The fourth Forbes' annual Under 30 Summit will take place in Boston next month from October 1-4, 2017. The summit aims at bringing together "more than 6,000 young entrepreneurs and game-changers from around the world, as culled from the Forbes 30 Under 30 lists, as well as a wide range of CEOs, founders, leaders, mentors, investors, and disruptors", according to this Forbes article.
What is interesting is that one of the people to attend the event is Uganda's CK Japheth, a co-founder at the Innovation Village. CK revealed this information to us in a conversation we had on the future of the startup ecosystem in Uganda and Africa.
During the same conversation, he also informed us that he was invited for the upcoming Africa Angel Investor Summit taking place in Cape Town this coming November. The summit is organized by the Africa Business Angel Network in partnership with Venture Capitalists for Africa, South Africa Business Angel Network as well as the city of Cape Town.
In our conversation with CK Japheth, we were able to explore what this means not only to him but the entire ecosystem of Uganda.
[caption id="attachment_2362" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] Photo Credit: The Innovation Village[/caption]
Forbes Under 30 Summit Invitation...
In his perspective, the world is watching what each and everyone is doing. He says the "world is always on the lookout for young people out there who are giving their best".
"Especially young people who're building relevant solutions. Those who are out there to change the world. That's what that tells me and those who're out there to change the world", he adds.
... to the Young Entrepreneurs.
When you look at the hubs and co-working spaces around Kampala, the majority are occupied or roamed by young men and women below the age of 35 years. This implies that even the people they occasionally get in contact with are in their age bracket.
When I asked CK what his invitation signals to these hungry entrepreneurs that lack who to look up to, he re-echoed his first message. Which is, "they should continue doing what they're doing but also know that the world is watching if they're onto something".
He added that if you're "onto a path of impact and confident, keep at it. It is not easy that's why the 99% of the people are in a safe job elsewhere. But, if you decide that yours is an entrepreneurial journey, then keep at it. Sooner or later, something will give way".
Another implication, to him, is that "for those who have dedicated their life's work to supporting young entrepreneurs, it is very rewarding if that work is recognized on a global scale even if in Uganda, it is not recognized at all".
"Being recognized on a global scale means that not all hope is lost. And there are people out there who want to collaborate with people who're doing amazing things here", he added.
[caption id="attachment_2363" align="aligncenter" width="1080"] Photo Credit: The Innovation Village[/caption]
To the Innovation Village...
In several of the conversations I have had with CK, he has always said that the Innovation Village has been bootstrapped to the maximum. And, he thinks that what is standing between it and self-sustainability is the absence of venture capital. He also thinks its the same hinderance for the startups in Kampala.
So, I asked him whether Boston might be the solution to this dilemma and he was quick to say "definitely it is." He had actually contacted a couple of Venture Capitalists that "have already invested heavily in Kenya's ecosystem".
"There was positive feedback from them about setting up meetings as well as picking up conversations based on what we're doing and what they're looking for", he added.
He continued to emphasize that "the beauty is, they're looking for entrepreneurs who're delivering impact, changing the world but also with a business mindset". In his opinion, they're not looking for grantpreneurs - which means someone always focused on grant investment.
Any Other benefits?
When asked to highlight other benefits that his invitation may present both to him and the Ugandan startup ecosystem, he went on to identify a few.
One of the benefits he pointed out is definitely expanding his network. The network he can use to "create big opportunities for what we are doing as well as take the message out there and get people on board which is a very very direct benefit", he added.
[caption id="attachment_2368" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] Photo Credit: The Innovation Village[/caption]
For him, as an entrepreneur in an ecosystem that is early, he also still needs to expand his worldview. This will help him "understand who is out there, what are they doing, what are their interests, what are the global shifts, how do we localize those global shifts to create an advantage for the industry, for the community, and for the entrepreneurs here locally".
And, according to the way he sees it, "it is really about how do you tap into global opportunities to expand local initiatives that we are working on".
