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Rwanda-based startup ARED sets up shop in Uganda with backing from Gray Matters Capital coLABS

Rwanda-based startup ARED sets up shop in Uganda with backing from Gray Matters Capital coLABS

ARED, the Rwanda based Platform as a Service start-up known for its ‘Smart Business in a Box' solar-powered kiosks, recently announced that it had set up 10 such kiosks with 10 women micro franchisees; thereby marking its expansion into its first international market – Uganda.

The solar kiosks, known as the Shiriki Hubs, are run by women and differently-abled individuals on a micro-franchisee model. These have been set up in Kampala as well as in the refugee camps of Arua district through which citizens belonging to lower income groups can charge their mobile devices and buy air-time.

These kiosks also have WiFi connectivity, enabling people to access the internet, make digital payments as well as a host of other intranet services offline.

This expansion into Uganda was funded by US-based impact investor Gray Matters Capital under its gender lens sector agnostic portfolio - coLABS in July 2017.

Impact on the community

The impact ARED has on the community within which it operates could be simply termed as solar powered gendered impact.

With its funding mandate met after piloting in Uganda for a little more than a year, and achieving impact with 48 kiosks is Rwanda – 41 of which are run by women and 2 by people with disabilities – ARED is now aiming to have 100 micro franchisees serving around 3000 customers a month by 2020 with this market expansion.

The startup presently provides digital services and meets the connectivity needs of 55,000 customers in Rwanda and Uganda, using its solar-powered kiosks.

Entry and penetration in new markets

Giving insights into his company’s development strategy for Uganda, Henri Nyakarundi – Founder and CEO, ARED Group said, “We will work with partners whom we call as [sic] area developers who will franchise our model in the different areas of Uganda.

“Our focus is on NGOs and private sector enterprises whom we’d like to be roped in [sic]. They will buy the hardware - the kiosk; train micro franchisees and use our licensed software. ARED will, of course, support them along the way."

Apart from leasing the kiosks via the franchise model, ARED is also planning to partner telecom service providers in Uganda to build distribution channels at the community level.

Commenting on ARED’s success, Jennifer Soltis, Portfolio Manager – coLABS, Gray Matters Capital said, “ARED has revolutionized the way digital services and connectivity is being distributed in low-income areas, and we are happy to have played our part in its success so far.

Henri's entrepreneurial zeal coupled with a passion for social impact by empowering women and the differently abled through a profitable micro-franchise model that pays a commission for every service sold is remarkable."

Sights on the future

While the rationale behind entering Uganda was the similarity of culture and proximity to Rwanda, ARED will be embarking on a far more challenging journey next year.

The company has trained its sights on the West African social space.

“We will be looking to target countries in Western Africa next year. While the cultural ethos may differ, what remains common pan-Africa is the unreliability of power supply. It is this adversity that we’d like to convert into an opportunity,” said Henri announcing that ARED has begun working on a pilot in Ivory Coast.

Founded in 2013, ARED is a Platform as a Service company based in Rwanda with operations in Uganda. It has developed a ‘Smart Business in a Box' solar kiosk, app, and software platform that empowers mostly women and people with disabilities using a micro-franchise business model.

This puts it on a storied list of African startups that are trying to have a positive impact on society through their tech and business. In mid-February, these companies converged in Kigali, Rwanda to look over the challenges and possible opportunities to rectify the problems in the startup scene.

Among the attendees were ARED’s compatriots Exuus and Leaf who are making strides in ensuring financial inclusion for everyone in the country.

With Uganda sharing similar challenges to Rwanda, it is evidently more than geographical proximity that caught the eye of the startup.