Little-known Nyeri tech firm that wants to make your next smartphone

A technician assembles a speed governor at Ekas Technologies in Nyeri Town on August 24, 2020. The company plans to start local assembly of mobile phones.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Ekas Technologies primarily focuses on the manufacturing of speed governors and vehicle security and logistics systems.
  • The firm now wants to manufacture other gadgets like digital watches and mobile phones after procuring a new assembly line.
  • Currently, Ekas has 50 workers at its main station in Nyeri and employs hundreds more through branches and fitting satellites countrywide.

Wambugu Nyamu is a tech builder and the proprietor of Ekas Technologies Limited based in King’ong’o, Nyeri County.

The 53-year-old holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Production from Egerton University. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in project management at the University of Nairobi. On the side, Mr Nyamu practices silviculture and agriculture.

But it is the device assembling plant that promises to set him apart. His firm is now determined to battle it out with big phone companies in the world after it set in motion plans to start assembling digital devices in Kenya.

His entry into electronic manufacturing was particularly driven by his childhood hobby and love for collecting and studying electronic gadgets.

“Electronic manufacturing has the potential to be the future of Kenyan business. I have been in this business for 17 years and I can tell you electronic manufacturing pays,” he says.

Ekas Technologies primarily focuses on the manufacturing of speed governors and vehicle security and logistics systems. The firm is looking into venturing in the manufacturing of other gadgets like digital watches and mobile phones after procuring a new assembly line.

With advancements in technology, a new assembly machine has given Ekas a major boost in its production as the firm is currently looking to start building more sophisticated devices.

Wambugu Nyamu is a tech builder and the proprietor of Ekas Technologies Limited based in King’ong’o, Nyeri. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Ekas Technologies recently procured a Surface Mount Technology (SMT) assembly line to enable faster and efficient assembly of the new gadgets.

“The SMT assembly line makes it easier to assemble the components. With the new digital systems, the components are really small so the machine makes it easier to assemble before programming and testing,” he says.

Since the current generation of speed governors is based on modern and digital platforms, efficient assembly of the component has pushed the firm to upgrade its manufacturing capabilities. On the plus side, the SMT assembly line has opened a door for Ekas to venture into manufacturing other gadgets, including smartphones.

“Very soon we will begin assembling our own phones and other digital devices. The sky is the limit from there and this will be a new dawn for electronic manufacturing,” Mr Nyamu says with optimism.

Bumpy ride

For Mr Nyamu, 17 years in the tech business has been a bumpy ride and an eye-opener on entrepreneurship and the essence of local manufacturing in an economy.

Ekas was started in 2003, with the introduction of speed limiting rules on all public transport vehicles. On the enactment of the new rules, all public transport carriers were required to install speed governors.

Basically, a speed governor is meant to monitor the speed of a motor vehicle and ensure it is limited to 80 kilometres per hour, as per Kenyan regulations, by temporarily killing the engine power.

At the time the new rule was introduced, most fitters ran for gadgets overseas, mostly in China. The need for the new gadgets presented an opportunity for Mr Nyamu to study the technology and dive into a new venture.

“When the technology came we studied it and discovered that it was not very complex. So we decided to design our own,” he says.

At the time Mr Nyamu started out the business, he only had a single-roomed makeshift warehouse, a soldering gun, a voltmeter and a daring idea that would see him battle it out with tech gurus in China.

With the help of a technician in the room whose rent was Sh3,200 per month, he designed what would become one of pioneer locally assembled speed governors.

“All I needed was an idea and a few components to kick-start my venture. I realised that this is a gadget we could make locally and compete with the Chinese imports and in my 17 years in the sector I have never imported a single speed governor,” Mr Nyamu narrates.

As a start-up in a new field, Ekas Technologies initially targeted manufacturing and selling five gadgets per week.

This would see the workforce at the small business rise to three after a few months.

A technician inspects a speed governor at Ekas Technologies in Nyeri Town on August 24, 2020. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Mr Nyamu, however, maintains that business was not always easy especially with the competition from imported gadgets.

But his fortunes changed as the matatu sector grew, creating more demand for the gadgets.

When the government reviewed the design of the speed governors and introduced new standards, he had already established a place in the market allowing him to increase the workforce at Ekas Technologies by more than five times.

“By 2011, I had more than 20 employees. So by the time the new speed governors were introduced, we were ready to manufacture faster and supply to the market,” he says.

Since the introduction of the speed governor rule, Ekas Technologies has been a key player in the sector, designing and manufacturing all five generations of the speed governors that have been approved within that period.

Subsequently, the firm has managed to capture a huge chunk of the public transport market as well as earning Mr Nyamu a seat at the top of the speed governors sector.

Currently, Ekas Technologies has 50 workers at its main station in Nyeri, employing hundreds more through branches and fitting satellites countrywide.

Ideally, at the firm’s workshop in King’ong’o, a team of electrical and software engineers, Information Technology (IT) specialists and technicians design and build speed governors, tracking devices and fleet management systems for vehicles.

The clientele ranges from matatu owners, logistics companies, fleet management companies to private car owners.

The process begins at conceptualisation and designing a system based on customer needs. Once the concept is drawn out, the gadget is assembled from scratch with components sourced locally and internationally.

“We actually source our components from the same place as the Chinese manufacturers. They are the basic electronic components like motherboards, diodes and capacitors and we usually procure them in bulk,” Mr Nyamu explains.

The firm has a fitting capacity of up to ten devices per person, which translates to up to 500 gadgets per day.

A technician at work at Ekas Technologies in Nyeri Town on August 24, 2020. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

It’s latest flagship product is Ekas Fleet King 2017 (FK2017), a speed governor system built under the new standards enacted by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA).

However, the Ekas director wants the government to even the playing field for local manufacturers in competition with importers. He complained the tax system hinders the growth of rural SMEs which have potential to revamp the economy.

“I have employed over 100 workers with the lowest earner making Sh20,000. With more SMEs coming up, the ripple effect in creating jobs and building the economy is evident. We are not asking for lenient taxes, rather asking for an even playing field with our competitors in China and Europe,” he says.

nkomu@ke.nationmedia.com