The startup scene in Kampala is heading up and Seedstars World is right there with it!
It’s Friday evening, and the team of Remit.Ug is holding the flight ticket to Geneva and grinning from ear to ear. The remittance startup has just won Seedstars Kampala and is all smiles for cameras.
Be Kind, Rewind
Just a few days ago, Julien and I landed in the Entebbe airport, which lands so low over the beaches that is basically means landing on them. It’s our first time in Uganda, both on a SSW and personal basis. First impressions consist of flush green forest and the deep blues of Lake Victoria, the biggest in Africa.
As always, we make our last rounds of the local startup ecosystem before the Seedstars Kampala event. We reach Hive Colab, which is relatively central in the city sprawl that makes up Kampala. The space gives young startups education and co-working opportunities.
In the afternoon, we visit the offices of Tannex Market, an e-commerce shop specialized on groceries, which is especially helpful for time-strapped entrepreneurs. “It was a problem I myself experienced on a daily basis as a busy professional. I would call a boda boda [motorcycle taxis] driver to pick up my groceries, but soon found that they often overcharged. So, I quit my job and started Tannex Market,” says Michael Hanyurwa.
Solving an actual need is an important step in building a successful startups. While many Ugandan startups have good ideas, they do, however, fail to do the proper research beforehand, Roy Gakuo from Mara Foundation Uganda, a group focused on creating sustainable economic and business development opportunities for African Startups, tells us. We discuss over lunch how the foundation has been trying to educate entrepreneurs in order to minimize the failure rate.
The Mara Foundation is not alone in this, as several other projects aim at education startups. FinAfrica, for example, offers vital management and operative lessons. The Outbox, which also hosted the Seedstars Kampala event, also organizes several sessions to polish pitches, work on your coding, and get expert feedback.
In fact, it’s one of these jam sessions we see on Tuesday evening. Held in corporation with Google for Entrepreneurs, a SSW and Outbox partner, a fementrepeneurship class offered twice a week. While Uganda still has many entry barriers for women in the startup ecosystem, several key players are working actively to change that. Consequently success stories are emerging, such as the Maendeleo Foundation Uganda and GIPOMO.
Put your money where your mouth is
Speaking of entry barriers, Uganda’s government, though testing the waters, has done too little to create a business friendly atmosphere for startups. ICT startups are struggling with an overly protective telecom industry, where USSD code licenses and API access is expensive and very time consuming. Another issue is lack of funding, as investors in Uganda are still unwilling to fund startups. Government could fill the void temporarily by subsidizing bank credits, which are often impossible for startups to get, or by placing its own money –with its own set of conditions off course- on the table. Regulations will also need to relax: the stiffling climate around money transfer may be harmful to the blossoming industry. Insiders say that as soon as transfer amounts hit USD 500 to 1000, governments become unnecessarily suspicious. While yes, Money laundering online might be a marginal issue, this example only illustrates the dire need for ICT education on state side. However, I'm certain that many will agree that non-expert government is not an African Problem, but one prevalent around the globe.
During Seedstars Kampala, several e-commerce startups (shop247, Tannex Market, Purchase African) pitch, as well as a few education focused ICT solutions as well as entertainment (Kola Studios) and mobile app (VisitKampala) offers. Thin Void offered a social network customer service software, and TraceNode made logistical tracking possible. However, the main focus lies on money transfer and payment. Mobile credit payment is made easy by Mduka, for example. Inforex Africa, on the otherhand, finds the best Foreign Exchange Deals. Ensibuuko connected farmers through mobile money to micro-credits, and won 2nd place with the innovative approach to SACCOS. Xente and Remit.ug both offered remittance services, but eventually it was Remit.ug, which was crowned Seedstars Kampala winner. Through their beta-stage traction they could prove themselves as a formidable contender for the Seedstars World global event.
Uganda was an excellent stage for several of the trends we’ve seen in Africa. Though in other African Seedstars World events the ever underlying foundation of social entrepreneurship within the community (providing jobs for an unemployed youth) was more pronounced, Kampala’s forays into money, education and e-commerce capture the Zeitgeist of the African startup scene. The Ugandan ecosystem is a flourishing one, with strong pitches and even stronger willpower.
(Seedstars World Travel Team)
Nellie graduated from University of Mannheim with an Economics Major and has lived in the USA, Germany, and Spain. After part being of the Deutsche Bahn’s Investor Relations team, she specialized in Innovation Management. Nellie has gained expertise in many aspects of the R&D process, thanks to her multi-million euro project assistance at the Helmholtz Centre Berlin, co-authoring a publication on German cities’ innovative behavior at the Center for European Economic Research, and working at the pioneering SAP Innovation Labs. At Seedstars World, she will pair her financial experience with tech savvy while organizing the 2014 tour as one of our scouts!
Connect with Nellie or follow her on Twitter @Nellie_Horn