Mount Kenya University founder and chairman Dr. Simon Gicharu has won the 2014 Eastern Africa Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year (EOY) Award. Dr. Gicharu, who built the university from scratch, impressed the judges in the six criteria used to pick the winner, namely financial performance, entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, corporate social responsibility, strategic direction and personal integrity.
“I’m humbled by this win,” said Dr. Gicharu in his acceptance message delivered by his wife and fellow Board of Trustees member Jane Nyutu. “I hope my experience will encourage other entrepreneurs and especially our students, that no matter your background, you can achieve exactly what you set your mind to.”
Industrialization Cabinet Secretary Aden Mohammed was the chief guest at the event held at Crowne Plaza Hotel, Nairobi.
Dr. Gicharu won in the Master entrepreneur category and represented the East African region in the world finals in Monaco, France. Mr. Alex Nyaga of Parapet Group won the emerging entrepreneur category, while Dr. Mary Okelo of Makini Group of Schools received the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2011, Dr. James Mwangi, the chief executive officer of Equity Bank won the global award.
“This award encourages entrepreneurial activity among those with potential and recognizes the contribution of people who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement,” said Gitahi Gachahi, the chief executive officer, Ernst & Young.
Dr. Gicharu, who started his entrepreneurial journey in 1996 with a small non- Governmental Organization known as Kenya Entrepreneurship Promotion Programme, squared it out with Mr Jitendra Patel of Foam Mattresses Ltd in the Master category of the competition. A few months ago, his entrepreneurial achievements were recognized yet again when he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Gulu University, Uganda.
“Hardwork, persistence, determination and focus can surmount even the greatest odds,” said Dr. Gicharu. “And as any successful entrepreneur will tell you, the odds are very many as you go up the rungs of success.”
Mount Kenya University rose from a small commercial college operating from a nondescript building in Thika town to become East and Central Africa’s largest private institution of higher learning. Under Dr. Gicharu’s stewardship, the institution has scored a series of firsts. It was the first private institution of higher learning in Kenya to break the threshold of 10,000 graduands per year; it was the first private university in Kenya to offer degree programmes in Pharmacy; it was the first to establish a campus in the remote Northern region of Kenya; it was the first Kenya university to establish a campus in Kigali, Rwanda and Hargeisa, Somaliland. It was also the first private university in Kenya to build an anatomy lab in a public hospital, notably the General Kago Road Funeral Home at Thika Level 5 Hospital.
The university also has a vibrant corporate social responsibility policy that continues to positively impact the lives of millions of East African residents every year.
The judges at this year’s competition noted that there was increased participation by women and youth. Mr Mohammed, the Cabinet Secretary, encouraged these groups of entrepreneurs to take advantage of the 30% government tenders set aside for them. The five judges in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award were James Boyd McFie, director, School of Accountancy at Strathmore University, Zipporah Maina the head of finance at Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Prof David Maina, Associate Professor, Kenyatta University, Mr. Lucas Meso, chief executive officer, Agriculture Finance Corporation and Mr. Mayur Velji, director, Kenafric Industries.
The Ernst &Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award was started in the US in 1986. The East African chapter was started in 2011. This is the world’s most prestigious award for entrepreneurs. “The backbone of our vibrant and growing economy is entrepreneurship, said Mr. Gitahi. “Entrepreneurs show unique and innovative ways of responding to their nation’s needs, eventually raising the living standards of its people. EY is fully committed to supporting entrepreneurship, which allows nations to harness their people’s creativity to achieve sustainable economic growth. We celebrate our winners and all our finalists, who inspire others with their vision and leadership achievements.”