Last evening, Fenix International hosted some of Uganda's leaders in the tech and startup ecosystem in an event dubbed Silicon Hills Kampala. The main aim was to boil down heads and forge a way forward as well as craft a vision for the ecosystem despite all the looming challenges.
The program involved a keynote speech from TMS Ruge, the founder, and CEO of RainTree Farms as well as a co-founder at Hive Colab. This was shortly followed by a panel discussion moderated by Jit Bhattacharya, the CTO at Fenix International.
The panel consisted of Alastair Sussock, Co-founder at SafeBoda, Mary Musimire from Techmakers, Solomon King, Founder of FundiBots and Timothy Musoke, a co-founder at Laboremus.
The panel was faced with a couple of questions. Some of which have been asked over and over. But, the fact they are repeated at similar or same gatherings is an indication of how important they're. Yet, it is also an indicator that nothing or little has been done towards solving them.
We picked out some of the questions that were presented and believe are very crucial. One of them was "how (as Uganda) do we continue to develop the talent to ensure the companies have what they need?"
Solomon King was the first to give a go at it and he said that "the problem is very deeply ingrained into society and the education system itself."
Basically, you really need to start from a very early age. Initially, when we [Fundibots] began our program we were working with Secondary school students and we realized that even at that stage we were still having issues. So we decided to go lower to primary school - Solomon King
According to Solomon, we need to start at a very early age. However, this is an urgent issue. This is something that requires going with what is available. If our goal is to build an army of techies for the next 30 years, then Solomon's approach can work.
Yet, if we are aiming at solving a problem that already exists, then we need to go with the Andela way. Start with those that have already expressed interest in tech and coding.
Secondly, there was a question that was paused by someone off twitter. Basically, the person was looking to understand the general mood on Blockchain and Cloud Technology in Uganda. Despite the fact that Timothy gave an objective answer, it was very narrow in my opinion. Plus, no one on the panel seemed to have an extensive understanding of how far and widely it has penetrated Uganda(ns).
Plus, no one on the panel seemed to have an extensive understanding of how far and widely the two have penetrated Uganda(ns).
Third, another crucial question on "how co-working spaces and incubators, as well as other elements of the ecosystem, can work together" was paused.
Alastair gave it the first shot and he believes "the point of mentorship is very important." His suggestion is that to keep up with the changes around the world, mentorship should be given priority.
He also pointed out that one of the challenges people in the coworking spaces face is that they have got a lot of things they are working on at ago. He suggested that mentorship around that needs to be done.
Solomon Kitumba, the Community Manager at Innovation Village, also added his voice by saying that "most of the co-working spaces just have good internet and fancy facilities, nothing more."
He, however, wondered - out of all those running these co-working spaces - how many actually have the power to make a call to a specific entity. Solomon closed by encouraging everyone to find out a way to craft partnerships that can increase the leverage of these coworking spaces.
There was also a discussion about crowdfunding as an alternative way of raising startup funding.
Alastair agreed that they "got a very small grant from a crowd funding campaign. It wasn't very complex. It was just something to get us started and also get many people interested in what we were doing. It was very useful for us. People need to think about alternative forms of capital here though."
Yet Solomon King, from Fundibots, said they "tried to do a crowd funding campaign. It did not go well. Ugandans give to the heart. They give to personal causes like a sickness."
However, Ruge suggested that in order to see a turnaround of events in crowdfunding, we need to dump almost everything foreign about it and customize it to suit our local ways.
Let's crowd fund the way we know how to crowd fund. We have something called the savings SACCOs. Let's take this thing that has been perfected at the community level and apply it to tech startups. There's an opportunity to innovate around. We shouldn't look at crowd funding platforms that we don't even understand - Ruge
George William, an Assistant Administrator with Laboremus, also added his voice and mentioned the fact that the tech sector elites seem to be detached from what the reality is. His issue was that the internet in Uganda is the number one thing deterring people from innovating. He urged all those concerned to come up and advocate for a reduction in internet costs.
Maria, the Operations Lead at Andela Uganda, closed the session with a question that - I am disappointed - never received the deserved answers. The majority that tried to answer it all went astray. The solutions that were presented weren't digging deep to the core cause of the problem.
She was responding to the point that Alastair raised - the fact that most Ugandan innovators have more than one thing they are doing at ago. To her, "the reason as to why most people have more than one hustle is because the rest are failing or not bringing in money. But they are not doing it out of complacency. In the end, they use oor learn more than one program and skill."
However, Jit - the moderator, was able to clarify this by bringing in the Silicon Valley comparison. He said, "there aren't as many side hustles in Silicon Valley because it is an ecosystem that gives entrepreneurs and engineers the opportunity to take longer term risk.
They're not as worried about 'can I make that money today.' Because there's an entire ecosystem there and ready to support. How do we create that ecosystem [here] that allows people to take big risks? - Jit.
This is true. For an entrepreneur to survive in Uganda, they have to do something that brings in short term income as well as work on their startup or innovation that's aimed at the long term. Unless this issue is addressed to the core, the trend will never change.
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