Gideon Simiyu, while a student at the M-PESA Foundation Academy, always looked forward to the 20-minute tea break: it was a moment for a quick snack and any time left over was to catch up with his books. But an incident during a visit to a neighbouring school where he had gone on a brief exchange programme taught him something.
“Tea break there was only five minutes long and the punishment for those running late was the cane,” he recalls. Even though he was a visitor, he also got caned, as he was among other students waiting in the queue to serve tea from a single jug. “It pained me, and I had to come up with something that could solve that problem,” he says.
When he went home, he took a Kiwi shoe polish tin and made four small holes at the bottom and a large one at the top. He connected a pipe to the top hole before pouring water into the tin. When he pumped air into it, the four holes all discharged water at a go.
And with that Vinywaji Chapchap, a large-scale automated beverage serving machine, was born, borne from a physics concept – Pascal’s Principle – that he learnt while in Form Two. “Pressure applied on one part of the fluid is equally distributed to all parts of that fluid – or something like that,” Gideon states.
Vinywaji Chapchap seeks to minimise queues while serving beverages. When he pitched the idea to KCB Lion’s Den, he emerged the winner in the business category, and Chandaria Industries funded the project.
“My dad, who is a tech enthusiast, guided the whole process,” says Gideon.Progress on the project was affected by the financial vagaries of Covid-19. Chandaria Industries is, however, still focused on developing the invention at scale even as the creators secure the patents for the machine.
“We had to take a one-year break and do a lot of redesigning and paperwork, trying to create patents for all the products,” Gideon says.Today, Gideon is a third-year Bachelor of Science in Informatics and Computer Science student and leader at Strathmore University, pursuing his passion for technology and coding. Besides his father, Gideon believes the M-PESA Foundation Academy has had the most impact on his life. The academy introduced him to entrepreneurship in Form One.
“I wanted to know more about entrepreneurship. I noticed that this is where I belong, and I have carried these lessons with me to date,” Gideon told the Safaricom Newsroom in mid-July during the three-day M-PESA Foundation Academy Leadership Conference that brought together more than 200 alumni.
Entrepreneurship, Gideon adds, is competitive and cut-throat but also rewarding. “It’s more about your spirit. That’s why they usually say investors invest in the individual – they are going to make sure that the product excels and creates change,” he says, adding, “You can only do that by overcoming the challenges.”
The student leader is also grateful for the numerous forums and opportunities at the academy that built his leadership skills and developed his ‘can-do spirit’.
At Strathmore University, he heads the Finance Senate, which raises funds for needy students through a programme named Elimisha Stratizens.
“While at the M-PESA Foundation Academy, I received a full scholarship to study. Through the Elimisha initiative, I am able to do the same for others by helping raise money for their fees balance through creative ways such as Elimisha Tuesday and marathons in which they partnered with the Strathmore Foundation,” says Gideon.
On the latter, Strathmore University’s Vice Chancellor runs to raise student funds. Through the Elimisha program, the Senate and other council members have raised almost KES 1 million, benefiting more than 100 students. And so Gideon continues to pursue his studies and his invention and was recently on the Dean’s list in recognition of his academic performance last year.