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Startups must embrace new technologies to flourish


Anthony Giannoumis is from Oslo Metropolitan University and Amit Patel is the Creative Director at the London based entrepreneurship firm (Experience Haus). They have accumulated 25 years as experience in matters enterprise development. Recently, they were in Uganda to offer counsel to young entrepreneurs camping at Kafeero Foundation and Mfano business and design hub. Jointly, they answered questions from The Independent’s Julius Businge.

What more should our readers know about you?

We provide training in digital skills for individuals and organisations. We help them to develop ideas for business growth and to solve societal challenges. We do work in different countries around the world Uganda inclusive.

What is your general assessment of the enterprises that you engaged with in Uganda?  

It is one thing having an idea, it is one thing creating a product and it is another challenge to get that product into the hands of users. Startups here are willing to learn and to try out new approaches. They have learned from the experiences of businesses that collapse after the first or second birthday. They are listening, creative and ready to explore new opportunities.

What should a business strategy for a startup look like?

Customer research is lacking here. They need to do more and find out what the true needs are for the customer and work towards satisfying them. It is not good to start a business basing on your assumptions. You need to figure out who your customers and their needs are for you to succeed.

From a wider perspective, what opportunities do entities like Kafeero Foundation/Mfano design hub create?

They unlock learning and create opportunities for business growth. When that happens, businesses become sustainable and go on to support livelihoods and contribute economically in terms of jobs and paying taxes.

What is the best way to use government funds for startups?

I am a big believer of such funds. They create opportunities. What I think is that whoever is supporting those groups should figure out the best way to measure success. It goes back to doing research. Find out what do these young entrepreneurs want, how you can help them, and also understand why something has worked for some and failed for others. You don’t stop supporting them.

What other incentives would you advise the government to offer to startups in a small economy like ours?

There have to be training hubs to expose the startups to opportunities related to incentives on land, taxes and others. Startups have to be given the space to grow. Not all of them are going to make money right away. Incentives allow businesses to save money and invest in other more meaningful areas of their business. Once you support many and they succeed, it means others will learn from them and create more opportunities in the economy.

The buzz now is about using technology to satisfy customer expectations…yet some of these tools are expensive for a startup?

ICTs are important for startups to use to communicate and disseminate information to suppliers, partners, clients or collaborators. The most important thing to do is to make sure that your messages are clear and provocative to your stakeholders. You have got to be strategic while thinking about the web solutions to deliver value proposition to your clients. You don’t want to spend money on technology that won’t achieve results for you. They need to have a vision or a goal that will attract investors to come in and support. They need to develop good security firewalls to manage cyber risks that could collapse the business. Startups can use ICTs to collaborate and spread in markets globally. Governments have three roles in this; providing infrastructure, regulating ICT usage and promoting human capital development. It should also be the biggest user of technology.

 Access to credit is a headache to most startups in Uganda. What is your advice to them?

It is important for startups and other businesses to look for partnerships like donors and other funding organisations that are ready to support. Startups also need to make a step back and think creatively, understand how much money they to spend and on what. You don’t need to spend lots and lots of money to get your idea to work. In the process, you have got to learn and validate your business without going into major debt.

Actually some businesses start and once they fail they give up completely. Isn’t that problematic in the grand scheme of things?   

In that fix, it is important to make a step back and redesign your business strategy. Talk to business mentors and also try to understand how others that succeeded did it.  

What management ethos would you advise young entrepreneurs to embrace?

Innovations, collaboration, teamwork, willingness to learn new approaches should be part of a management strategy for any startup eying big opportunities.

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