by Eric Mugendi
Technology operators, founders, enthusiasts, professionals, and investors driving the tech ecosystem forward are often busy people. Theirs is a world of long hours, strategies, deliverables, and so much more. While their origin stories may be different, they have a lot in common, meaning that they often have a lot to talk about when they get a chance to meet their fellow operators.
And so proved the Nairobi Operators Mixr event, described as an opportunity for operators to have some fun, exchange ideas, build interesting connections, and explore opportunities to collaborate. Organised by Black Ops with curation by XConnect and sponsored by Founders Factory Africa, the Nairobi event was held at Ikigai Westlands, with over 80 attendees from a variety of startup verticals. These ranged from logistics, hardware, and content production to transport and financial services, gathering to share their experiences in the trenches, so to speak.
A rising tide that lifts all boats: connecting the connectors
According to Gerald Black, Partner at Black Ops and organiser of the Operators Mixr, the key to this event’s success was insightful conversations and networking opportunities. These exchanges shone through in the speeches and overarching conversations, with the need to celebrate the role of operators in the tech ecosystem emphasised.
“The Tech Operators Mixr in Nairobi was curated as a dynamic platform for diverse tech operators to connect, share insights, and explore collaborations, and to also create an atmosphere for the Black Ops community to connect with operators within the region”, Black stated, adding, “The event not only met but exceeded my envisioned goals which were to possibly onboard new members and foster a sense of community.”
After the mixer kicked off with attendees networking among themselves, Kwehnui Tawah, a member of Black Ops based in Nairobi, addressed the gathering, talking about how founders and tech entrepreneurs can benefit from connecting with and learning from others. Black Ops, he stated, provides learning and growth opportunities for tech operators to scale. He emphasised the need for community and networking, as the founder’s journey, from his experience, can be very lonely.
Black hopes this event will showcase the work they and other connectors are adding to the ecosystem, a vision that Women Who Build Africa (WWBA) co-founder Thea Sokolowski shares. WWBA was set up with the goal of connecting women in Africa’s tech ecosystem to each other and with a global community, which lies at the core of their mission.
The attendees I spoke to were most interested in comparing notes and sharing insights from their varied experiences in a less formal setting. Many shared that they were looking forward to connecting with others and finding out more about the various communities and networks that they could join.
Making tech work one conversation at a time
A narrative that the mixer emphasised connecting people working behind the scenes to make the tech ‘work’. One such operator is Winnie Chira, Kenya Managing Director at Periculum, an Africa-focused AI technology company using AI solutions to empower businesses and government agencies to drive economic growth and social impact. Chira’s background in business development and remote work resonated with me, and for her, this event was a great opportunity to connect with others and learn.
For Julius Olabisi, COO of Renda Fulfillment, the Operators Mixr was a great opportunity to meet and network with companies that they were working with but in an informal setting. He mentioned a conversation he had had during the event with an e-commerce platform about how his company could work with them to get their products from suppliers to customers.
At another table, Maramoja Transport CEO Ronald Mahondo shared how his transport company was planning to diversify their product offering to include a service for schools to streamline the way they transport their students from home to school and back. This, Ronald explained, was after a successful trial with a few schools in Nairobi, which resonated with Julius.
Nathalie Kaligirwa, a senior software engineer based in Seattle, was in Nairobi on holiday and attended the mixer for a chance to learn more about the technology ecosystem in Kenya from the perspective of those behind the scenes who, like her, work to deploy features and deliver on customer requests.
According to Dean Gichukie, cofounder at Quikk API, the networks that the likes of Founders Factory Africa and Hindsight Ventures help curate are essential for the growth of the ecosystem, something he has witnessed as a founder.
For Black, the positive feedback he received from attendees highlights the event’s impact on the tech operator community, setting a high standard for future engagements. He is excited by its success and hopes that it contributes to building a stronger and more interconnected tech ecosystem in the long run.
As the event continued into the night, I couldn’t help but recognise the palpable energy that even the evening downpour could not put out. The conversation flowed, and thanks to the variety of talents and forward-thinking individuals present, it was a testament to the power of community-building in the tech sphere.
What was clear was the variety of experiences and journeys that the attendees had been on to get to where they are now and how this spoke to the need for a supportive ecosystem where they could learn, grow, and collaborate.