“It is through partnership that we together achieve more” always notes Prof. William Bazeyo, Dean Makerere University School of Public Health, ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) Chief of Party and Lab Director. In a partnership with National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U) under the aegis of Ministry of ICT, the World Bank, AVASANT and RAN co-organized and facilitated a 2-day training on Digital Entrepreneurship and ICT for budding entrepreneurs and students. The training titled TECHNOSPARK was held at the RAN Innovation Lab (located on Plot 28, Upper Kololo Terrace) on November 17th 2016 and at the Information Access Center (located within the Ministry of ICT, ICT House-Plot 10/12 Parliamentary Avenue) on November 18th 2016. The theme highlighted the vivid transformations that the digital era [enabled by technology] has brought into play. Businesses, academic activities, transport, security etc. have all been transformed by technology and the world is increasingly being leveled by it. This means that nations as well ecosystems are interconnected almost in real time increasing opportunities for national development and individual success. With carefully selected subjects of study/discussion and facilitators, Technospark illuminated the above.
For the 2 days, the TECHNOSPARK training had over 70 participants, comprised of startups/SMEs, mentors and students. The training attracted 31 females and 74 males all with a passion to be potential trainers of their fellow entrepreneurs and students. Technospark was the first out of a set of activities that have been prepared by NITA-U and Ministry of ICT a head of the creation of an Innovation Centre of Excellence (ICE) in Uganda. The center of excellence is planned to be the one stop midpoint that connects the government bodies and authorities to ready to market innovators and innovations respectively while partnering with existing innovation hubs in acceleration and funding activities. It will also be a center of innovation training, piloting and funding especially with regards to government absorbing and further supporting innovations from the private sector.
In his opening remarks, the Ministry of ICT representative Hajji Abdul Nsubuga stated that the Government is geared up to facilitate, promote and support entrepreneurship and that is why it is investing and partnering in trainings like TECHNOSPARK to equip and share knowledge with growing entrepreneurs and students. He encouraged the participants to come up with Innovations that can take the country to another level, he on behalf of Ministry of ICT pledged full support and commitment for such Innovations.
The World Bank representative Ms. Luda Bujoreanu emphasized that this kind of training was designed to create a new generation of Ugandan job creators and encouraged the participants to share the knowledge picked from the training with others to increase on innovations especially the girls. She further said that Uganda has the potential to become the ICT innovation basket of Africa with support from the ministry of ICT. She appreciated the generous contribution of the Trust Fund through Sweden International Development Agency and the commitment from the Ministry and RAN Innovation Lab in making this training a reality.
Mr. Chirag Rawat encouraged active participation and engagement during the training as a way of knowledge sharing and also said that TECHNOSpark training would benefit the entire innovation stakeholder ecosystem in Uganda.
The first day was coordinated, facilitated and hosted by the RAN Innovation Lab. The RAN team introduced participants to various vital entrepreneurship concepts and how to efficiently operate in a digital era. These topics also focused on how a curious young person can start their entrepreneurship journey using the concepts of Human Centered Design (HCD) and go on to register his/her business, acquire and grow their customer base among others. The topics of day included;
- From Idea to a digital product or Service (Principles of Human Centered Design) – Ronald Kayiwa (RAN Innovation Lab) – an engineer by profession with a bias in Technology and Industrial Development introduced participants to the Human Centered Design approach. He emphasized the importance of maintaining a flexible mindset for one to appreciate the process. The HCD methodology is comprised of 5 steps that include Understanding the users (also known as Needfinding), Re-framing the problem, Co-creating solutions/options (using divergence and convergence tactics), Rapid prototyping (fail first & iterate) and Pitching the final solution with the most scalable options. Ronald emphasized that HCD grants you the opportunity to engage all stakeholders when developing your solution and test it out using the least resources before scaling.
- Entrepreneurship in a digital world (Fundamentals of Business Thinking) – Brian Ndyaguma (RAN Innovation Lab) – using a background in entrepreneurship and project management with a focus on innovations, Brian comprehensively covered the process of business opportunity identification, business planning and structuring, key success factors for startups and how to raise seed funding. In his entire interactive presentation, Brian related the current business trends in developing economies with the global market and how technology plays an important interconnection role. As an example, he spoke about the ability to launch a product across different markets at the same time yet a few decades ago this was not possible.
- Starting and registering a business in Uganda – Agaba Gilbert (URSB) – The Manager Intellectual Property debunked the myths and fears of the entrepreneurs against business registration and the intellectual property. He mentioned that Intellectual Property (IP) is dived into two broad categories: Industrial Property which includes patents for inventions, trademarks, industrial designs and geographical indications; and Copyright. These Patents are granted over inventions that are new, non-obvious and useful whereas Copyright protects original works of authors in the literary and artistic fields. He walked the participants through a step-by-step process to registering a business in Uganda and the merits of having it (business) registered.
