Startup Uganda, an association of innovation and entrepreneurship support organizations, in partnership with UNCDF Uganda, launched its very first Innovation Challenge in August 2020. The association was looking for the latest in innovation in particular sectors to solve very specific issues close to the hearts of the challenge’s anchor partners. The issues under the challenge included:
- Financial Health for MSMEs with Financial Sector Deepening Uganda (FSDU) as an anchor partner.
- Leveraging Last Mile Distribution Networks with Mobipay & Ensibuuko as anchor partners.
- Digital Literacy with Danish Refugee Council as an anchor partner.
The Genesis Story
The call was open for four weeks and saw around 150 startups apply. The Startup Uganda team reduced that number to 10 startups under each challenge track, which then qualified for the Bootcamp stage.
Working with United Social Ventures, Makerere Innovation and Incubation Center, Starthub Africa and I venture Africa, (all Startup Uganda members) the teams underwent a virtual 3-day Bootcamp on the final day of which they pitched to panels consisting of UNCDF members and the respective anchor partners. This process led to a shortlist of 3 teams under each track:
- Kanzu Code, Pata Sente, and Chap Chap under Financial Health for MSMEs.
- Agricycle, Famunera, and Cabral Tech under Leveraging Last Mile Distribution Networks.
- Digital Woman, ZOORA, and Backspace Ivy under Digital Literacy.
What’s Next Now?
These nine teams are in the final stages of their incubation acceleration programs with the Innovation Village, Makerere Innovation and Incubation Centre, and Response Innovation Lab respectively.
They will be pitching for a chance to move on to the piloting stage to take place over a period of 6 months, guided by the same organizations, alongside Startup Uganda.
The pitching competition is scheduled for May 21st, 2021 at Design Hub Kampala from 10 AM to 1 PM for a chance to featured in the 6-month piloting stage of the program.
All the anchor partners under the challenge were selected because of the relevance of the issues they were trying to solve, especially in today’s global pandemic climate.
For FSDU, the issue of financial health for MSMEs arose with the economic effects of COVID 19 which exposed the financial fragility of individuals and businesses. Low-income individuals that did not have excess liquidity were the worst hit. FSDU’s analysis of the finscope data set revealed that at least 23% of the population that depend on daily trade and business activity will be severely impacted. FSDUs aim with the challenge was to improve the medium to long term financial health of micro and small business in Uganda.
The anchor partners under the leverage of last-mile distribution, Mobipay, and Ensibuuko have under their belt, a last-mile distribution network of over 500 Digital Community Entrepreneurs (DCEs) in Northern Uganda and West Nile. The network is currently distributing products like solar, airtime, mobile money, and more to rural communities and is seen as a distribution asset that can be leveraged by various innovators to avail digital and non-digital products and services to last-mile customers and vice-versa. Their participation in the challenge was in order to add more viable product and service offerings to this last-mile network.
The Danish Refugee Council, the anchor partner under Digital Literacy, was looking for solutions to fast-track large-scale community-based training on digital literacy. There has been an increase in the use of cash-based transfers to support refugees and their host communities rather than in-kind aid. These transfers now also include mobile money. In an effort to ensure that these communities can manage their finances and be able to adequately use these transfer services, the challenge around low digital literacy levels needs to be addressed.
Startup Uganda is looking forward to supporting some of these solutions through the piloting phase and finally launching them onto the market.
In the past, we have noticed a number of innovation challenges in the country and seem not to see any of the winners or participants’ products in the market. This approach by Startup Uganda to help the startups pilot and try out their ideas with the help of anchor partners before leaving them on their own is one step towards the right direction in seeing the fruits of their investments hit the market.
Featured Image: Heylagostechie from unsplash