Read the article that inspired this case study in WIPO Magazine.
Navalayo Osembo-Ombati, a Kenyan entrepreneur who gave up her job at the United Nations (U.N.) in New York to start a running shoe business in Kenya.
Kenya has an incredibly rich running history, with many of the world’s fastest and most decorated distance runners calling the country home. Yet despite producing world-class athletes and cultivating a deep culture around running, a running shoe has never been manufactured and produced in Kenya.
Kenya has one of the world’s fastest growing economies with major social, economic and political progress made over the past several years; yet poverty and unemployment are still significant challenges. Kenya’s market presents a unique opportunity for new businesses looking to expand and support local communities and economies.
THE OPPORTUNITY AND IMPACT:
While studying and working abroad, Osembo-Ombati knew she would return to her native Kenya. With an interest in sports, a desire to make a broader social impact, and a knowledge of the significant running market in Kenya, Osembo-Ombati endeavored to establish the country’s first running shoe brand. Today the brand—called “Enda” which means “Go!” in Swahili—makes two shoe models, a lightweight trainer and more durable everyday trainer. Both shoes were developed in close collaboration with Kenyan athletes and athletic professionals.
Leveraging the brand for social and economic good is central to Osembo-Ombati’s mission. “By making the shoes in Kenya we’re supporting local communities. Manufacturing is one of the best ways to get people out of poverty. By making our shoes here, we are not only supporting those who work with us to make them, we are also supporting various subsectors that supply us with raw materials,” Osembo-Ombati notes.
Right now, 52 percent of the shoe is Kenyan-made, with the goal of progressively working towards a shoe that is 100 percent made, produced and manufactured in the country. Over time, Osembo-Ombati hopes to train and improve the skills of the manufacturing staff so that the shoes can be made from a range of local materials, phasing out the need to import raw materials. The model has been working—Enda has increased local production with new factory equipment and a Chinese-based partner that travels to Kenya to help train local staff on how to use machinery and handle raw materials.
In addition to creating jobs and providing on-the-job training to local workers, Enda also donates two percent of the company’s revenue to community projects that support Kenyan athletes and the community more broadly.
“IP is king. Without IP rights, we would have no legal means of defending ourselves against copycats or other unscrupulous operators. IP rights enable us to protect Enda’s business interests and grow the company, ensuring that when people buy our shoes, they get an authentic, high-quality product.”
- Navalayo Osembo-Ombati, founder of Enda, Kenya’s first and only running shoe brand
ROLE OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY (IP):
When asked about the role that IP plays in her business, Osembo-Ombati responded that “IP is king.” She goes on to explain that “without IP rights, we would have no legal means of defending ourselves against copycats or other unscrupulous operators. IP rights enable us to protect Enda’s business interests and grow the company, ensuring that when people buy our shoes, they get an authentic, high-quality product.”
Moreover, Osembo-Ombati notes that there are misconceptions in Kenya that IP might be reserved for larger businesses, and that the process of securing IP rights can be expensive. She underscores that, in the long run, IP is critical to protecting companies’ and inventors’ business interests and fostering commercial opportunities.
Osembo-Ombati’s path to entrepreneurship and the story of her running shoe brand demonstrate the far-reaching impact that smaller, local businesses can have on communities around the world. These types of ventures are not only the bedrock of innovation, but also play a crucial role in strengthening economies and bolstering global development. Without strong IP rights breakthrough up-starts that generate jobs, offer opportunities for local workers to build new skills, support local businesses and give back to communities would not be possible. As Osembo-Ombati put it “[IP] enables us to protect the beautiful things we make and expand our businesses.”