Q&A: Google’s John Kimani on Launchpad Start


Ventureburn had the opportunity to interview John Kimani, the Developer Relations Ecosystem Program Manager for East Africa and is responsible for looking after the Launchpad programme in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“We work by providing startups with the in-person mentoring that they need to tackle critical challenges and enable each startup to grow or scale. We currently operate in 30 countries with over 600 mentors,” said Kimani over email.

“Startups can join a Launchpad activity through our partner network of startup organisations around the world, or at Launchpad Space in San Francisco,” he continued.

Launchpad Start Johannesburg, which is held in partnership with JoziHub, will have participants leaving with four key takeaways. These include an improved product strategy, an optimised minimum viable product, technical excellence plan, as well as a viable digital marketing strategy.

So what does a massive entity such as Google get out of helping SMEs?

“The growth of entrepreneurship in Africa is critical to the survival of our continent. We’re currently as a region creating about 3 million jobs per year while more than 11 million job seekers are entering the market.”

“Google believes that empowering entrepreneurs and startups is essential to drive employment growth, and enable both economic and social development on the continent,” he continued.

Google’s Launchpad Start is in SA for the first time and according to John Kimani, not the last

The programme’s mentors consist of individuals with various backgrounds in product strategy, technology and marketing, pitching, finance as well as VC.

More specifically the mentors in the Johannesburg Launchpad include fintech investor and serial entrepreneur Monica Brand Engel; senior director at King, Christopher grant and MD of ProSiebenSat.1, Jens Pippig.

The programme will not only offer participants mentorship from a global pool of mentors but also workshops with specified daily outcomes dedicated to specific subjects.

Kimani also touched on how applicants were chosen. “We work primarily through our partners to identify early-stage startups who would be a fit for the bootcamp. The companies should have progressed past the idea phase and built a minimum viable product which is showing signs of early traction through a growing revenue or client base.”

This is the first time the bootcamp is taking place in SA, however, Kimani has hinted at future plans for the country.

“This is the first time we are running the bootcamp in South Africa. We intend to hold the event annually, and will increase the frequency as we grow our partner and mentor network.”

According to Kimani, the ultimate goal of the programme is to enable participating startups to grow and scale, contribute to their local economies and create jobs.

“The idea is to achieve rapid progress in a very short time, drawing on the extensive experience of our mentors,” he concluded.



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