Leapfrogging into the 4th Industrial Revolution

Award-winning Tech Entrepreneur Mary Mwangi on the Power of Young Tech Talent Driving Digital Transformation

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

I like people and I’m a bit of an independent person, and I really like helping people build solutions. I also like to feel that I believe in what I’m doing. Coming back to Kenya after being in the US for so many years, I spent some time thinking about what I could do and where I could add value. I looked at the problems on the ground and I realised that there were a lot of companies moving from legacy systems to enterprise systems. And because I had a lot of experience in helping companies with that transformation process, it inspired me to start Data Integrated.

The fourth industrial revolution will help Africa leapfrog a lot of the old legacy systems that we’ve had.

My mother has been a business woman since as far as I can remember, and she also has served as a source of inspiration. The friends that she was working and socialising with were also trying to run their own businesses. At that time, it wasn’t very common to see women leading in certain areas of business in Kenya. Women were struggling in their little businesses, but now a lot of these businesses are coming up.

What made you pivot into public transport?

We were trying to assist SMEs — thinking about brick-and-mortar types of shops and places where we could bring digital systems to help the small business — but along the way we got into public transport. When we finished our first solution, we thought, “Let’s pilot it with public transport, because they don’t have too much complexity in terms of what they provide as a service — it’s just ticketing. And then we can get back to our other business as usual.” But since we got into public transport in around 2014, we’ve never turned back.

What excites you about innovations in tech and the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The fourth industrial revolution will help Africa leapfrog a lot of the old legacy systems that we’ve had. We will be able to capture data and use it in a more transformative way for businesses on the ground and help to solve a lot of the challenges that the continent faces. For me, it’s exciting because it makes things affordable. It makes technology accessible to people who would not have had it previously. I’m very excited about that.

You’ve been an innovator in hiring young tech talent for your team. Why did you feel this was important?

We started out with about two tech people, and now on the tech team, I believe we’re close to 30 people, and many of them are young interns or recent graduates just starting out in their careers.

Being a start-up, we didn’t have a chest of funds at our disposal, so what we had to do was train the team that we’d need. We started out with about two tech people, and now on the tech team, I believe we’re close to 30 people, and many of them are young interns or recent graduates just starting out in their careers.

Credit: Open Bioeconomy Lab

How important do you think it is for young women to equip themselves with tech skills?

It’s critical. We need the skills, if we’re going to move to the technology economies that we are seeing. It’s crucial that not only do they train in school, but have applicable experience where they are able to utilise what they’ve learned and learn from each other. They’re very smart. They’re very curious. They’re very hardworking. They want to learn. And I think it’s important that we grow and nurture this.

It is so important for young women to empower themselves with tech skills right now.

I read that in Nigeria it has always been about oil, oil, oil. This year for the first time, tech overtook oil in GDP earnings for the country! The potential of it is humongous, and it is so important for young women to empower themselves with tech skills right now.

Credit: UN News

What advice or words of wisdom would you give to talented young women professionals seeking to achieve success in their careers?

You can do it. There’ll be days when you’ll feel like you’ve hit rock bottom, but you have to get up. Know that every day there’ll be challenges and there’ll also be successes. Don’t let the challenges discourage you, and look for your strength. Look for something that gives you strength, turn to that, but keep going.

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