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COVID-19 Unearths Ingenuity and Innovation from Ugandan Startups – Highlights From Kampala Innovation Week 2020

Every year since 2017, the Kampala Innovation Week brings together stakeholders in the startup ecosystem to celebrate, re-focus and energize the innovation efforts in Uganda and across the region.
KIW2020, last year’s edition of the annual KIW, was like no other. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, KIW2020 was organized as a hybrid event that involved in person participation of over 150 attendees with more than 5,000 others joining online from Uganda, Sudan, Kenya and the UAE, among other countries.

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges across many facets of life and business, and particularly disrupted many startups especially in economies like Uganda. Consequently, the KIW2020 edition was aptly themed around recovery and resilience for Startups and SMEs, where innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and development partners from all around the region gathered for discussions amid the ongoing global health crisis.

Discussions were focused on fostering the resilience and recovery of the Ugandan entrepreneur, financing Uganda’s green economy through entrepreneurial solutions, and rethinking the approach to startup financing.

Each day, a major partner event was hosted, with Day 1 dedicated to ITCs pitch competition which reached over 1000 people online. Activities were hosted by the Uganda Green Enterprise Finance Accelerator (UGEFA) on Day 2 around green entrepreneurship in Uganda and the various opportunities for finance. Enabel hosted a boot camp on Day 3 around digital innovation for entrepreneurs in the context of COVID-19.

Some of the speakers included Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, co-founder of Andela, Flutterwave and Future Africa, Norhizam Abdul Kadir, Vice-President of Fintech and Islamic Digital Economy at Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation, and renowned investor and entrepreneur Tomi Davies, President of the African Business Angel Network.

One notable showcase of this edition was the resilience of the startups that weathered the storm as the world quaked under a global pandemic. Indeed, the ingenious innovations that soared above the pandemic demonstrated the power of startups to swiftly devise solutions for contemporary issues and global challenges.

Below are three main highlights of the discussions at the KIW2020

Entrepreneurs embrace innovation during the pandemic

Julian Omalla had a dream of starting a fresh juice business. With UNCDF support, she started Delight Uganda Limited, a successful fresh juice business that sources its raw materials from farmers in Nwoya district.

When the pandemic hit, Omalla had to lay off her workers and close the business whose main customers were students in boarding schools. She used the lockdown period to re-strategize, reorganize and grow more fruits through the Nwoya Fruit Farmers’ Association that consists of over 5,000 farmers. This is one of the stories of resilience amid a global pandemic that was showcased during KIW2020.

Despite the apparent market uncertainty, many startups, companies and individuals have risen to the occasion, shifting their working models and using innovative digital solutions to meet customers’ needs. A number of startups are providing solutions in financial services, health, education, e-commerce, and entertainment, among other sectors.

Companies like Tubayo Travel and Pro Interns, both of which depended heavily on in person communication and freedom of movement for their business modules, discussed the ways in which COVID-19 forced them to adapt and adopt new ways of working in order to survive.

Here is a recap of the discussion.

Panelists discuss the need for a Startup Act

Startups are universally recognized as a vital engine that powers rapid economic growth. In Uganda, despite the numerous laws and policies that guide companies, panelists at the KIW2020 observed that there is need for a specific Startup Act that not only defines what a startup is but also stipulates specific benefits to startups such as access to tax relief and how the government can support them to access international markets.

“Many businesses are collapsing because of the lack of law protection,” said John Walugembe, CEO at Federation of SMEs. “Startups need to be recognized for their contribution to the economy, not as a favour to them.”

Though the panelists agreed that there is need for more groundwork and research before a Startup Act can be enacted, a clarion call was made for an urgent legal framework within which startups can be engaged. They added that the framework should provide for more lenient requirements for registration, mechanisms for access to finance, and an enabling environment for entry and exit into the sector.

Watch the discussion here.

Digital innovation to improve efficiency in the humanitarian sector

There is no doubt that the pandemic has hit hardest the people who are traditionally marginalized, affecting their ability to access social services like health and education. Consequently, the humanitarian sector needs to embrace digital innovation to build solutions that improve the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable.

The discussion emphasized the concern that digital solutions should make the lives of people supported by humanitarian organizations better, not worse. Governments and regulating authorities play a leading role in accommodating the innovation process and ensuring consumer protection.

“We need to ensure that our solutions do not for instance propagate domestic violence or create more division amongst communities,” observed Jaki Mebur Market Engagement Manager, GSMA.

Keeping in mind the limited access to technology and digital literacy that marginalized communities face, digital innovations should address the needs of the most vulnerable.

Watch the discussion here.

Please visit the Kampala Innovation week Facebook page to watch all the live stream sessions.

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