Ugandan Startups to Benefit from JICA New Accelerator Program

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2019/2020 ranked Uganda one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world with 30 percent of people starting businesses annually. In the United States of America and Japan, that figure stands at 7 per cent and 11 per cent respectively.

However, poor quality of business ideas, inadequate accelerator program, insufficient financial resources, no access to startup tax services, dependence on NGOs funding and “Grant Preneurship”. The unfavourable government policies, and unattractive environment for investors, are some of the reasons why many startups fail to celebrate their first birthday. As of 2018, the tech startup industry has the highest startup business failure rate, at 63%.

It makes no difference whether the startup is setting up in Delaware or elsewhere; all new businesses require resources and basic support in terms of funds, facilities, and tax benefits. Furthermore, during the early stages of the company, they do not have enough information to predict the contributions and added value of the founders. As a result, they lack objective data that could help them accurately predict the company’s potential. Thus, the equity agreement is typically an estimate based on the company’s best guess. All in all, it tends to become a daunting task for them, which is one of the many reasons why so many businesses fail.

In collaboration with Startup hubs, the Japan International Cooperation (JICA) has launched the Next Innovation with Japan (NINJA) Accelerator to take high growth startups to the next level of business growth to attract investment worth US$0.5m. The program will be implemented by The Innovation Village, Hive Collab and Outbox.

This would not only benefit the nation in terms of gaining more funds but also boost its economy. For instance, when jobs are created in a country in a good number, more people who are perhaps underpaid in their nations start showing their interest in relocating to the more profitable areas. Imagine that the economy of Africa is improving faster than that of the UK. In such cases, the residents of the latter might considered relocating to Africa. It is likely that after the relocation, they would realize that what they are earning currently is better than what they were earning previously. Hence, they might consider becoming citizens of Africa permanently. In fact, they might even sell their houses (probably with the help of real estate agents at finlay brewer) and pack their belongings to move. This would not only increase the housing prices in Africa but also motivate foreign investors to invest more in the country. As a result, the economy will see a boom in terms of finances.

Anyway, coming back to the topic, speaking at the launch, UCHIYAMA Takayuki, the Chief Representative at JICA Office said, the startup ecosystem has potential for growth because of the aggressive and determined nature of entrepreneurs. With the right investment and partnership opportunities they will be able to grow and scale their businesses. The Next Innovation with Japan (NINJA) Accelerator which is first of its kind is designed to help businesses gain market traction, build a strong network and partnership with Japan investment and consulting firms.

Takayuki said, “By the end of August, we anticipate having 200 applications from eligible startups who will be subjected to a critical three levels assessment. The top five startups will qualify for the NINJA Accelerator program that will start on September 13. These will go through the training and mentorship provided by Hive Collab, The Innovation Village and Outbox.”

“These three hubs will develop the individual curriculum for startups based on their sector or business needs, growth level and business capacity. They will provide mentorship and coaching sessions, develop models and market traction strategies for their business to scale” said Takayuki. Adding, we shall provide upto US$18,000 proof of concept funding to these startups.

He said, “For startups to participate in the program, it must be a registered company and operational for at least one year. It should be at a high growth-stage of development earning approximately $50,000 in revenue and ready for the next level growth. And it should be economically viable and be able to demonstrate a strong promise of building a sustainable and impactful business.”

Barbara Mutabazi, the Co-founder and Managing Director of Hive Collab said, has a very nascent ICT and startup ecosystem which presents a lot of opportunities for the recovery of not just the economy but for the people at the grassroots.

“Now that we all know the struggles these startups face, we must collaborate with one another and work together with the government, private sector, investors and customers for whom we are innovating. Let’s put in place incentives for startups to thrive, facilitate one another to refine their business model, tackle the actual market challenges,put in place the right teams of expertise to grow cash flow and raise capital like other African countries. With this, the sky will certainly not even be the limit towards the growth of our ecosystem”Mutabazi said.

Innocent Menyo, a beneficiary of the NINJA Covid-19 Response and Recovery Business Challenge run by JICA in 2020 said, ‘’The NINJA Project has been an avenue for selected startups to thrive amidst unprecedented Covid-19 times. With negative effects of the pandemic on SMEs, the project served to bridge the funding and investment gap, offered technical support and facilitated collaborations between M-SCAN & Japanese companies for scale.

“Through the funding obtained from the project, we managed to explore new avenues of innovation to impact. We launched a Home-Based Ultrasound Service (HBUS) to help expectant mothers receive ultrasound services at the comfort of their homes. So far, we have scanned over 350 pregnant women with timely referrals done for rightful interventions.” Menyo said.

According to Japheth Kawanguzi, Team Lead at The Innovation Village, “With the many startup still struggling to recover from the impact of the two lockdowns. The ecosystem has been tasked deploy any means necessary to survive and move to recovery where time and resources have been lost. How well we adapt will determine how well we recover. We have an opportunity to reconfigure ourselves to an ongoing new reality to extend the reach of our products and services to the people who need them most.”

Let us continue to collaborate, to think big, to innovate and accelerate the use of technology not only to invigorate our businesses but to foster the development of ecosystem to the growth of the economy, Kawanguzi said.

Tricia Ishimwe