to help students develop their ideas into commercial products.

The Chandaria Business Innovation and Incubation Centre (Chandaria-BIIC), launched earlier this month (8 July), is said by its founders to be the first of its type in East Africa and, initially, will promote the projects of at least 50 students a year.

The centre, which is also supported by grants and business partners, will foster regular interaction between the students, a team of experts and mentors from Kenyatta University and leading industrialists in East Africa, who will chart out commercialisation of the products.

"The establishment of the centre is based on a private-public partnership to produce market-ready graduates who are job creators rather than job seekers," said Olive Mugenda, vice-chancellor of Kenyatta University, at the launch.

She noted that the centre's model is based on that of leading universities such as Harvard, which promote knowledge transfer between academia and industry, including intellectual property, expertise, learning and skills.

Chandaria already has nine projects in the pipeline, such as an online supermarket, recycling of plastic waste and an intruder alert system, all developed by students at the university.

Mugenda added that the innovations will be incubated for six months to a year, after which the products will be rolled out to market.

The centre's director, Mwangi Peter Wanderi, said: "Chandaria-BIIC is expected to be a significant vehicle towards Kenya's socio-economic transformation through creation of employment and wealth".

Manu Chandaria, chair of the Chandaria Foundation, an education and health foundation in Kenya, and one of the distinguished mentors for the project, said one of the biggest deterrents that puts students off being successful business owners is the distance between education and practicality.

"Kenya's biggest strength is its manpower but unfortunately there are many graduates without anything to put their hands on to create business and wealth for themselves and the country," he said.

Stephen Karimi, head of the agricultural schedule at Kenya's National Council of Science and Technology (NCST), said he hopes the centre will help the various stakeholders to share their knowledge.

Other partners include a youth enterprise development fund that will support students once their ideas have emerged from the incubation process; Telkom-Orange, which is providing free Internet access, and the University of Western Ontario.

The Chandaria Foundation has contributed 25 million Kenyan shillings (US$275,000) to establish the centre, a sum matched by the university.