‘PICK and TAKE’ From The LéO Africa Economic Forum.

By Kimbugwe Muzaphal,

CEO Willapps Limited.

Last Friday 7th/July/2017 was the LéO Africa Economic forum on “Assessing the Impact of Disruptive Innovation on Growth and Development in Africa”, which I managed to attend. Particularly, I attended the afternoon session that focused on financing for innovations, in a panel discussion with Irene Ikomu of the Agakhan Foundation, Patrick Mwehire of Stanbick Bank, Kin Kariisa of NBS TV, Ambrose Agona of the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) and Michael Wilkerson of Tugende.

This blog post constitutes my PICK (Some of the points I found important to pass on to our audience) and my TAKE (views and opinions) on the event.

Below is my  PICK from the forum, which focuses on financing for innovation;

  • There are better funding and financing prospects in collaboration among entrepreneurs and innovators. This can be through formation of groups that support and co-finance different members’ ideas and innovations, say sequentially or in rotation. A case in point here is of Chama’s in Kenya.
  • Raising money or funds shouldn’t be the immediate and only goal for a startup. It is equally important to do the job, and do a really good one. While addressing the question of startup capital for example, Michael Wilkerson the CEO of Tugende revealed that “once you find something that people genuinely need, money won’t be a problem.” Michael also intimated that in the start, Tugende was self-funded until they felt the need to expand.
  • It is easier to raise startup capital from friends, family and one’s networks as opposed to acquiring venture capital-this, based on the Tugende experience. Michael Wilkerson intimated that Tugende didn’t acquire funding owing to his genius, but simply because he is one lucky guy who happened to have the right education from Stanford University, and one whose friends at the time Tugende started had for example acquired jobs as engineers with companies like Google and could easily part with 10,000 US dollars or more without feeling a pinch. In essence your friends and networks are of great importance.
  • Startup fundraising isn’t and won’t be easy but if you need to do it anyway, you must understand the business you are in, you must understand your startup equity and you must be ready to answer satisfactorily, all questions pertaining to your startup from institutional investors.
  • If you are looking for funds from banks in form of loans, then you’ve got to put in the time, keep records and have evidence that your business actually works. This can take at least three years. Patrick Mwehire, CEO of Stanbick Bank intimated that you essentially need to get startup capital first, stay the journey, have evidence that it works, and then move to debt financing.
  • Your startup might not have any chance with Public Private Partnerships (PPS). NBS TV’s Kin Kariisa intimated that PPPs mostly target multinationals in executing multibillion projects, which in most cases are donor funded and come with a number of strings attached, for example with limits on local content.

Another PICK from the forum, particularly for those innovators in the agriculture sector is that there are competitive grants for innovators with NARO. However, it is important to recognize the fact that agriculture is more of a labor intensive sector and innovations most desired are those that make work easier and more efficient while improving productivity. A case in point is of a piggery that necessitates proper hygiene in order to foster better productivity. In this case innovations that deliver proper hygiene in the most cost effective and efficient manner would be more desirable.

Regarding government’s commitment to supporting innovations, while focusing on the ICT sector, Hon. FranK Tumwebaze underscored government’s commitment to supporting innovations and emphasised that “leaders must be made aware of the associated benefits to GDP growth, employment creation and the societal transformation potential.”

Find Honourable Frank Tumwebaze’s remarks in full here: https://www.facebook.com/FrankKTumwebaze/posts/1150708395034724

My TAKE on the event is that it was a great opportunity for all innovators, with quality conversations and with a well-executed interactive model that constituted a compelling series of keynote speeches, panel discussions, question-answer sessions and sideline discussions.

However, I think that in informing such a topic i.e. “Assessing the Impact of Disruptive Innovation on Growth and Development in Africa”, more/better can be done. This should collectively include the organizers, partner organisations and all interested parties including myself.  On the part of the organizers and partner organizations, I am of the view that to best address such a topic it is important that a comprehensive and inclusive study is commissioned prior to the forum so as to establish certain facts in proper context by identifying and scrutinizing particular case studies. This can then lead to a detailed report that becomes the basis of discussion in the forum. Such a study can be commissioned in the year leading to the forum, with strategic engagement of multiple players hence in part, benefiting more people than those that the forum would accommodate. This might be challenging but I think it is achievable.

After the forum, there is need for a well-established post-event content approach to ensure that there is enough content forming a point of reference. This content can include all keynote speeches in text, audio and video, opinions of members that attended the forum, and an aggregation of the views of all people say from the question-answer sessions. For example whereas I can easily quote the minister of ICT since he took the initiative to post his remarks in full on his Facebook page, it might not be easy to acquire in text, the remarks of all the other keynote speakers. The organisers’ website can thus form the central post-event content repository.

Also, I think that we all need to be proactive in carrying such conversations as we had in the forum on. For example, I find no reason why so many people attended the forum yet very few are eager to share their experiences and views beyond Tweets. Why should partner organisations in such an initiative not be eager to share in detail, content from the forum on their various platforms? I think that we all need to stop being guests in such forums and become  partners and active participants, willing and more than ready to take these conversations an extra mile.

Finally, I wish to comment on the question of government support for innovations and on the question of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). Whereas the minister made positive remarks on government support for innovations, I am of the view that if innovation is to be boosted, innovators must be availed with opportunities and challenged to do things bigger than what they would afford under the prevailing circumstances. For example, we might have innovators interested in biometric access control but if we have the Parliament of Uganda procuring the services of a Chinese firm to set up a biometric access control system, where do we then expect our innovators to acquire desired project experience?

A case in point here is of Makerere University , an institution with colleges of Engineering, computing and information technology with courses that equip students with all the required skills to develop and implement such solutions as biometric access control systems in their basic or most complex nature. I see no reason why, whether it is fully entrenched in policy or not, that Makerere University or any other university can’t undertake such projects through inter-agency collaboration while giving their students, most of whom constitute our body of innovators a chance to earn, challenge themselves and gain unrivaled project experience.

I therefore think that government’s commitment should cease to be only in form of promises. Government needs to be practical and accommodating enough to avail innovators with grand project opportunities. This, to not only form headlines but to actually do the job desired. For example a case can’t be made for government’s commitment to supporting innovations yet  it hasn’t taken necessary steps to ensure easy registration and acquisition of  intellectual property for these innovations both locally and internationally.

In a nutshell, I commend the LéO Africa institute and its partners for having organized the forum, most especially given the fact that the organization is run and managed by young people who continue to exhibit perfect management, administration and organizational skills.

Find Below, a video of the afternoon session:

If you have anything to add to this write-up, please do so in the comments section below.

Willapps Limited,

Developing Solutions that ignite your business.

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