Most youths have shied from the Sh200 billion worth of tenders reserved for them, according to the government. Not so Steve Wambua.

Whereas his peers have opted to give the opportunity a wide berth, he has taken it wholesome and is earning a tidy income, so much that he has been thinking of taking on the big boys in the ‘tenderpreneur’ world.

Since it became policy to ensure that at least 30% of government business goes to young people, Mr Wambua, 27, says he has appeared before numerous tendering committees and each time is baffled by the opportunities that are going to waste as many youths cry of unemployment.

His enty into the world of bidding was accidental. Like many youths, after clearing undergraduate studies in 2011, he walked from office to office, curriculum vitae and graduation certificate in hand, seeking formal employment. He says his mindset back then was that having walked into the job market with his Bsc Biotechnology degree from no lesser an institution than the University of Nairobi, the world owed him. It only took a few months to disapprove him of the notion.

“The realisation was like a kick in the gut and I will forever be grateful that I didn’t waste a lot of time knocking on more doors.” His, now late, mother had just registered Jolive General Contractors and incorporated him as a director alongside his elder sister and her husband. “She was one of the most entrepreneurial-minded people I have ever known. She always emphasised that if you have a particular set of skills there is no reason to seek employment, make a lot of money for someone else when you could earn it all,” he says.

And so delved into the family business. When he sat with Business Today for an interview, he had just come from overseeing some road maintenance works in Western Kenya after winning a county government tender.  A few months after registering the company, he explained, the firm had won a contract to supply building stones for a church construction in Mombasa.

Then he made a mistake. “I was tasked with getting stones at one of the famous quarries down there. But instead of going personally, I called some transporters and asked them to go to the site and ferry 900 pieces. I then went about making merry. The trucks got to the construction site very late at night and I was woken up very early the next morning by phone calls complaining about the poor quality of the stones. Sh40,000 went down the drain just like that,” he explains.

The lesson has served him well. By supervising the work, he ensures that it is done to the client’s satisfaction and in turn ensures that the company is in a better place to clinch the next tender.

Rigorous vetting

“Before your bid is considered by the organisation’s tendering committee, some of the key documents that the prospecting bidder is expected to present are references by three previous clients. If they find them to their satisfaction, you are awarded three points,” he elaborates.

The next phase  evaluates registration and tax compliance. The committee then looks at the technical competence of the company and if the firm garners more than 70 %, the bid goes to the final stage where the money quoted is considered.

One of the biggest reasons that perhaps scares the youth from participating is the perception created by media on cancellation of various tender awards for irregularities, painting the whole process as inherently prone to manipulation. But even though Mr Wambua acknowledges that the process is not flawless – sometimes officials of the tendering committees demand kickbacks to guarantee a win – he says that there has been improvement.

“Nowadays it is harder to openly cheat the process. They have come up with a formula in an attempt at ensuring fairness in the process. It has not completely made the process free from manipulation, but it has instilled some level of confidence,” he points out.  Mr Wambua adds that with the introduction of youth and women certificates by the government, they stand a better chance of winning the bids.

The best piece of advice he can give any youth wishing to venture into the business is the need to network.  “If you are going to start, start with a small capital,” he says. “But most importantly, you need to look for people with money. Money looks for money.”

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