His youthful face defies his millionaire status. In fact, you’ll hardly tell him out from a crowd. But here is an entrepreneur who in his early thirties, recently walked into Barclays Bank one morning, and by the time he came out, he had secured himself a Sh. 160 million loan. His name is Ken Mbiuki, an entrepreneur educationist, and the founder and owner of Zetech College.
But Mbiuki has not always been a millionaire. In any case, his success can easily be held up as a paragon how of years of hard work, patience and determination come into fruition. This was portrayed recently when Zetech College was early last year converted into a full university and awarded a Letter of Interim Authority. It was a culmination of 17 years of resilience that started when Mbiuki was only a 22-year-old Mechanical Engineer student at the University of Nairobi.
His first clients were fellow students back in 1997 who wanted to acquire IT and computing skills and his self-taught skills and one computer favoured his childhood dream to become an established businessman. “At that time, there were few players who were offering similar services and the advent of technology had not taken shape in Kenya. Everyone wanted to acquire the skills,” he says.
“The decision was inspired by the pressure from the students.” The IT lessons would be conducted in the university hostel through intervals and as the number of students went up, he moved the business to the Students Centre within the university. This was in 1998.
“Initially I had two to three students but the number went up between end of 1997 to 1999, growing between 200 to 300 students,” said Mbiuki. This time he could make up to Sh200,000 a month and the earnings record sparked a need to expand.
He needed infrastructure as the student numbers went up, leading to registration as Zenith Technology. In 1999, he rebranded from Zenith Technology to Zetech College to tap external students and relocated from university premises to Summit House, on the upper edge of Nairobi’s Moi Avenue.
“At this time, the learners’ population had grown spontaneously given we had 500 students and we were controlling the market at that time. I remember we were paying a rent of Sh15,000 and mainly operated on reinvestment capital,” he recalls.
Buoyed by a zealous advertising breeze, the student’s number reached 1,500 between the year 2000 and 2004, pushing him to seek new premises at Church House, next to the Railways bus terminus. In 2006, Zetech College opened its Westlands campus followed by a collaboration with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in 2007 that allowed its students to graduate with degrees from the Juja-based university.
“We diversified our programmes from Information Technology and computing packages to hospitality and business courses and eventually mass communication and community development to widen the scope of the programmes,” said Mbiuki.
Mbiuki has largely borrowed from his father who was a businessman. “I grew up in a business family and this offered a strong background on what makes a successful business. I learnt more about the need for patience and the need to take time to understand what the business requires,” said the entrepreneur and father of three.
“I went through a lot of his mentorship when I was young, including capital management and investing back in the company,” he adds. Mbiuki’s investment strategy is multifaceted. He wants to invest heavily in research, starting next year to understand more on market dynamics and expand the existing infrastructure.
“We want to build strong infrastructure in Ruiru adjacent to our main campus that will house most of our programmes and increase our population. Another area we are seeking to deepen is our existing e-learning both in areas we have operations and in new frontiers.”
Mbiuki says that the true element of entrepreneurship is making positive impact on other people and opening new avenues that can create employment. By this, he has established two subsidiaries Finken Holdings Limited and Suntech Power Limited.
Finken operates through different sub-divisions that include food processing, building and construction and agrochemicals while Suntech Power is in renewable energy.
Both companies are based in Industrial Area, Mombasa Road and they have netted sizeable corporate clients, among them mobile service provider Safaricom, Rural Electrification Authority (REA), and Sarova Hotels.
“Real entrepreneurship is not about the billions a company makes and the lavish lifestyle that the proprietors live but a single instance that one can point out and say the difference, he made in someone’s life,” he says about questions on revenues and profit figures.
Currently, Zetech University has over 7,000 students and 300 employees. “Our strategy has been to build our base in Nairobi before expanding to other areas,” said the entrepreneur, referring to its recent construction of the complex in Ruiru. “But this only happens when you offer what the market requires and stick to their preferences. Private sector thrives on quality.”
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