July 18, 2022

Lessons from the Kenya Small Business Development Centres (Kenya SBDC) Program Benchmark in The United States of America


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In May 2022, the Kenya Small Business Development Centers Program team visited the University of Texas-San Antonio in the United States of America. The aim of the visit was to experience how the Small Business Development Centers at the University are run, and what it takes to succeed and achieve sustainability.

The Kenya Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) Program is a five-year USAID-funded program that aims to empower micro, small, and medium enterprises in six counties of Makueni, Kiambu, Kisumu, Mombasa, Isiolo and Nakuru. These counties are collectively known as prosper counties because of their high potential for economic growth. This will be made possible through the SBDC model that has been tried, tested and succeeded in the U.S for 40 years. To replicate the same model, the University of Texas — San Antonio has been very instrumental in helping transfer the model to the Kenyan context through training. Hence, the four-day trip aimed at showing the practicability of the model and its impact.

To ensure inclusion and co-creation, the team comprised representation from Makueni, Mombasa, and Nakuru counties. These were: Dorcas Njeri, Director of Trade, Markets, and Enterprise Development, Nakuru County; Harrison Kiandiko, Director of Trade, County Government of Makueni; David Odada, CEO, Mombasa Investments; Hon. Lewa Tendai Mtana, CEC of Agriculture, Mombasa County and Moses Sitati, USAID’s Agreement Officer. Ultimately, local engagement leads to local ownership and improved development outcomes.

The four-day visit presented an opportunity for the team from Kenya to appreciate what it takes for the Kenya SBDC to be successful and offer maximum economic impact to the MSMEs. Over the years, the model has proven to be the only methodology for growing the national MSMEs sector in a measurable, efficient, and sustainable manner.

What is unique about the model is that it ensures that they facilitate small business initial stages, growth, market diversification, increased sustainability, and profitability. This is achieved through the continued support from the advisors in the centers, who ensure that MSMEs are provided with all the necessary information, training, and business advisory and one-on-one coaching and mentorship at no cost. The advisors operate from a physical location called the small business development centre where all the business advisory services are conducted. In a nutshell, the small business development centers are a one-stop shop where small businesses have access to all the business advisory services.

Additionally, the model measures economic impact and data through a customised Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform called Neo Serra, which tracks detailed demographic and economic information about your clients as well as the assistance you provide to these clients. The beauty of the CRM system is the ability to be customised to fit the client’s needs. For instance, it can be customised to a vernacular language to serve MSMEs who only understand their vernacular. The advisors collect the data, and through data analysis, they can view results that inform decision-making to make the model most effective. This creates a culture of constant measurement and continuous improvement for all program services.

Another unique aspect of the model is the ability to offer no-cost, one-on-one, confidential, and long-term advisory to massive numbers of small businesses. The advisors in the Small Business Development Centers assist business owners from start-up to high-growth established business operations. This calls for a long-term relationship between the client and advisor.

The SBDC methodology is driven by economic impact generation, not activities. The economic impact is measured through jobs created, jobs retained, business starts, and business expansions, among other parameters. Over and above, the model is keen to establish strategic partnerships across the board, ranging from private to public sectors for sustainability.

“SBDC should be very loud about their vision, mission, and values to help create sustainable relationships that feed their vision,” Mary Peters, Associate Director of Operations, Texas South-West SBDC Network said.

The team paid a courtesy call to the Office of the Governor of Texas where they learned about the role of the government in providing an enabling environment for businesses to thrive. They found out that in Texas, there is an advisory task force that presents a report on MSMEs’ concerns every two years, which informs the government on which policies to formulate and implement for a favourable business environment.

The government is keen to explore business opportunities for the MSMEs to increase their productivity and profitability. Ultimately, the meeting was the first step to exploring further partnerships between the U.S and Kenya.

“The government, under Prosper Africa, seeks to establish trade relations between the U.S and Kenya, owing to the large population of the Kenyan MSMEs in the diaspora,’’ said CEC of Agriculture, Hon. Tendai Mtana.

The team also visited the Texas County Department of Agriculture where they were received by Sid Miller, the Commissioner, Department of Agriculture in Texas. During this visit, the team discussed how bilateral trade relations with the U.S can create opportunities for Kenyans and help to grow the Kenyan economy. Through continued conversations on investments, the parties will establish trade agreements through partnerships.

By the end of the four-days training, the team had witnessed how the model had transformed different businesses. The methodology is simple and flexible, and the Small Business Development Center services and operations can be customised to fit the needs of the local market.

“I have been amazed by the results brought by the model. We will seek to replicate the model in Makueni County because the small businesses spur economic growth and will have a sustained ripple impact through employment creation for the youth and many other indirect stakeholders,” noted Harrison Kiandiko, Director, Trade, Industry, Tourism, Marketing, and Cooperatives Development, Makueni County.

Through the Kenya SBDC Program, there will be a shift in the entrepreneurial space, which will open employment opportunities for many, leading to increased income generation and ultimately sustainable development for individuals and the country at large.

Article by Jane Mumo

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