The 2016 Leap Conference on 26th and 27th August 2016, lived up to its name, attracting vibrant group of 200 entrepreneurs that were eager to glean from the experiences of a carefully selected, knowledgeable line-up of speakers, panellists and facilitators. Over the two days, the conference offered hands-on experience to students and young entrepreneurs in developing business ideas and pitching these ideas to potential investors.
The conference, which was organised by the National Association of Student Enterprise (NASE) and the Makerere School of Public Health affiliated ResilientAfrica Network (RAN), very befittingly kicked off with a welcome address from a representative of the First Lady and Minister of Sports and Education- Mrs. Mabel Kiggundu. Mrs. Kiggundu, an enterprising woman and the Chairperson of UWESO’s (Uganda Women’s Effort to save Orphans) National Executive Committee was no stranger to startups and therefore begun the discussions by sharing some of her experiences in the startup space. Her experience stretched over 20-years and included retail businesses and opening the first courier service- ‘ELMA Express Delivery Ltd’ in Uganda.
The first day of the conference was guided by the theme ‘The Bare Knuckles of Business and
Enterprise” and aimed to introduce the group to the requirements of entrepreneurship and the traits of an entrepreneur. Dennis Aguma, the founder of NASE and the Leap Conference begun the conversation with a colorful presentation on ‘Entrepreneurship from A-Z’. In his talk, he reminded the audience of the importance of Mentorship, Networking, and going the extra mile, among other things. This was followed by an interactive session with Leo Henghes, the Co-founder and Executive Director of UNITED (Universities Together Empowering Development) who demonstrated ‘Where Social Enterprises come from’ using the analogy of a tree. Leo highlighted that it is usually the ‘symptoms of a problem’ that are most visible and are therefore similar to the leaves of the tree. He further pointed out that in order to address a problem, one has to ‘delve down to its root causes’. He also mentioned that social enterprises can identify ways to ‘prevent’ or ‘adapt’ to a given challenge and gave the example of solutions for climate change, which are often designed to help people adapt to an already existing problem.
The challenge that followed was in identifying some of the biggest problems in the country, a task that was led by a well-know talk show and radio Presenter- Ben Mwine. Mr. Mwine shared some of his own experiences in Uganda and drew experiences from the crowd who identified problems like the ‘poor road infrastructure’, ‘unemployment’, ‘gambling’, among others. The problems identified were grouped into themes and the students were tasked to come up with solutions for one of these problems in groups over the two days.
Other prominent speakers on the first day included Dickson Mushabe, the Co-Founder and CEO of Hostalite Limited, who shared on how ideas can be turned into ‘formidable businesses, Dr. Fredrick Kitoogo- the Director of Planning, Research & Development at the National IT Authority Uganda (NITA-U) who shared on the ‘role of Technology in Startups’, Toro Orero- the Managing Partner of a Silicon Valley VC Fund and Michael Niyitegeka the Chair of the Board of Advisors at AIESEC Uganda- a Ugandan Youth organisation. Mr. Niyitegeka spoke about ‘Personal Branding’. He mentioned that ‘a brand is your unique promise of value’ and highlighted the ‘difference between a brand and a commodity’. His talk was followed by another interactive session by RAN’s very own- Brian Ndyaguma and another familiar face, Nicholas Kamanzi- the community Manager at Hive Colab who introduced the budding entrepreneurs to the Business Model Canvas. With the foundation of enterprise properly laid, the audience then went on to tackle some of Uganda’s biggest problems. Evening passed and morning came, marking the first day.
Undeterred by their lack of sleep from developing their ideas the night before, the young leapers hit the ground running on day two of the conference. The second day of the Leap Conference, which was appropriately titled ‘Where the Rubber Hits the Road’ maintained the momentum of the previous day and was opened by the high-spirited Dennis Aguma. Dennis encouraged summarised the learnings of the day before inviting the audience to practice and perfect their pitches for the ‘Dragons Den’ competition later in the day.
With their pitches mastered, the well-fed, caffeinated group was then requested to give their attention to a panel discussion moderated by Richard Zulu- Founder of Outbox Uganda and attended by key stakeholders in the startup space. These included the banking sector, which was represented by Peter.. Customer Relationship Manager at Centenary Bank, the Uganda Registration Service Bureau, which was represented by Allan Kakungulu, Dr. Ernest Abaho from the Makerere University Business School and Leo Henghes and Deborah Naatujuna from UNITED and RAN who represented innovation and startup HUBS in Uganda. The panel discussion commenced with a brief word on the roles of the different institutions in Enterprise before addressing a number of cross-cutting issues like how seed funding and loans for startups can be accessed, the process of registering businesses and the type of support offered by innovation hubs, among others. The panel discussion was then followed by a lightning pitch session, where a total of twenty-three groups presented the solutions they had come up with over the two-days. The quality of the pitches exceeded all of the judge’s expectations, so much so that the winning team, ‘Team Musawo’, who described a health-related application, ended up taking a whooping 32 million Ugandan shillings home, instead of the expected 5 million they were due. Other winners of the day were ‘Serenity Solutions’, who came in second place with their sim card-free method of communication and ‘Team My Crib’ who described a platform to bring together landlords and University students.
The conference closed with an inspiring address from the Keynote speaker, Miss. Neomi Bennett, a registered Nurse practitioner in the UK whose world was transformed after she invented the revolutionary Neo-slip (http://www.neo-slip.com ). Neomi took the audience on her journey from the time she left school at 15, to when she became an auxillary nurse in 1999 and graduated from nursing school in 2012 and finally to her coming up with the Neo-slip and it becoming a fully-fledged device on the UK market. With that, the leapers were sent off into the world and encouraged to ‘chase their dreams’.