[Interview] Kingsley Ndiewo, CEO, Funtrench, Kenya
Please introduce Funtrench to us
Funtrench is a technology company that is building an ecosystem of emerging technologies in Africa. We established our campus last year in July focusing on training and solutions development and we have since grown with various partnerships, having trained a total of about 350 students in various courses and workshops so far. Our mission is to improve adoption of emerging technologies by providing practical training and relevant solutions.
Where is your company located?
We are located on 3rd Floor, Park Suites on Parklands Road in Nairobi.
What areas of emerging technologies does Funtrench specialize in?
Funtrench focuses largely on distributed ledger technology with a specific bias towards Blockchain, machine learning, augmented reality and game development. Our courses and workshops are chiefly in these four areas with foundational training also available in Python and Android development.
What inspired you to start a tech training institution?
I was driven to start Funtrench as a result of the lack of African products in the emerging technology space. People who want to build 3D games, create complex machine learning algorithms and augmented reality experiences are generally self-taught due to a lack of practical training. As a result, most of the emerging technology experiences we buy and interact with are foreign, telling foreign stories and solving foreign challenges. By starting Funtrench and joining forces with other players in the industry, I believe we will make African technology products more commonplace, from Blockchain solutions to games.
Who are your business partners?
My business partners are at present all Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) alumni who are technology professionals. We are in the process of a seed round of investment, so there are new directors on their way in soon.
How is Funtrench different from other learning institutions in terms of service delivery?
Funtrench ensures that trainers are involved in developing solutions in the fields that they train in, guaranteeing that our training is relevant to the current local industry environment in real-time. This is crucial to us, since practical learning is at the core of our value proposition.
Funtrench works with interns from Ivy League universities to develop content that is at the cutting edge of research, ensuring that we are up to speed with technologies that are in a constant state of change.
Because emerging technologies are a huge opportunity for startups, Funtrench is working with incubation partners to support students who would want to turn their ideas into viable businesses. We have engaged with FasterCapital where one of our team members is a mentor.
Under whose accreditation/certification is Funtrench?
Funtrench Blockchain courses are accredited by Blockchain Training Alliance, with Pearson VUE providing the exam proctoring. Some have practical projects as part of the coursework. For our other courses we are currently working with partners on accreditation agreements.
What courses are in the offering at Funtrench?
We offer three kinds of programs:
a) Certified Blockchain Professional Courses
These are all examinable courses that are accredited by Blockchain Training Alliance. We have a total of 9 courses for Blockchain technologies:
Blockchain Foundation Course
Certified Blockchain Business Foundations
Certified Blockchain Solutions Architect
Blockchain Developer Course
Certified Blockchain Developer Ethereum
Certified Blockchain Developer Hyperledger
Blockchain Networks Course
Certified Blockchain Security Professional
Cryptocurrency Trader Course
b) Certified Technology Professional Courses
These are courses in emerging technology that have practical projects as the final stage of the class:
Python Developer Course
Funtrench Machine Learning Course
Funtrench Augmented Reality Course
Eden3D Game Development Course
c) Blockchain Workshops
These are short beginner and professional workshops that address specific needs in the market.
They have no exams or projects and are designed to introduce learners to particular concepts. Four are beginner workshops listed below that are largely targeted at students in secondary and tertiary education as well as non-tech professionals who are involved in decision-making around Blockchain:
Blockchain for Everyone
Hashgraph for Everyone
Cryptocurrency Trading Basics
Cryptocurrency Mining Basics
The rest are specialist workshops targeted at professionals:
The CIO Intelligence Briefing
The Product Manager’s Briefing
The CTO Intelligence Briefing
The Entrepreneur Intelligence Briefing
Who are your students?
Since our primary target market is individuals with at least a secondary school education, most of our students are students in universities and colleges. Oshwal College and AkiraChix are our key partners at this level. We also get professionals from particular industries coming to learn about the applications of particular technologies in their industry of work. Our first Blockchain Foundation Course class was made up entirely of insurance industry professionals drawn from major insurance companies such as Minet and Jubilee.
Do you teach sometimes? Maybe?
I teach some classes, though I am dialing down on this to focus more on the solutions side of the company. I teach Python, Blockchain development and game development. As the creator of the Eden3D game development platform which we use in our game developer course, it is easy for me to teach about it.
