Innovation hubs giving hope to ICT innovators

Monday December 9 2019

Graduates of Information Technology that are

Graduates of Information Technology that are pregnant with ideas can now get workplaces in innovation hubs. COURTESY PHOTO 

By Joan Salmon

Although she graduated from university with a first class degree in Information Technology in 2011, Rita Nakirya failed to get a job.

“It was not because I did not know what to do but that at most interviews, I lost the opportunity to my male counterparts. At one of the interviews, a human resource personnel told me they were not willing to employ women for such assignments that required among others working longer hours and sometimes in the wee hours of the morning,” she recalls.

This was eight years ago. Today, Nakirya marvels at the numerous opportunities people in her field have to explore.

One such opportunity is innovation villages which Nakirya says would have fostered her love for programming and database management as she would have found likeminded people to work with who would push her to greater heights.

Enabling innovation
Anatoli Kirigwajjo, the founder at Yunga Technologies, is one of the people that have a space at the Innovation Village in Ntinda and says he got to know about it from a friend who had subscribed to it. “He shared the benefits and I was sold out.”

For many years, Kirigwajjo had always wanted to run his own company as a tech-entrepreneur. And as of 2016, his idea of a company meant having a beautifully furnished office whose rent he could not afford in Kampala.

“When my friend introduced me to the Innovation Village with its co-working space mode of operation for many entrepreneurs who cannot afford expensive offices, I was excited. That meant that at a very small budget of about USD100 (about Shs360,000), I would find Wifi, a good table and chair, a shelf, a boardroom for meeting my customers and a pantry all set up for me. All I needed was my laptop in order to start working on my idea.”

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Since most start-up entrepreneurs’ businesses have not taken off enough to cater for all the expenses involved when renting a fully independent office, such a place is ideal. And for that, Kirigwajjo gladly joined the Innovation Village Hub.

Design Hub
Raymond Malinga found out about The Design Hub after he was approached by one of its founders about the plan to setup up a co-working space and the interest in including an animation studio as part of the project.

“We were one of the very first companies in the hub and we partnered with one of our long standing clients to rent an office space where we could share resources and information.”

Japheth Kawanguzi, the founder of Innovation Village, says the idea behind starting up co-working spaces was that Uganda is one of the most entrepreneurial and youngest country in the world which should realise all the potential it has.

“This is because of urgent challenges we face such as unemployment, limited or no value addition but more importantly missed opportunities as a result of not tapping into the full possibilities of technology,” he says

He added: “We also saw existing initiatives to deliver opportunities that do not take full advantage of the opportunity to work with young creative Ugandans. Such included training opportunities or workshops but also competitions that attract more that 100 submissions but go on to select the top three. We thus built The Innovation Village to be a home for the 97 to give them an opportunity to build their ventures.”

The Innovation Village has worked with more than 5,000 innovators and entrepreneurs with 100 start-ups. All these have leveraged innovation and technology to tackle pressing socio-economic challenges in key sectors such as education, health, finance, energy, media, supply chain, manufacturing, tourism, and insurance.

Benefits
Because these centres are popular for hosting many start-ups, innovators and entrepreneurs, more advanced organisations from all over the world keen on helping entrepreneurs, continually visit to help the innovators better themselves.

“This is how we met the first accelerator for our company, Yunga Technologies called HiiL (The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law), based in the Netherlands. This accelerator who is interested in supporting user-friendly justice solutions has helped us refine our product (YUNGA) through their wonderful training, mentorship, and funding.”

Christopher Agira, a subscriber to The Design Hub, speaks of the place as a commercial hub that is open to all. “If you are a start-up, you can get referrals where you can do work for big firms or they refer you to other companies they work with.”

Malinga adds that the concept of a shared working space with a diverse group of companies with different skill sets allows his team to easily get access to a few services that they would otherwise have to travel a distance to get.

“We have also gained exposure in business both in terms of recommendations by doing work for clients within the Design Hub and out through the new networks we build and share. We have also seen our visibility in our industry increase because the number of people who are aware of what we do and our various projects is always boosted through the rest of the people at the hub.”

Challenges
Skills gap. There is limited talent in highly specialised technology as most people are copying what others have already done.
Awareness. Critical stakeholders need to be on board to enable more opportunities for young entrepreneurs.

Capital. There is need of more capital to seed entrepreneurs to enable them attract additional funding.

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