Last night, The Innovation Village in Ntinda hosted the Speaker of Parliament Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga. Her visit was centred around a conversation on investing in ideas for Ugandan innovators. The speaker was scheduled to visit during Kampala Innovation Week - which happened a week ago - however, "due to unavoidable circumstances", she wasn't able. This she made up last night.
Upon arrival, Kadaga made a tour of the Innovation Village interacting with several entrepreneurs that explained to her what they're doing and how it will contribute to the economy. Some of these included Solomon Kitumba from Swipe2Pay, Peter Kisadha Malinz from Startup Digest Africa and others.
From here, Kadaga visited The Innovation Bureau, which is the wing of the Innovation Village that hosts local and regional companies like Andela, Kola Studios, Xente, !nnovate, ENVentures, Milima Technologies and more. Before settling down for a one-on-one with the already waiting innovators.
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Immediately after CK Japheth, the founder of the Innovation Village, giving opening remarks and introducing her, Kadaga paused a question to the innovators in the room. What do you want from me? To which she encouraged suggestions, questions, comments and opinions.
"Is it technological support? Is it money? Be clear. Because right now we are in the process of working on the budget for the next financial year. Therefore, it is important if there are things you want so that we start a conversation and maybe create some money," Kadaga asked.
The first person was CK Japheth who focused on capital. He delved into the importance of access to the right capital for the innovators. He also suggested that there should be more realistic and less deterring criteria for innovators to access capital availed to them by the government.
"For some, it is access to capital and the right type of capital. For example, what is available is the youth venture capital fund with Centenary Bank. But if you look at the criteria for someone to access that, for the startups, it excludes over 90% of them," said Japheth.
Evelyn Namara also added her voice to the issue by suggesting that "we need well-defined structures to help us move forward."
"I think we have the money. There's a recently launched Innovation Fund and Youth [Livelihood] Fund. There are all these funds but the problem is that we do not have the right structures that can really try and help some of us innovators."
She also suggested that places like Innovation hubs have already helped map out a journey for entrepreneurs. And as it is now, "they are able to figure out if you're an early stage startup or at some other stage and whether you're ready for investment."
"This is the right place to start and understand "are we investing in early stage entrepreneurs or seed stage?' The only way you can know is by coming to places like these."
Evelyn concluded by suggesting that such money should then be coming to places like The Innovation Village and other hubs to help them "because they already know the entrepreneurs in the space and where to start from."
More innovators from the audience participated including Allan Rwakatungu from Xente, Evelyn Namara from !nnovate, Peter Malinz Kisadha from Startup Digest Africa and Celina Nalwoga from Milima Technologies.
Allan Rwakatungu suggested that the government should embrace the culture of making deliberate efforts of getting certain sectors and initiatives to succeed no matter what it takes. He cited the example of the Japanese government that subsidized Toyota for sometime before the now giant automaker could turn a profit.
"For twenty years, Toyota made a loss but the government of Japan had a deliberate policy to make that company and that sector successful. So, in my opinion, it'll start from the government. It'd be okay to not look for efficiencies from the beginning. But to be deliberate and say, 'we're going to build a cashless Uganda'," Allan said.
As the conversation continued, it was pointed out that it is also currently hard for startups to get ahold of government contracts even when they can deliver, or are the only ones that can do the job.
[caption id="attachment_3160" align="aligncenter" width="1080"] Peter Malinz Kisadha, Founder of Startup Digest Africa, explaining to RT. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga how Startup Digest Africa is helping the Startups where bigger media companies have failed[/caption]
Evelyn Namara cited her example of failing to bid for a contract with the Ministry of Agriculture of which she's the only local company that had the solution. But this was because she didn't have a bid security of over UGx. 180,000,000.
They also cited several barriers like over 7 years in business and audited books of accounts. Which is a tall order for a young company.
Kadaga agreed with most of the issues raised. Pledging to work closely with her fellows to ensure a more favourable climate is created. She also promised to arrange a meeting with the Minister of Education so that they can better understand the issues at hand.
She also acknowledged that this is not the first time she was hearing the issues that were being raised, joking that the issues of startups not getting government contract is because "you can't afford to pay a bribe."