Eileen Ambasa: Developing Solutions to Combat Cyber Crime

Three years after graduation and with a one year old baby in tow, Eileen Ambasa got interested in Information Technology (IT). Seeing the opportunities it could open up in her career, Eileen decided to learn IT basics. So, she enrolled in ACWICT, a college that teaches IT essentials to young girls in partnership with Samsung, where she learnt CISCO, customer care and business process outsourcing, among other things.

Not long after she completed that programme, she was employed at Techno Brain Kenya as a Computer Networking Instructor and rose through the ranks to become the Training and Operations Manager. In April 2013 she decided to exit and become a consultant. There, her  journey as an entrepreneur began.

A graduate of Arts Economics and French from Kenyatta University in Kenya with a diploma in German language from Goethe Institute, Eileen Ambasa has a wealth of varied experience and skills — from being a language tutor, to serving as the Internal Auditor at Students’ in Free Enterprise (SIFE), helping young teenage girls initiate and develop small businesses of their own, and now starting her own company, Icons Cyber Solutions.

Eileen is passionate about learning new things, being a good mom to her six year old daughter, and helping others learn so they can develop themselves. She reads self-development books, researches on information security matters, loves cooking, and enjoys insightful discussions especially with her family.

There was a time I could not even hold a mouse and I merely survived a retake in my computer course in my first year at campus. But I improved greatly. ~ Eileen Ambasa

Tell us about Icons Cyber Solutions and how it would change the world.
Icons Cyber Solutions is an information security and computer forensics company. We help businesses and individuals tackle the dynamic technological and information challenges to securely integrate IT into their businesses and lives.

We seek to combat cyber crime and fraud incidents that affect confidence in our economies and in businesses. We also aim to tackle the shortage of field experts by empowering and equipping youth in society, especially in Africa, with the necessary skills that will enhance this industry’s growth.

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Why did you decide to start Icons Cyber Solutions?
I wanted to start something sustainable that would make money for myself and future generations, and also create employment for others. Having worked as a consultant for a while, I wanted something other than earning money in percentages that would make use of my expertise. I was offered a chance to start a branch of a Ugandan company in Kenya; that did not go so well and in the process, I got contacts that required a registered business. That’s how Icons Cyber Solutions started. The name of my company has evolved three times; at one point it was Infoseek.

How did you get interested in technology?
I got interested in technology after my daughter turned one. I was still jobless so I decided to try it out, especially when I realized that some of my former classmates who had changed courses from Economics to Computer Science were doing so well. There was a time I could not even hold a mouse and I merely survived a retake in my computer course in my first year at campus. But I improved greatly. Once I was top of my class for IT essentials, I began to see that with interest I could advance. Since then, I have not looked back.

What do you think women in technology need?
Mostly focus and to lose the dependency syndrome on our male counterparts. We need to put ourselves out there in this industry, have the drive and a goal (whether clear or unclear), learn, go the extra mile in putting our technical ideas into businesses and run them as the good managers that we naturally are.

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What is your advice to a woman thinking of going into technology?
Go for it. Absolutely. It is nice and fun. Be passionate about it. Get into the field not  just as a career but as something you love. Have a learning attitude and be able to multitask. Technology changes; put in time for research and continuous learning so you do not become stagnant. It is not easy, but it can be done.

Do not look at yourself as a woman, or even as a man, but as a human being. This way, one realizes that we are neither in competition for anything, nor is one person more privileged than the other. There are enough resources and opportunities for everyone and each of us has been created with a drive to get their own share. GO FOR IT! Only you can dream your dream so only you, through God’s help, can make that dream come true.

What was the most difficult part about applying for the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) and how did you feel when you heard you made the list?
Filling the form was so challenging since it had several sections and requirements. Other fields also took a lot of time and attention, which was pressurizing. I just kept encouraging myself since nothing good comes easy. I think it was all worth the effort and time.

When I heard I made the list, I was excited of course! I had no clear idea what it entailed, but the fact that there were over 20,000 applicants and only 1,000 were selected in Africa (not just Kenya) and I was among them! That is just mind blowing. I was jumping up and down in the living room with my younger sister, our eyes filled with tears of joy and we couldn’t stop thanking God for this great opportunity. It was an emotional moment for me, a good one.

What is your number one business challenge and how do you think the programme will help address it?
A more organized and business oriented approach in our company. I must admit that most techies are not so good in business, despite having great talents and skills.

TEEP has already got me thinking of how to handle these challenges. I’m now paying a lot of attention to detail and I believe that by the end of the programme, I will be able to apply the knowledge acquired and have strong structures in place. I believe the business will grow to greater heights and be sustainable, plus with the network already formed with fellow participants, there is great potential for further growth, greater impact to society’s businesses and awareness creation to communities that will be of great value to me.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like you?
Sure. Whatever your mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve. Do not be afraid to fail or make mistakes; as long as there is action, they are bound to happen. The most important thing is to get back up, and to come out wiser and stronger than you were the previous time. It doesn’t matter how many times you get up and fall, just keep going. It is a great learning experience.

