Dr Simon Gicharu founder of Mount Kenya University
Sep. 22, 2015 (All Africa Global
Media) -- Dr Simon Gicharu is the founder of Mount Kenya University. With 16
centres and campuses in East and Central Africa, including Rwanda, Mount Kenya
University is one of the largest private universities in the two regions. This
year, Dr Gicharu scooped the Eastern Africa EY Entrepreneur of the Year, and
was inducted into the World Entrepreneur of the Year Hall of Fame. He spoke to
Business Times' Elizabeth Buhungiro about his entrepreneurship journey:
How did your entrepreneurship
Having acquired a Bachelor of
Education from Jomo Kenyatta University in 1990, I was taken on as a part-time
lecturer. I also taught applied mathematics at Thika Technical Training
Institute (TTTI). However, I had always admired the hard work my father and his
peers put into their small businesses. Therefore, I started the Kenya
Entrepreneurship Promotion Programme (KEPP) to support them.
In 1995, I got a British Aid to
Small Enterprises (BASE) scholarship for a three-month short course on how to
manage enterprise development at Cranfield University. On my return, I
discovered that I had been suspended from my job because I had not formally
asked for leave.
Jobless, with a young family to
cater for, I decided to venture into self-employment to earn a living.
How were you able to afford to start
I started small... My initial
start-up capital amounted to Ksh20,000 ($220), which was personal savings.
Initially, I bought an old pickup truck and I started selling milk. I must say
it felt demeaning. I had been lecturer only a few months before, but now here I
was, lifting crates of milk. However, I continued to draw inspiration from my
father, who had always worked hard to put food on the table.
Education had always been my
passion. I loved education so much so that even when I became an entrepreneur,
it was my sector of choice. Even while I was doing the milk business, I was
still training young entrepreneurs through KEPP. This was in the mid-90s when
computer literacy was beginning to take shape. To equip young people in our
locality with computer skills I bought two computers and a generator because I
was operating in a rural setting with no electricity.
Tell us about Mount Kenya University
I wanted to make the computer
training formal, but it was clear that with two computers I would not make it.
In 2000, I rented a room at TTTI, bought three more computers and started Thika
School of Management Studies. I collaborate with Kenya Institute of Management
for accreditation. However, I realised later that management courses were not
attracting students. So, I decided to introduce health sciences, in 2003 and
changed the name of the school to Thika Institute of Technology. The following
year, I used my savings, school fees and a bank loan and moved the school to
In 2008, I applied and was granted
permission to convert it to a university, and the university got a charter in
Any lessons from your
I have learnt many things; first,
starting and maintaining a business requires critical thinking, persistence and
focus. You have to be focused, like a lion chasing its prey, when you are still
trying to grow the business.
Many opportunities may come your
way, but you have to ask yourself how they will benefit the business. Another
important thing is humility. You will always need people no matter how
successful you are. Success requires being associated with people. Therefore,
stay grounded no matter what you achieve.
Why did you decide to invest in
The return of the East African
Community made it easy to work and invest in the different countries in the
region. I was attracted to Rwanda because I had read some World Bank reports
about the ease with which one could start and do business in the country.
Moreover, Rwanda has a streamlined, well-structured and functioning system.
Once you comply with the law, nobody will bother you.
In your view, when can one be
considered as successful?
Most people think that you are successful
when you have a lot of money. However, success is all about self-actualisation.
You can say you are successful when what you have pursued is now a legacy and
when other people's lives are better because of what you started. Personally,
when I see students from Mount Kenya University building their careers and
lives, I consider myself successful.
During my school days, teachers had
a good life. I used to admire their children and the way they looked nourished
and smartly dressed. I wished for that kind of life and, that is why I decided
to become a teacher.
Growing up in central Kenya
I was born in December 1964, in a
rural village called Gathiruini in Central Province, Kenya. I am the firstborn
of seven children. My parents are peasant farmers. For my primary and lower
secondary, I had to walk about 15 kilometres to school, but joined a boarding
school in high school. My father would pay school fees using income from coffee
farming, but it was not enough. Therefore, my siblings and I used to pick
coffee in people's farms to supplement it.
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Labels: astern Africa EY Entrepreneur of the Year, Jomo Kenyatta University, Mount Kenya University, Simon Gicharu