Game development being one of the major courses at the institution, how would you say the market has responded to this particular course?
We held a game development bootcamp at Oshwal College last year. The feedback was amazing. Some of our Python students intend to take game development once they are done, as Python development is a prerequisite. A lot of students in tertiary institutions are interested in developing games, which we hope will expand the tiny gaming industry we have locally.
What about the Blockchain courses? How is the market responding to this?
People are excited about Blockchain. Many of our students are coming up with innovative projects and proposing partnerships to bring them to life. We are in talks with many new potential partners for training and solutions, from counties looking for more robust revenue collection to universities looking to provide a practical Blockchain course. In the coming months expect a lot of news around our next set of collaborations.
What is your current business threat?
Our business threats are largely shallow emerging technology content that is flooding the market. A lot of people are taking courses with little or no practical value or local application, leading to many dismissing Blockchain for example as ‘hype’. This is why we are focused on building solutions, to show what emerging technologies can do.
Additionally, the fragmentation of the emerging technology space in Kenya is a serious business threat, since each company is doing things at small scale rather than joining forces to build larger projects at scale. To mitigate against this, we are in the process of setting up consortiums with other players in emerging technologies to bring large cutting-edge projects to life right here in Kenya. We’re in this for the long haul.
There are many tech companies in Kenya and Africa, what would you say gives Funtrench the competitive edge?
As a technology company, one of the things that sets us apart is our focus on the state of the art rather than just the current needs in the market. By building both what the market needs now and what it will need in the future, we are setting ourselves up for multiple first-mover advantage scenarios that in our long-term strategy will establish us as an African innovation leader.
Being an emerging technologies company, innovation comes with the territory, but we are not complacent, we are constantly forming linkages with the people at the edge of research, trying to build in African tech into the systems of the future. An example is a cross-discipline project we are currently working on (still under wraps) that employs machine learning, augmented reality and Blockchain.
What is the latest news from your company?
From the company launch on March 6th at Movenpick Hotel, where we announced our new partnership with the Blockchain Training Alliance, we have moved quickly to position ourselves as a Blockchain training industry leader. The latest news is that we will be launching an augmented reality course and workshop in collaboration with BlackRhinoVR, so anyone who wants to get into the world of AR and VR now has a structured and practical course to jump into. This course will closely relate with our game development training as we work towards getting African virtual reality games into the market.
What are the ambitions of the company going forward?
Our ambitions are for world domination (seriously) but we’ll settle for being the Cisco of emerging technology. We want to have a presence in every African country by 2025, with adoption of Blockchain and machine learning in particular across the continent being our passion. We believe Blockchain technology and machine learning when properly deployed and managed can significantly improve the strength of institutions in Africa, leading to stronger democracies, greater service delivery by governments and private sector and more transparent and efficient use of resources across the continent. All this is great for ordinary Africans but also great for how the rest of the world sees Africa.
Who should contact Funtrench and why?
If you are a student or professional keen on learning about emerging technology for fun, business or as part of your work, talk to us. We have courses and more for you.
If you are a policymaker keen on learning about emerging technologies to help develop legislation around them, talk to us. We want to help governments adapt and adopt emerging tech.
If you are an investor passionate about technology startups changing the African story, work with us. We are post-revenue, focused and have a compelling story to tell.
Last but not least, what would you say is the future of Gaming and Blockchain technology in Africa?
The future of gaming in Africa is bright because more and more games are being made, especially on mobile. The problem of consumers playing foreign titles can only be solved if the quality and quantity of local games improves greatly. This is something that will happen only when developers can earn a living from making games.
We are not there yet, but this is one of the areas Funtrench and others are working on. Quality games take months to years and large teams with diverse skills to build, and most African games are still built by one or two developers as side projects. This is why an ecosystem that provides skill, capital and a market is crucial.
The future of Blockchain is already here, with companies such as Twiga Foods already using Blockchain technology and the government already exploring Blockchain use cases in service delivery. In the next five years we expect to see more SMEs using Blockchain in their daily operations to secure data, and Blockchain becoming a platform for data exchange and sharing between various parties e.g. co-operatives.
Funtrench is developing a product called SACCO Chain for this very purpose. Companies such as Grassroots Economics are likely to employ Blockchain and tokenization for their community currency initiatives, making the poverty alleviation SDG goal more attainable.
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