Of course it is debatable that Uganda is the most entrepreneurial county in the whole wide world. The question is: What shows? Let me give some perspective. A friend of mine was in the presence of a Venture Capitalist in Dubai. He is Ugandan and he was seeking partnerships especially in regards to funding local startups.
This friend was asked one question by the Venture Capitalist: How many Ugandan Startups have created products or services that have served the East African region? How many Startups have received funding to scale their products to reach the entire country and the rest of the countries in the region?
As you might imagine, the answers to these questions are not easily forthcoming. If they are, please notify us in the comment section below. Now, this is not to cast a shadow on what is happening in the startup ecosystem in Uganda. Actually there are some exciting things that are going on in Uganda for the past five or so years in our startup world.
We have over 10 “Hubs” and co-sharing ‘spaces’ that are fostering the entrepreneurship spirit. We see more and more schools, including primary school kids participating in different challenges on innovation and conceiving exciting products. This to me is the beginning of birth pangs. It is characterized however with some things that need to be addressed. Indeed, I have already shared elsewhere that “App Development is not Innovation”.
I believe that the following five pillars would be extremely crucial in shaping and changing the Startup world in Uganda for the better:
- Long Term Thinking
Now that we are all over the place trying to do this and that, it would be prudent at some point to hit the brakes, take a chill pill, halt all the traffic and ask ourselves this question: Whatever it is I am developing, what are the prospects of its legacy 100 years from now?
We will create great products to the degree that we have thought through this question. In fact, if we cannot answer this question then it means that the foundation upon which we are standing as entrepreneurs and creators is shaky, reactive, myopic, immediate-term and largely propelled by the chase of the almighty dollar.
Long term thinking is no mean feat. I mean, sitting down and coming up with a 100-300 year business of personal plan is no mean feat. But that is the stuff that will create a spine of excellence, responsiveness and versatility of our inventions. We need to be thinkers, period! Gone are the days of thriving in a “me too” economy.
If we are to have a game-changing startup world, we must of necessity think not just big, but think very extremely longterm.
- Export a Startup.
I had an opportunity to speak recently to a group of young men and women who had just joined a prestigious High School in Kampala. In a group of 200 students, you could hear their lingo. A kid says, “Oba what?” Another one, “Stop telling me that naawe”. Well of course this is Uganda and we are allowed to use our mother tongue as we converse, mixing it with English!
But hey, it needs to stop there. Our thinking (there it is again) has to start crossing the borders. What Ugandan startup has crossed the borders? Is there potential of such like startups in our ecosystem? I think so. So in raising this point, my focus is on entrepreneurs in Uganda to start targeting the East African Market which has been recently opened.
This is possible these days. We have seen foreign “startups” invading our land. We have seen restaurant chains such as Burger King and KFC enter our markets. We have also seen other regional “startups” such as Nakumatt entering our markets.
We need to make a mark and export a startup at least, if you know what I mean. If we will continue thinking in our districts or just around Kampala, we will be left behind.
- Break Culture
I will say it again. It is bizarre for Ugandans to continue proudly quoting this: “It takes 4 Ugandans to do what 1 Kenyan can”. That finding by some UN body has been repeated to me over and over again for the past 7 years since I first encountered it. A coaching practitioner colleague of mine has written a book around this phenomenon after over 20 years of research.
Listen, what is happening in the corporate world cannot be transferred in the Startup world in Uganda and we expect to cause ripples. Let me give you a picture. Take a tour of those 10 “Hubs” I mentioned above any working day…or even weekend. How many people will you find there actually working and grinding on their products?
Look at advertisements of events, trainings and meetups in the startup ecosystem in Uganda. Check out the quality in terms of content, attendance, engagement and follow up. There is a generally agreed sentiment of laziness and that won’t cut it in the startup world.
Of course there are pockets of extremely hard working individuals out there who are burning the candle on both sides and I appreciate them. We need to make such a habit our culture.
This has to become real, not just in word. There are great people and organizaitons out there in the startup world that are individually doing their own thing. Like that famous song about personal lights goes:
This little light of mine, I am gonna let it shine x3
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
We need those little lights to join and blow up the biggest flame this side of the world has ever seen in the startup world. Working alone in our own corners will not cut it. This is a massive topic that I would have to probably jot an independent article about. I had an opportunity to have a one-on-one with Geoffrey Ssemaganda of Action wealth one day.
He was totally against this thing of “dominating your market” He said that these days, people work in collaborations. Instead of people competing, why can’t they harmonize their strengths, join their efforts and collaborate? At some level, competing comes from the mentality of scarcity.
We have to be proud of what we are creating…and for that to happen, we need to have a spirit of excellence on it. Kind David said,
“Aint standing on a platform to offer anything to my God that cost me nothing”
In other words, we have to pay the price for excellence. Mediocrity should be banished from the startup ecosystem in Uganda. This does not just mean quality and finesse, but it also means honoring out deadlines, plans and agreements. If we are to accelerate our growth, we must be men and women of honor inherently. It starts from within. If we lack honor, then it is easy to roll out cheap lackadaisical products. Our focus cannot just be to finish or to “close”, our focus has to be of legacy, impact and value.
I believe that if these 5 things are put in place, Uganda will really be the greatest entrepreneurial country in the whole wide world.