Many Ugandan entrepreneurs have big dreams, but what holds them back?

Entrepreneurs must be supported in different aspects to realise tangible business growth. Photo / File   

What you need to know:

  • With a change in business landscape driven by technology, there is need to skill and expose entrepreneurs to emerging technologies  

In the bustling city of Kampala, Uganda, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and thriving. 

A myriad of ambitious individuals embark on the perilous journey of transforming their innovative ideas into scalable enterprises. 

However, amid the excitement and potential lies a crucial question: What really is holding back the enterprising spirit?

The UN Conference on Trade and Development, says Uganda's 1.1 million medium and small scale enterprises account for 80 percent of the country's gross domestic product and 90 percent of its private sector. 

Economic experts say the journey ahead for many entrepreneurs may be daunting, but with the guidance of mentorships irrespective of their visionary ideas, the dreams can be transformed into promising realities.

The ICT Ministry at the weekend noted the need is certainly huge, but centres such Innovation Village, an entrepreneurial support setup, have become the bedrock of a growing start up ecosystem.

Over 30,000 entrepreneurs across Uganda have passed through its wings, for mentorship and market orientation as they try to navigate the hard reality of business.

Arthur Mukembo, the Future Lab Studio Lead of Innovation Village, believes for entrepreneurs to succeed, they must be equipped with not only ground-breaking ideas but necessary tools and knowledge to transform them into tangible realities. 

Starting with the very beginning of an idea, Innovation Village's comprehensive approach helps entrepreneurs to navigate challenging processes of market research, product development, and value creation.

In order to help you create, market, deliver, and capture value, Mukembo says: "We work with you to build a market-oriented solution."

Mentoring start-ups enables entrepreneurs to understand their target market inside out, ensuring their product or solution perfectly aligns with customer demands. 

By instilling this market-focused mind-set, it significantly improves the chances of entrepreneurial success.

But it doesn't end with market orientation. It delves deeper into the core of entrepreneurship, meticulously examining the scalability and sustainability of each venture. 

Understanding the risky nature of early-stage ideas, Mukembo acknowledges that "almost nine in 10 will not meet their first birthday due to the quality and execution of their services". 

To address this challenge head-on, industry players say an array of resources, including mentorship, exposure to industry, access to markets, and the necessary tools are crucial for any entrepreneur.

By empowering entrepreneurs with the skills they need, they are positioned to not only meet the cost of providing their product to the market but also to scale their ventures into markets across the continent.

“We are aware that businesses have emerged in Uganda and there is need for support in the digital space,” says Bryan Mbasa, an economist and senior manager at MTN Foundation.

A case study conducted by Makerere University in May 2022 found that 45.9 percent of newly founded businesses fail. The study defines small and medium enterprises as those that employ fewer than 250 people and operate on a small scale.

But it demonstrated that businesses owned by young people with high levels of education have 60 percent success odds, highlighting the need of up skilling entrepreneurs. 

Through MTN's ACE programme, Mbasa and his team have invested Shs1.8 billion into equipping and skilling initiatives to enable entrepreneurs leverage technology for growth and job creation.

The ICT Ministry, equally committed to promoting innovation and digital skills, acknowledges the need for a robust support system. 

Agnes Lumala, the academic registrar at the Uganda Institute of Information and Technology, who spoke on behalf of the ICT Ministry, said with the National ICT Innovation Hub serving as the focal point, government offers a platform for capacity building, advisory services, and collaborative spaces for ICT innovators. 

“The Innovation Village plays a crucial role within this ecosystem, bridging various stakeholders and supporting entrepreneurs in bringing their ideas to life,” she said, noting that this seeks to bridge the missing gap that erodes the success of promising business ventures in a short time after their birth due to inadequate knowledge about technological advancements and market needs.

In a country where the digital agenda is gaining momentum as it is anticipated to boost trade through e-commerce as embedded in Uganda’s agenda of 2040, the nurturing of entrepreneurship becomes paramount. 

In order to carry out the Digital Transformation Programme as outlined in the National Development Program III, Lumala explains that the ICT Ministry is required to provide overall strategic and internet leadership, coordination, support, and advocacy to the ICT sectors.

According to a survey by East Africa Com and Connecting Africa in March under the title East Africa's Startups Ecosystem, it was found that for startups to get the required funds from investors, they need sustainable ideas that are not only scalable, but also return profits for a long time.

This explains why the need for skilling and exposure of emerging technologies to entrepreneurs is needed. 

28 percent of startups surveyed indicated that they experienced a decreased investment levels across East Africa due to Covid-19, making it the largest negative impact for young businesses. 

But 17 percent of respondents indicated that Covid-19 had also boosted digitisation, with the potential to create more opportunities for tech startups across board.

“The region remains a dynamic hub for startups, which explains how 74 percent of tech startups only needed to meet up to five investors before securing funding,” the report notes.

“This number drops even further for seeds businesses as 52 percent of them needed less than three investors before securing new investments, a number that seems closely intertwined with their reliance at 54 percent on friends and family for fundraising,” the report added.