Light in Sight after Years of Darkness for Ugandan Startup Entrepreneurs

Posted on Jun 27, 2014 | Tags: Kampala, Uganda, Blogger, Startup Ecosystem, PCTechMag |

Kampala Skyline

Generally, the older generation of Ugandans believes that when you start your own business, it’s either because you’ve failed to find a job or you’ve reached your retirement. Of course, none of our youth in their twenties will have retired, so you can imagine the perceptions most young entrepreneurs have to put up with. Such perceptions wouldn’t be so difficult to deal with if they weren’t from people who actually matter. Parents, for example.

In truth, it isn’t easy to be an entrepreneur. It’s harder being a startup entrepreneur – from Africa – but things would probably be so different if those trying to be would be afforded some level of support from the people around them.

In Uganda, the landscape started changing in the last quarter of 2011 when we hosted Garage 48. The Estonian 48-hour hackathon aimed at turning ideas into working prototypes or services within one weekend, and 11 interesting startups were formed in Kampala.

It’s good to write this article today - more than two years later – because I have the benefit of hindsight.

Most, if not all of the possible startups launched that weekend are not alive today; and understanding why they ended up the way they did helps us make corrective adjustments now and in future.

The biggest barrier in this country today is the inadequacy of entrepreneurial skills among our developers. Most young people come together into teams of very good developers, and they’re able to tell computers to do whatever they want. But they often forget to put themselves in the shoes of their target users to see how relevant their solutions may be to the users’ daily lives. That’s always going to be a problem.

“I think most local apps are developed to solve first-world problems,” said Daniel Okalany, CEO of Kola Studios. Kola Studios is the proud developer of Uganda’s most popular mobile application, Matatu, a card game available on Android and iOS. Okalany says Matatu has over 65,000 downloads and enjoys an average user (player) rate of 5000 people, although, he says, this shoots over 10,000 in peak times.

They have been able to avoid the annoying banner ads by letting advertisers brand the game in their own corporate colors, meaning users get to choose their preferred themes: and that, is taking thinking out of the box quite literally.

Another key important aspect I that the entrepreneur knows about standard business procedures like good record keeping and the importance of paying taxes, financial discipline and whatnot. And some times, ideas just aren’t good enough.

That nicely brings us to a look at what has changed since Garage48. Incubation Hubs have since been set up. In Kampala alone, we have Outbox Hub, Hive Colab, WITU (women in Technology Uganda) and Mara Launchpad, four innovation centers that help guide young developers into being CEOs of successful startups.

The Hubs not only show build capacity of developers but also connect the more successful ones to funding opportunities. And that changes the whole landscape. In a previous blogpost, I had argued that Startups were over-rated, based on the data available at the time regarding success and/or failure rate. But am pleased to note that the emergency of innovation hubs has changed my view altogether.

What still need to change is the role of government in this. Until recently, the developer community has been quite separated from government: understandably, of course, because this is a relatively new sector.

But the Ministry of ICT recently, in a consultative meeting with my colleagues from the ICT Association of Uganda asked the Association to help advise on how government can support the developers. Of course the process includes developing and maintaining an accurate registry of all startup activities, and creating a voice that can forward their interests to the relevant authorities for national planning and the like.

That means what would be missing is only the change in mindsets. Developers still need support from their parents and other people they feel accountable too. That won’t change tomorrow, but the more the startups become successful, and the more the media picks interest in them, the sooner the perceptions will change.

Then of course, the other infrastructural changes like increased access to internet. There are currently about 7million internet users in Uganda, which represents only a fraction of our total population. But comparatively, Uganda is actually one of the better-placed African countries.

"Only 16 percent of the Africa's one billion people are currently online, but that share is rising. More than 720-million Africans have mobile phones, 167-million already use the Internet, and 52-million are on Facebook," reported consultancy McKinsey, in a report entitled " Lions go Digital: The Internet's transformative potential in Africa."

So with all stakeholders working together to put the pieces together, I see a very bright future for Ugandan startups. Let’s check again after one more year.

 

Guest post by

Albert Mucunguzi

(Seedstars World Official Blogger)

 

Award-winning Founder/CEO of PC Tech Magazine, Managing Director - AdNote Advertising and Secretary General of Uganda ICT Association. Albert is a blogger and passionate ICT Entrepreneur based in Kampala, Uganda. You can contact him on Twitter (@albertmuc) or by email at editor@pctechmagazine.com 


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