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*To learn more and stay up to date, follow Eileen on Twitter and Icons Cyber Solutions on Twitter and Facebook

We are sharing the stories of 30+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme. and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.

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Caroline Mtongolo: Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle With Mushrooms

A Chemistry graduate from the University of Nairobi, Caroline Mtongolo is the co-founder of Zoi Investment Limited, a company focused on investing in the agribusiness industry in Kenya. With her cofoundher, Waithera Macharia, their aim is to make Zoi Investment a leader in the agribusiness industry in Kenya by providing profitability, quality and alternative products that will contribute towards enhancing living standards in communities.

Although Zoi Investment Limited is mainly involved in mushroom farming, they farm and grow cash crops such as onions, chilies, tomatoes and water melons. They also act as a distributor of agricultural produce by buying from farmers and reselling to both local and international markets.

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Caroline is inspired by ‘Never having to do the same thing twice’  and she finds her balance by being deliberate, planning every move and scheduling tasks to make sure work is done on time; skills that come in handy for the Business Development Director of Zoi Investment. With all the hours she saves by working smart, she spends time exploring the culture of Nairobi, visiting new cafes, experiencing dining and attending events.

Tell us more about Zoi Investment and why you decided to go into mushroom farming.
Our company, Zoi Investment Limited, located in Nairobi, Kenya, deals with mushrooms production. We are currently producing oyster mushrooms and plan to start producing reishi mushrooms soon. We decided to delve into mushroom farming to address two needs that a modern person has: maintaining healthy weight and preventing lifestyle diseases such as obesity.

In fast paced modern environments, it is a great challenge for people, especially women, to access healthy foods hence the upsurge in lifestyle diseases. Zoi Investment prides itself with helping address this critical issue in our generation through our mushroom farm — mushrooms are a very nutritious crop and they have medicinal value.

Also, did you know that currently Kenya imports 150 tons of mushroom annually? This figure is expected to grow with the rise of the middle class in Kenya. There is a clear deficit for mushrooms not only in Kenya, but in international markets like the United Arab Emirates and Asia. Zoi Investment plans to be an instrumental part in providing mushrooms in Kenya to curb importation of mushrooms that denies the local people of Kenya access to employment opportunities.

How did you feel when you heard you were one of the selected Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs and what was the most difficult part about applying?
I watched my acceptance video in disbelief. It was surreal. I almost thought someone was playing a prank on me. Making it, out of 20,000 other African entrepreneurs, was a great honor and I could not stop thanking the Almighty God. I immediately called a few people who are close to my heart and shared the good news. I knew this was the first step of a victorious journey.

The most difficult part for me was coming up with a budget and cost estimates for Zoi Investment. With no prior experience in business planning, I depended a lot on my co-founder, Waithera Macharia, and the internet for help.

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What is your major business challenge and how do you intend to address it?
One of the major challenges for Zoi Investment has been getting capital to acquire good substrate and grow quality mushrooms at a large scale. The capital offered by the Tony Elumelu Foundation will catapult Zoi Investment’s operations and put us on the right track.

What do you hope your business will achieve in the next few months?
I hope to acquire the skills and expertise to kick start Zoi Investment and generate revenues, develop business and social leadership skills, proper branding and business development skills and finally to expand my networks locally and even internationally.

Any words of encouragement to entrepreneurs like yourself?
As long as you have a vision, it will come to pass. Write it down, even though it tarries, it will surely come to pass. Commit it to God, prepare yourself and work hard, a window of opportunity will open up before you know it.

 

*To learn more and stay up to date, follow Zoi Investmet Limited on Twitter and Facebook; and Caroline on Twitter.
**special shout out to Averi Thomas-Moore for contributing immensely to the making of this interview

cofoundHER facts
Full name: Caroline Mtongolo
Country: Kenya
Education: BSc Chemistry, University of Nairobi
Sector: Food and agriculture
Business in one sentence: We help people, especially the modern woman, maintain a healthy weight and prevent lifestyle disease such as obesity by providing them with easy access to mushrooms.

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Every day for the next few days, we will share the stories of 30+ African women entrepreneurs whose ideas can change the world. These women are idea and early stage entrepreneurs, with businesses less than three years old, who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme.

We are sharing their experiences in hopes that their stories will inspire someone out there to take the leap and go after their dreams. Hope you enjoy their stories as much as we enjoyed putting them together. Follow our daily stories using the hashtag #TEEPcofoundHER or visit cofoundHER (www.cofoundher.com) for updates.