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MKU engineering alumnus among 10 winners in global innovation contest

A former student and his friend have sought solutions to some of Africa’s pressing problems through technology

An innovation by Mount Kenya University (MKU) engineering alumnus Victor Shikoli and his friend Brian Onyiego has won in a major contest.
From left: Mr. Victor Shikoli, MKU alumnus, Ms Beatrice Nere, lead mentor and Programmes Coordinator at the Bill & Melinda Foundation, and Brian Bosire Onyiego.From left: Mr. Victor Shikoli, MKU alumnus, Ms Beatrice Nere, lead mentor and Programmes Coordinator at the Bill & Melinda Foundation, and Brian Bosire Onyiego.

HydroIQ, a hardware device developed by their firm, Hydrologistics Africa Limited, emerged among the 10 winners of a competition organised by United States-based start-up accelerator, Techstars.

The innovation won a highly coveted prize in the social enterprise competition hosted in France in September 2017.

HydroIQ is internet-based and plugs gaps in existing water supply networks. It turns traditional water networks into smart water grids. It is also used to monitor water consumption and provide real time data, thus allowing consumers to pay for the amount of water they consume on a pay-as-you-go basis via mobile money.

The HydroIQ device allows consumers to regulate and manage their water use, and cuts revenue losses arising from typical poor cash collection.

Techstars’ objective is to support the best 10 winning technology start-ups in the contest. Among this year’s 10 teams, Hydrologistics was the only African company. Four were French, and one each from Armenia, Portugal, India, America and Luxembourg.

Shikoli says: “In the first and subsequent stages, the competition was stiff. Our idea was among the 100 short-listed. The number was then narrowed down to 40 and eventually best top 10.”

He adds: “In the third stage, the judges needed an endorsement from our referees. Fortunately, as an alumnus of MKU, I had maintained my contacts with the alumni office and getting the endorsement letter from the Vice-Chancellor on short notice was not a challenge. I thank MKU Vice-Chancellor, Prof Stanley Waudo and Afubwa Musumi, the Director of Alumni Services, for their timely action.”

Shikoli has been focused on innovation. “My research and innovation journey dates back to high school and later at Mount Kenya University, where I undertook my Electrical and Electronics Engineering course,” he begins to narrate. “I graduated in July 2016, a year later (than I should have), as I had concentrated on establishing Hydrologistics Africa Limited and developing the prototypes for HydroIQ together with my co-founder
Brian, whom I met while we were both on internship at Mumias Sugar Company more than four years ago.”

Since then, the two have worked to solve Africa’s pressing problems through technology.

Shikoli was an active member of the research and innovation team that worked on projects such as biodiesel production from sorghum stalk residues. Although some were not fruitful, HydroIQ, through Hydrologistics Africa, presents him with a great opportunity to explore his real potential.

He has learnt that perseverance and discipline are key success factors for any aspiring young person wishing to venture into business.

The winners of the competition are in Paris, France, for a three-month mentoring and coaching session on project implementation, facilitated by leading CEOs, founders of renowned firms and corporate partners.

The final award ceremony was held in December 2017.

Bertier Luyt, Techstars Paris Director General, congratulated Victor Shikoli and Brian Onyiego. “I am very proud and humbled by the courage Victor and Brian have shown in trusting us as a reliable partner, and moving to Paris for the length of the programme. Victor and Brian are part of an elite group of entrepreneurs and great role models for upcoming African entrepreneurs.”

Techstars has invested in Hydrologistics Africa to help the founders grow the firm fast and for it to effectively become a pan-African leader in the water industry.

The money will be used as seed capital to deploy the first batch of the HydroIQ smart meters in Kenya, and later scale the operation across East Africa.

Shikoli is full of praises for MKU. “I really appreciate the foundation I got from the university to shape my career path. I was a class representative, and the School of Engineering, through the Head of Department, described our class as being the best under my leadership. I had the opportunity to learn hands-on skills from MKU labs. Above all, I appreciate the room that the institution gives to students to explore entrepreneurial opportunities.”

His message to young aspiring entrepreneurs is that “they should be curious to learn and explore the many opportunities the world has set forth”.

Shikoli, together with his co-founder Onyiego, co-own another company,
Electrosoft Kenya Limited. The firm initially invested in water, agriculture and environment management, but recently changed to selling automatic sanitary ware.