The year 2021 through the lens of Future Lab

The year 2021 through the lens of Future Lab

Future Lab, a department at The Innovation Village, is building the largest corporation innovation platform in East Africa.  Future Lab identifies innovation as a key driver for growth to solve several socio-economic challenges by leveraging innovation and design thinking principles to support organizations’ growth, especially in times of rapid change. At the helm of this is to identify and link startups that are mission-oriented to capture social issues leveraging technology -based solutions to organizations. We spoke to Samantha Niyonsaba, Future Lab Lead on what 2021 looked like.  


Future Lab Lead, Samantha Niyonsaba, talks about the year 2021

Paint for us a picture of what the year 2021 was like for Future Lab. 

The year 2021 was a remarkable success for Future Lab. We raised our biggest number of corporate innovation program buy-ins so far. We had key players like Stanbic bank, Bank of Uganda, Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC) among others for corporate innovation programs like the Senior Executive Program, Design thinking and Incubation for Internal Innovation. 

We still managed to have great online engagement for our programs despite the COVID-19 pandemic especially because we rose to the challenge of virtual interaction. We continuously iterated and learned along the way to deliver value to our partners. 

Kindly delve deeper into the innovation programs.  

Apart from the Stanbic Bank Incubation Program, we held the NINJA Covid Recovery and Resilience Business Challenge Pilot, NINJA Accelerator Uganda, Startup Uganda Challenge, Next Generation Africa Accelerator, Senior Executive Program, EU Africa The Journey: Design Hackathon, EdTech Mondays Show, UNOC PEAK Friday and Corporate Innovation Webinars on leveraging Innovation Strategy as a Tool for Recovery, How to create a culture of innovation, How to leverage digital transformation to tap into the wider market: A case of FlexiPay, Design Thinking 101 and How Internal corporate Innovation centers can succeed in Uganda. 

What accomplishments defined this year in your view? 

EdTech Mondays Show is one such initiative. The Regional Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning in Information Communication Technology at Mastercard Foundation, with support from the Public Affairs and Communications Team launched EdTech Mondays Africa with the view of engaging the continent’s EdTech community and other relevant stakeholders, like government, private sector, donors on emerging topics of education and how technology can address any challenges. With support from the EdTech Lab at The Innovation Village, we have discussed nine topics this year from March to November and we have engaged 26 panelists from government, EdTech communities, and academia to share insights under the specific topics discussed monthly. 

The NINJA Accelerator Uganda gave us a lot of impact too. Next Innovation with Japan (NINJA) is a startup support initiative by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) designed to support entrepreneurs and startups in developing countries who are creating innovative business models and technologies to solve social issues. Five startups were selected out of 100 Ugandan applicants for their business model, impact, and potential for growth. After three months in the JICA NINJA Accelerator Program, a fully funded proof-of-concept exercise, and a sensational initial pitch event at the 2021 Kampala Innovation Week that attracted a list of regional investors from some of Uganda’s top banks and Venture Capitalists, the five startups are now ready to pitch to Japanese and global investors on January 10, 2022. 

I cannot forget to mention the UNOC Inaugural PEAK Friday. We trained over 80 UNOC staff members in design thinking and they were able to create solutions for internal challenges within the company. 

Lastly is EU Africa The Journey: Design Hackathon in partnership with Garage48 and Estonian Ministry of  Foreign Affairs Development Cooperation. We had a total of 47 participants and seven mentors.  Winners from this hackathon will join other participants in the EU: Africa the Journey hackathon program, an African-European online hackathon program aimed at bringing together digital enthusiasts from both continents. These will compete for a 100 000€ prize fund and a chance to continue in the two-month long digital acceleration program. 

What would you describe as the biggest success story to emerge from Future Lab?  

Our biggest success story revolves around the impact that the startups we have worked with are creating within the community. This year we worked with four startups piloting their solutions including Patasente, Zetu Africa, Ecoplastile and M-Scan. 

One of our biggest success stories from these four is Ecoplastile, a Ugandan-based startup that recycles and transforms waste plastics using a chemical-free plastic extrusion technology called waxy II, into durable plastic timber and roofing tiles and providing an alternative to wooden timbers. It concurrently addresses waste management and deforestation.  

During their pilot phase in the NINJA Covid-19 Recovery and Resilience Business Challenge, they collected 141 tonnes of plastic from the environment, captured 352.5 kilogrammes of carbon from the environment and created 108 jobs as of October 2021. Through this, Ecoplastile is tackling the climate crisis challenge and environmental pollution.  

What can we do better for youths in this current economic climate?  

As an ecosystem, we need to provide more business resilience and skilling programs. Most importantly for me, is also the need to create more female centered programs to allow for more female participation in business recovery and innovation especially in this COVID-19 pandemic.