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Innovations Village boosting Uganda’s start-ups

Japheth Kawanguzi is the Team Leader at Innovations Village, an incubation hub for start-up businesses based in Kampala. He spoke to The Independent’s Ian Katusiime about the future outlook of start-ups in Uganda.

What is your management philosophy?

A US General, George Patton says ‘don’t tell people what to do but ask them and they will surprise you with their ingenuity,’ my philosophy is reflected in that.

People should be driven by the need to bless the organisation with what that they can do uniquely as them instead of trying to drive them to do what you want them to do. It is about getting people to unleash their potential.

What does it take for one to get a slot at the Innovation Village?

Uganda is known for being the most entrepreneurial country but most businesses do not reach their first birthday of operation.

Now we at Innovations Village are open to anybody looking for entrepreneurship skills. And once that individual comes, we try to establish across our different labs/sectors where he/she fits based on the level of business growth or maturity, and move along with that person to ensure that the business grows.

However, we have categories of people/partners who pay for the services we offer, enabling us extend our services to upcoming entrepreneurs.

What unique services or products are developed at your business organisation?

We basically do three things. First is the moon shoot factory where we attract ventures that are scalable, disruptive, and have a unique approach to everyday challenges. Normally these ventures don’t need capital investment or a lot of pampering.  They simply need positioning, branding, and engagement with partners to ensure that they take-off and grow.

The second one is the challenge driven accelerator. Here we get these start-ups to begin building solutions for the societies’ biggest problems.  And the third one is the bureau, which is the consulting and research arm to inform trends in different sectors of the economy including health, business and education.

You seem to have been involved in nurturing start-ups for some years now. What is your assessment of start-ups in Uganda at the moment?

Start-ups in Uganda are still in early stage figuring out their models. People mistake having an idea as a qualification for being called a start-up. Unfortunately, the fundamental building blocks that would also accelerate this process are still lacking, making start-up death an everyday phenomenon. However there is a shift with regional and global accelerators coming in with all these ideas.

How do these techpreneurs make money?

Techpreneurs make money by solving real industry or community challenges or by exploiting existing opportunities that their ventures represent. The mistake normally made is either judging them early before the gestation period of what their ventures represent ends. Our innovation labs are home to entrepreneurs and innovators within a sector. We have seven Labs. The Agribusiness Lab, Health Lab, Fintech Lab, Media Lab, Climate Lab, Educational technology Lab  and the  Governance Lab. These labs exist to accelerate the opportunities within a sector particularly answering questions like how to attract capital, build capacity for players, build networks, and create market opportunities.

Where do you see Innovation Village in the next five years?

Last year we worked with 820 innovators; 40% of them young women. This year we have already engaged half that number. Our single minded focus is to build the region’s largest creative playground where every idea counts as a driver of social economic transformation.

Our space is now a destination where entrepreneurs call home. We are building the same home to now accommodate partners that want to work with start-ups.

Ultimately this is a convergence of entrepreneurs, innovators, partners and local investment clubs acting together as one force for good.  As can be expected, it is absolutely difficult mostly because these are unchartered grounds that people have not been to and no one wants to be the first to try them out. Our motivation remains the fact that our innovators are creating value that speaks for itself. Our mantra is we need to be too good, we cannot be ignored and our model is en route to build 100 ventures in the next decade.

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