Kenya’s young tech disruptor
Prince Automation and Innovation Company (PAIC) is a technology oriented Start-up founded in 2013 and officially incorporated in Kenya in 2018
Prince Charles Oduk, founder and CEO of Prince Automation and Innovation Company (PAIC) Limited explains to The East African Business Times writer Oloo Winnie how a dream nurtured in high school turned into an innovative technology hub providing Africa’s common solutions
Where would you place the African continent in the evolving tech world? What about Kenya?
Africa is a very resourceful continent when it comes to technology. We have very smart and passionate young people who are creating innovative tech solutions that address the challenges this continent faces. The exponential growth in technology is a strong indicator that Africa will soon be independent from outsourcing technology.
So we are looking at Africa as a technical hub in the coming years. On the other hand, Kenya is very promising. In the near future we will be hearing Kenya’s creative tech solutions changing lives of Africans. M-PESA, Africa’s Talking and Decoded Africa are just some of the disruptive tech solutions in the country.
Tell us about PAIC and the inspiration behind it?
Prince Automation and Innovation Company (PAIC) is a technology oriented Start-up founded in 2013 and officially incorporated in Kenya in 2018. We major in solving real life problems by introducing creative inventions and products majorly around internet of things (IOT).
We invest in embracing our own promising ideas by building, nurturing, developing and making them market worthy products and services with intent of delivering value to the African people.
Have you always wanted to be in the technology space?
My ambition has always revolved around transforming Africa’s tech space. I studied engineering at one of the leading technology universities in the region.
Spurred by passion for technology innovations, I started PAIC in 2013 to address issues around social security, food security, affordable living and quality healthcare being that these are the core sectors of human life. With the little upkeep money my parents sent me, I invested into tech ideas.
Over time my innovations started gaining attention from institutions and expos among them the annual Jomo Kenyatta University and Agricultural Technology (JKUAT) tech expo, Nairobi innovation week, My little big thing innovation challenge among others.
How have the expos enabled you to maintain the momentum?
After numerous attempts with these expos, the biggest award I received at the time was from the The Kenya National Innovation Agency (KeNIA) challenge that saw my project win the runners up positions and a cash price of Ksh150000. This was a motivation and huge step towards realising the vision and potential for PAIC and so I went for it with vigour.
Which are some of the products you’ve invented over the years?
The products include;
Beba-Beggie: a series of smart connected lockers with advanced technology that addresses security issues by providing storage solutions to end users and customers in busy areas like malls, hotels, clubs, casinos, private offices, gyms and swimming pools, among others. The lockers are also incorporated with fast charger ports that customers get to utilise for charging their phones and gadgets upon booking the locker.
M-shamba Digital: is a range of smart farming gadgets that allows farmers to monitor performance of their crops remotely with GSM (Mobile phone messaging) or android web app enabled option with intent to maximise their farm produce. These gadgets have since been used in aquaponics, hydroponics and landless farming systems that we have set up for our customers in different parts of Kenya.
Drone and surveillance systems: We also specialise in building drones locally for both agricultural and security surveillance purposes to fit our customers’ specific needs.
Smart Homes systems: gadgets for domestic and real estate owners that basically give users the ease of controlling all their electronic appliances via the phone without necessarily using wall switches. This monitors and conserves the electric power they consume. The users have a dashboard that allows them turn gadgets on and off wirelessly and effortlessly.
Smart water meters: enables tenants pay for water bills or tokens and get the water back up running automatically.
How has industry experience been for you over the years?
Raising this company from nothing to where it is today is something I can gladly cheer myself on. The process has come with its challenges- unexpected ups and downs including lack of funds and resources to build the innovations, little or no exposure to the real potential markets, unresponsive mentors, among other issues.
Nonetheless, I did not quit on pursuing my dream. I mean I’m an engineer who’s a self-taught tech entrepreneur, I definitely had to find ways of manoeuvring past these obstacles to get to my goals- the main one being to establish PAIC.
How was it starting out then?
I had to work till late hours from my study desk with just a handful of tools I could afford. I couldn’t use the school resources as the rules clearly outlined that any innovation developed by the student using the institution’s resources would mean the school takes up to 60% stake in the company.
At some point I survived on only one meal a day or ate at the school cafeteria to save money for my projects. Fortunately in December 2018, I got an incubation deal with Africa’s Talking, a Pan-African tech company that empowers tech developers. I was taken in as an entrepreneur in residence and later as a studio start-up company founder.
The company funded the first POC model for one of the innovations, Beba-Beggie, now serving Kenyans through more than 7 big corporate clients. Now six years since foundation, PAIC has an office in Lavington, an equipped workshop in Hurlingham and a display booth in industrial area.
What technological inputs can be introduced to improve Kenya’s agricultural sector?
Kenya is one of the few countries in the world with the most fertile and arable land spreading through 10% of its acreage. However, according to a 2015 study by Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), farmers still lose up to 50% of their produce, resulting to averagely 2 million people lacking food daily.
The low productivity of the arable land in Kenya in all the regions is majorly caused by poor incentives and underdeveloped infrastructure and institutions. Farmers are basically either misinformed or lack sufficient crucial knowledge on the steps they should take to increase food production.
Supporting technologies that directly engages the farmer to evaluate the performance of their crops as well as increase land productivity should be prioritised to curb food shortage in the region. Innovations around smart farming, accurate soil data analyses and soil performance monitoring systems should be developed. Farmer education should be conducted at personal level as this is the first essential step in optimising the performance of the agricultural sector in Kenya.
Compared with other continents, Africa is yet to fully catch up on technology investments. What initiatives can local governments put in place to be competitive enough?
Most continents invest in tech initiatives to ensure research labs, workshops and innovation hubs are constantly running. So exploring new tech solutions has proven not to be a problem to them. I believe African countries are at a good position to grow as fast if governments can unite in supporting and building technologies that benefits their own people.
To achieve this, tech solutions within Africa need to be embraced and grown. Measures that regulate, educate and possibly fund aspiring tech entrepreneurs to build Pan-African multimillion businesses should be supported and put in place. Innovators with promising technological solutions should be given a wider exposure to the real world issues they seek to address through expos, exhibitions, summits and conferences where they get to meet potential investors, mentors and likeminded business people already in the tech space.
Africa is rising exponentially in building its own tech solutions. We have the potential and resources to build our own independent tech that serves our people. There is always a solution out there waiting to be discovered and deliver unique value. Come on Africa, we got this!