What is the Future of Ugandan Startups in the Digital age? 

What is the Future of Ugandan Startups in the Digital age? 

In a world where technology is rapidly advancing, business operations are changing on a daily basis.

Startups are at the forefront of this change, and their future is closely tied to the future of technology especially with the rise of automation, artificial intelligence, and the gig economy.

Closer to home, Uganda is one of East Africa’s fastest-growing economies and home to many emerging startups straddling key sectors such as financial technology, health, education, agriculture among other key areas.

The country’s access to global accelerator programs, grants and events to boost entrepreneurship makes the start-up community a promising driver of economic growth, high value job creation and a driver of national development.

In an era defined by rapid technological advancements, Ugandan startups are poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the country’s economy.

In an attempt to navigate this landscape successfully, Ugandan startups have centred focus on innovation, collaboration, and adaptability.

Collaborative efforts within the startup community and partnerships with established companies can help leverage resources and expertise.

 Moreover, startups must remain agile, continuously adapt to market dynamics, and prioritize quality, user-centric solutions.

As a forefront innovation and startup ecosystem enabler in the region, Innovation Village is dedicated to fostering technology-driven solutions that tackle social challenges and spur economic growth.

This is in line with our commitment to advancing the digital economy to reach the last mile user and empowering local social enterprises.

What is in it for the future?

The future of Uganda’s startups dominated the discussion at the just concluded ‘Uganda Innovation Week’ held between November 22nd- 24th at the National ICT Innovation Hub in Nakawa- a melting point were innovators nurture dreams into reality.

The Uganda Innovation Week is an annual event that brings together startups, investors, potential mentors, thought leaders and pacesetters to assess the current startup and entrepreneurship landscape in the country.

Held under the theme: ‘Adapt or Be Left Behind, the Digital Economy & the Opportunities it presents for The Ugandan Entrepreneur.’ The three-day event explored the missing links between academia and industry, women entrepreneurship, investment and opportunities in the digital economy that entrepreneurs can tap into.  

The first discussion on startups was under the sub-theme, “What is the Future of Ugandan Startups in the Digital age?”

With 70% of Uganda’s population under 30, there’s a huge innovative demographic poised to adopt new technology opportunity entrepreneurs were advised to tap into among youthful energy.

 Badru Ntege Founder of NFT Mawazo, founder of NFT Mawazo set the scene for the Uganda Innovation Week 2023 with a focus on Uganda’s digital transformation roadmap.  Ntege noted that the success of Uganda’s startup community is closely tied to Uganda’s Digital Transformation Roadmap anchored in the Uganda Vision 2040.

The vision was conceptualized to strengthen the fundamentals of the economy by harnessing the abundant opportunities around the country, including opportunities within the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.

Uganda’s current National Development Plan (NDP III) has heavily focused on increasing investment in ICT as one of the productive sectors.    

According to Mr Ntege, central to this vision are government projects such as The Parish Development Model effectively mapped the country, offering vast innovation possibilities in different industries beyond Kampala’s four million population.

“Let’s seize these opportunities for inclusive growth!” Ntege quips.

However, Ntege warned of a “copy and paste mentality” which has affected many startups.

“We need to unpack and contextualize our product ideas to be able to meet the actual needs of the people,” he says.  

Over the years, there have been many regulatory acts and regulations shaping the landscape for tech and information, key among which include; Data Protection and Privacy Act 2019, The Computer Misuse Act, 2011, The Electronics Transactions Act, 2011, The Electronics Signatures Act, 2011, and The Press and Journalist Act, 2000.

With these different regulatory acts, entrepreneurs have many avenues for innovation.

Uganda is also actively developing ICT infrastructure and connectivity, with over 50% connectivity already achieved.

Efforts include promoting digital services for both government and the private sector, enhancing policies and tools for improved cybersecurity and privacy, and fostering digital skills.

These initiatives aim to promote ICT adoption in various sectors, enhance the country’s competitiveness, and support Uganda’s development goals.

Aminah Zawedde, the ICT Ministry permanent secretary in her speech called on innovators to adapt and stay ahead of the curve in a constantly evolving business environment which is the key to remaining competitive, maintaining growth, identifying opportunities for success, and ultimately ensuring that startups don’t get left behind.

Recognising that Uganda is one of the innovation power houses in Africa, Zawedde said the Ministry intends to bring on board venture capital investments to support the burgeoning startup scene.

In a plenary session, Arthur Mukembo, the Future Lab Lead at The Innovation Village offered a word of wisdom to startup founders encouraging them to invest and be obsessed with skilling themselves and intentionally reaching out to stakeholders for support.  

To drive the point home, Mukembo highlighted the Digital Economy Program run by Innovation Village. 

The program is a comprehensive blend of digital infrastructure, tools, skills development, and channels to support innovators, bringing digital opportunities closer to last-mile communities.

“As we strive towards establishing a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem, we’re dedicated to nurturing technology-driven solutions that address social challenges and stimulate economic growth,” Mukembo said.

In line with promoting the digital economy and empowering local innovators, Mukembo urged entrepreneurs to aggressively embrace shared digital programs, platforms, and initiatives to accelerate business growth and enhance efficiency.

While addressing access to capital challenges, Tony Otoa, Chief Executive Officer at Stanbic Business Incubator advised entrepreneurs to make their businesses appealing to investors.

“Access to Capital is difficult,” Otoa says, “But the question we keep asking is on how we can intentionally support young and growing businesses. Important to note is that for one to attract funders, there is something you must do to your business – align yourself, even digitally.”

This means startups’ ability to track cash flow and productivity is important in a digitized world.

Learning from failure is a key nugget that Otoa shared.

 ”When entrepreneurs fail quickly and learn rapidly, it fosters an environment that encourages their success. If we opt for mitigating risks before supporting entrepreneurs, we are doing them a disservice,” he sums up.