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Profile: Innovation Hub Kampala

September 27, 2016

Our new GIST Innovation Hubs are designed to build strong and vibrant networks of young science and technology entrepreneurs around the world. Through community-led meetup groups, the program aims to bolster the participants’ networking and entrepreneurial skills to build durable, long-term, supportive networks. The ultimate goal is to stimulate local entrepreneurial activity and ensure participants can grow their skills and businesses together - both in their home country and through global connections.

We recently spoke with Japheth Kawanguzi, co-founder of IDEA Foundation and team leader of the GIST Innovation Hub Kampala about the benefits of participating in the initiative.

Tell us about the startup ecosystem in Kampala. 

Uganda has the youngest population in the world. Nearly 80% are under the age of 30. Unemployment is hovering around 80%. With few or no jobs, building startups is a matter of survival.

The ecosystem is driven by young ambitious tech stars in a race to build something as an avenue for livelihood as well as build something they believe in. The network is centered around hubs, which are coming up across the city with various value-add services for startups.

What are the key challenges and opportunities facing startups in your region?

The main challenge is a lack of awareness about the potential for startups and their contribution to the economy or future generations. Many venture ideas die before they are tested - and yet most would be viable. Not knowing the ins-and-outs of entrepreneurship has led to desperate approaches in a bid to support startups, but have ultimately made the situation worse.

As I mentioned earlier, we’re now in an innovate-or-die situation, which is actually an opportunity for our ecosystem. Our efforts are paying off. In a recent report, Virgin group named Uganda as the most entrepreneurial country in the world. Even though many of these ideas die off in the first year, we’re building momentum. With the right network of support, we could kickoff a startup revolution and transform our state of affairs for the better.

What are the main goals you hope to achieve by participating in the GIST Innovation Hub Kampala?  

Our goal is to build relevance for the startup ecosystem’s role in the growth of the economy. We have to shift the mindset of the greater community that innovation is crucial to our survival. Startups must focus on innovations that solve problems, not building things no one needs.

What advice would you offer to other ecosystems participating in the GIST Innovation Hub initiative?

Innovation is a challenging process. More often than not you’re crating something no one knows they need or want. Don’t travel down the startup path alone. There is power in community. Hubs should focus on building a strong support network that allows them the freedom to imagine and realize their potential.

[Photo: Innovation Hub Kampala meet up]

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