Grace Kiraguri: My Journey to the 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit – Nairobi, Kenya

Grace Kiraguri: My Journey to the 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit – Nairobi, Kenya

“What you envision in your mind, how you see yourself and how you envision the world around is of great importance, because those things become your FOCUS”

Eric Thomas, Addicted to

{This is a brief reportage of Icon Sports Marketing MD- Grace Kiraguri who was invited and participated at the just concluded Global Entrepreneurship Summit – Nairobi. The Summit was graced by the visiting US President, Barack Obama, and his host Uhuru Kenyatta, President of  Kenya}


One early morning in mid-May this year, as I drove to work listening to the radio, I could hear the excitement by the presenters in regard to Obama’s confirmation that he would indeed be coming to Kenya. I started imagining how it would feel to be part of the Obama craze!

Thinking quick and fast, I decided that as soon as I got to my office desk, I would drop an email to the Kenyan US Embassy Alumni Coordinator and ask for information on how the “US Exchange Program Alumni” (of which I’m a member of) can be part of this home coming.

Alas!  Unknown to me, the US embassy in Nairobi beat me to it! As soon I opened my work emails, I found an email nominating me as a possible participant to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit or abbreviated as #GES, though they plainly stated a nomination is not a guarantee that you will attend the Summit, there would be more vetting! To me this was it.  The fact that my mental power had proved me right! I conceived the thought, envisioned it and I knew it would become a reality! The rest is as they say is history, as I was indeed one of the entrepreneurs selected to represent Kenya in the forum of great minds.


I hurriedly filled out the application forms to the Summit and I must admit after submitting the forms online, I had to sit and reflect on the questions asked.

One curious question in the application was:
“What do you intend to get out of attending GES?”

This question I am sure was a central line of thought for every entrepreneur/ delegate. Listening to many people speak before the GES, their line of thought was geared towards foreign investors, ‘The Sharks’ (from the syndicated TV series Shark Tank), capital funding, up-scaling etc.

For me, this question allowed to me to evaluate my business from the following angles
-    Where are we as a business today?
-    Where do we want to see the business in the next couple of years?
-    How do we intend to get there and do we have the right resources to get there?

At this juncture I shall offer no answers specific to Icon Sports Marketing Ltd, but I walked to GES knowing exactly where my position lies in as far as the above areas are concerned. Therefore the purpose was to get as much information as possible, select what is practical, relevant and applicable to the current business position.

The Summit:

The biggest buzz word in Kenya and the world around this visit was entrepreneurship! In my view entrepreneurship has always been a trendy word for ‘the hustle’ or ‘hustling’! That’s how our world starts and ends…….hustling! And indeed nothing defines an entrepreneur better than that.

Yes, we wake up think of an idea, concept, write it down and imagine it will earn us money. Half the time we are backed by nothing but sheer grit; not even research data or money and more often our faith. And to see the entire world appreciate, applaud and recognize ‘us’ was indeed a welcome breath of fresh air!

So my president, His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta and President of the United States , Barack  Obama would indeed walk in and address a room of 2000 delegates on this big subject Entrepreneurship and this was indeed a dream come true. Their speeches full of praise for all the budding entrepreneurs and their commitment to support the entrepreneurship ecosystem was the realization of a dream for me.

When I started out 7 years ago I groped in the dark. Armed with only my marketing background, I ventured into business. The many hidden and ‘untaught’ challenges   faced by entrepreneur …. I have discovered along the journey.

To quote Pres. Obama
“Entrepreneurship means ownership and self-determination, as opposed to simply being dependent on somebody else for your livelihood and your future.  Entrepreneurship brings down barriers between communities and cultures and builds bridges that help us take on common challenges together.  Because one thing that entrepreneurs understand is, is that you don't have to look a certain way, or be of a certain faith, or have a certain last name in order to have a good idea”

His words would resonate with every entrepreneur in the room, budding or seasoned or start-up. It gave us confidence that whatever industry we are in, we are doing just fine!! For the first time, the world shone the spotlight on us!

Learnings at the GES:

There were series of speaker sessions, challenge hacks, speed mentoring and workshops. We were spoilt for choice and indeed we could not grasp everything, I will therefore just dwell on my favorite sessions.

1.    How to Fail Forward:

This session was moderated by Edwin Macharia of Dalberg Development while the Panelists included: Goodie Odhiambo of Goodies Ltd,   Julian Kyula of MoDe and Jonathan Ortmans, President - Global Entrepreneurship Network.

IMG-20150806-WA0008If there was a new term that was frequently used during the GES, then it’s ‘Failing Forward’! This term does not glorify failing, it simply implies that every entrepreneur should embrace progress in failure. To learn that failing is part of every entrepreneur’s journey was refreshing if not comforting, not many times the rich and successful give us this insight, of how they tried and failed but did not give up.

Entrepreneurship sometimes has no absolute formula, it is a component of luck, street smartness and unmeasured desire to succeed. Failing therefore becomes a learning path that has shaped and honed many great entrepreneurs.

I related with this topic so well, I resonated with all the mistakes I have made in the business, some cost money, some cost reputation and some made a bashing to the ego. To see people speak so humorously about failing and rising after failure was a dose of uplifting mental medicine that will go a long way in strengthening my belief in what I desire to achieve and where I desire to drive the business.

2.    Scaling your Business Operations:
This session was moderated by: Rhett Power. The panelists included Wale Tinibu - Oando Foundation, Ifeanyi Oteh of Ampion, Ayodeji Adewunmi -, Enyo Kumahor of Cobalt.

The panelists were fantastic! They gave real life experiences of how they started small, faced by the common day-to-day problems of getting the right staff, cash flow etc but they stayed true to the cause. Many of us want to wake up and find ourselves rich! It does not always work that way!
It is years of working hard and shaping your business through setting up systems, managing cash-flow, and continuous improvement that moves us from one level to another. The question of capital injection to grow a business also came up.

It was discussed at length with both cons and pros addressed. If you are an early stage entrepreneur, you probably don’t have sufficient cash-flow to support your access to credit and what you need is a funding partner – who can walk with you through the journey to grow bigger and not a lender whose only input is finance.

However, the question to ask here is
“Are you willing to cede equity stake for growth purpose?”

This is the biggest decision that every single entrepreneur has to make!  Is owning 100% share of 1 million worth of business worthwhile compared to retaining 40% stake of your venture after a capital injection that pushes its worth to KShs. 400M? The choice is obviously yours…

I listened to all participants’ contributions and it was obvious that most are emotionally attached to the businesses they founded. For them getting capital injection venture was synonymous to loss of control and flexibility as an owner! So again the choice is left to the founder Entrepreneur.

Remarkably there is really no school to prepare founders of business on how to make these decisions… The gamble and risk lies with every choice they make on behalf of the business, just like mothers struggle with every decision they make for their children hoping they turn out well when they grow up. Such are the dilemmas that face these celebrated entrepreneurs. Every single day, we wake and run, we make decisions for our businesses all with the hope that every decision leads us towards prosperity.

The long and short of the lessons:

Think Big, Start Small and Start Now!

Other GES Goodies
There were a number of key take-aways in general from the GES;

  • A whole bunch of investors.
  • Networking sessions – these were great.
  • Support coming to Africa especially for Women entrepreneur is immense - let’s seize the opportunity as women and go for all opportunities.
  • Launch of the report “ Unleashing African Entrepreneurs released by Tony Elumelu Foundation.
  • Major boost for African start-ups as global firms pledged KShs. 100billion to support entrepreneurs in Africa

 Kenya Hoiyee, Africa Arise!

No Comments Yet.

Leave a comment