In this medium post, CK Japheth writes about something that he re-echoes almost whenever he is talking about the Ugandan startup Ecosystem.
He was asked "how many startups in Uganda have attracted funds externally and gone on to grow regionally?" by a person he described as a brilliant Indian-American venture capitalist working with the IFC.
Yet, he was telling me that he was hopeful his Boston trip might be of help to attract venture capital into Kampala. So, I decided to make reference to his own words and experience.
He admitted that "we are still struggling to find that startup that has raised external funds, grown regionally and there're some that are in that bracket but that can also be questioned further".
However, he continued to say that he thinks he has discovered the biggest challenge that startups in the country are facing. He called it the problem of "poor or lack of storytelling". In his opinion, we do not know how to tell our stories as well as our impact.
Because, "we have entrepreneurs that are doing very impactful and awesome work in terms of technology, social entrepreneurship as well as other fields of entrepreneurship", he added.
To clarify his point, he said that what the entrepreneurs are doing is "like lighting a candle and then place a bucket over it yet expect the world to know what they're doing."
"I read a Kenyan newspaper, Business Daily, and you look at who gets funded in there. For the past two weeks, when you look at the people I have read about [getting funding], I know people in Uganda who're doing that [same work] plus more", he points out.
He concluded this by saying "a lot is happening but people have just covered a bucket over the crazy stuff that they're doing, that's an aspect we have to explore more".
"Probably the more we help lift the profile and visibility of these entrepreneurs then we shall increase the money raised externally and also grow out into the region," he suggested.
The Hub model is broken...
Apart from the fact that no hub is self-sustaining in Africa, there's none that can claim to have produced at least 5 regionally "exciting" startups in the past 5 years. This was a subject of interest, and when asked if whoever he'll be talking to about the Innovation Village idea won't bring it up.
This was a subject of interest, and when asked if whoever he'll be talking to about the Innovation Village idea won't bring it up.
CK admits it and says he's "absolutely sure that the hub model doesn't work. That's why we keep saying that the innovation village is not a hub. It is an ecosystem. We are trying to put in place everything an entrepreneur needs to build their venture, from one destination."
He also adds that "there's no self-sustaining hub in Africa, very few in the world and most are subsidized". But he says that "whenever you're talking to an investor, VC or anyone who invests in early-stage startups about a hub, they're not really interested in the business of the hub. They're more interested in the startups in there".
[caption id="attachment_2366" align="aligncenter" width="1080"] Jamie from EDTECH Capetown who guarantees $80K for any education tech solution[/caption]
Which takes us back to the catch 22 question of "how many startups in Uganda have attracted funds externally and gone on to grow regionally?" Though, in this case, is "how many startups in the Innovation Village must an investor know about?"
And, indeed, CK anticipates such questions will come up. That's why his focus will mainly be spotlighting the startups and entrepreneurs that they are working with and the solutions they're building according to the different sectors and labs.
Africa Angel Investors Summit....
To sum up the conversation, we quickly talked about his invitation to the African Angel Investors Summit in Cape Town.
When asked, again, what this invitation means to him and the investment climate in the country, CK said that he "was pleased to get invited to the Africa Angel Investors Summit".
But, he attributed this invitation to the work they're doing with Kampala Angel Investors Network. This is a local Angel Investor network that was "started because we realized that you can not build entrepreneurs without the financing", he added.
To him, the beauty with the summit invitation is that "it creates confidence in foreign capital that you can actually go and invest in Uganda".
And again, he added that this is an opportunity to expand the worldview of how it is done, expanding the network and taking the message out there that there's a country called Uganda with startups you can invest in.
Because, if you look at who is attending the summit, he is the only person from Uganda - as far as he knows. To which he adds that "we need to continuously drum that message such that we are creating the right focus and attention for startups from here".
The Ugandan startup ecosystem is still young but growing at a very fast rate. Once given the attention it deserves, it shall be able to grow to match the level of others' across the continent if not leapfrog them.