- Customer Acquisition and Marketing –Irene Kituyu (WITU) and journalist by profession with experience in managing Social Enterprises closed Day 1 presentations with reflections on understating the end user (customer). Her presentation both challenged the entrepreneurs to do more research on their users’ tastes and preferences, purchasing behaviors, as well as helping the participants appreciate the various digital methods of customer acquisition. Irene also had an interactive session on marketing for SME’s in developing economies where she encouraged the participants to make use of low cost digital marketing techniques like create product/ service content creation and sharing using social media platforms.
At the end of all Day 1 sessions, the participants were given a challenge (using the HCD knowledge) to make the best bag for the current market. It was an exciting experience for the participants who had to compete accomplishing the same task while targeting the same end user. The winning team excelled in understanding the purpose of the bag to the customers, their spending power and made a comprehensive and compelling pitch to the audience.
The second day’s sessions hosted at the Information Access Center on Parliamentary Avenue were coordinated by the NITA-U team. The objective of the day was to interact with various government representatives on program and initiatives that they have implemented that make use of improved IT systems. The day started off with a panel of two successful innovators from the RAN Innovation Lab who had recently taken part in the Global Technical Convening TechCon 2016 in Boston, USA. Grace Nakibaala, Founder PedalTap a retrofit-able foot operated (water) tap system made to reduce and prevent the spread of potent diseases in public areas such as hospitals, schools, shopping malls etc. and Ben Wokorach Founder Fruity-Cycle, a portable, low cost refrigeration system that is mounted on an electric motorcycle with a goal of preserving the huge amounts of fruits and vegetables that greatly lost in transit from farmers gardens to the market. Both are recent graduates of Architecture at Makerere University and leading teams working on innovations currently under incubation at the RAN Innovation Lab. During this panel discussion, the young innovators mentioned the importance of having and working in a team which is passionate about innovations and the work surrounding them. They also stated that it is the duty of the team leader to be in control and set the pace for the rest of the team members. “You have to be relentless”, Grace mentioned. “You will have to be the fundraiser, the accountant, the designer, the sales person and all the other roles involved there in”, literally meaning that the team leader has to be an all-rounder for the team to sail on smoothly. Ben spoke and encouraged the participants to register their ideas into legal businesses and companies because that opens up opportunities of dealing with funders and other interested clients professionally. “Once the innovation is tested and proved, launch it on the market and move forward” noted Ben.
On this day too, some participants showed interest in further exploring opportunities for innovation partnerships for example the Justice Law & Order Society (JLOS) representative, David Kikabi shared with participants the various programs under the JLOS and how they relate with each other. “In these relationships is where your support is needed” he added. He also referred to the challenges faced by the courts; noting one of having huge backlog case files, documentation and how to easily package the Law and its relevant information for public consumption, all of which call for innovation.
Martin Ssekaja from Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) who spoke about the infrastructural developments that KCCA has been and still undertaking also called upon the innovators to join in and create solutions for the problems faced by the city. He mentioned that the City Authority will be interested in supporting anyone who develops solutions that give the authority a chance to interact with the user/ public and even engage the users to take full responsibility of what happens in the city. He appreciated the concept and principles of Human Centered Design because they put into perspective the user right from the start of any project/work/activity/engagement. He gave an example of the flower pots that were placed around the city and people instead used them as dustbins. This showed them (Authority) that they had not placed enough bins within the city and the best way to get that feedback was by city dwellers filling up the pots with trash [naturally]. Martin participated in the entire 2 day sessions to have a deeper interaction with the participants.
The other speakers of Day 2 included;
- Patrick Muinda – Ministry of Education, Science Technology, &Sports
- Richard Ndikurayo – Ministry of Agriculture
- Eddie Mukooyo – Ministry Of Health
During the later afternoon of the day, innovators were tasked to create business plans and pitch these to the ‘investors’ in the audience. The presentation delivered by Abhijeet Nayak from AVASANT looked at 5 problem statements in the fields of Agriculture, Healthcare, Education, Justice and Civic Technology. The audience was split into 5 teams, given 45 minutes to prepare their business plan and pitch. After a competitive presentation session with each team given 3 minutes to pitch, the investor chose to stake their money in the healthcare innovation. This team proposed a technology based application that is used for crowdsourcing health information using a USSD code that is toll free; this innovation enables communities living in the rural areas to contribute information to the health authorities in an easy and real-time fashion.
In a needle’s eye, Technospark opened a portal for the young innovators, mentors, SME’s the innovation labs to work with the government in improving the services that it provides. Appreciation goes to all the partners that supported the event.