A 3-day inspirational trip to visit start-up entrepreneurs in Uganda and scale-ups in Kampala promises to present lively, passionate and sometimes surprising encounters.It is astonishing and truly inspiring to see how Ugandan entrepreneurs combine creativity without inhibitions or fear, notes Jan Flamend. OVO general manager Bjorn Macauter confirms that: “It is proof that Ugandan entrepreneurs are very creative. There is lots of talk about addressing social challenges, but very little action. Entrepreneurs are the ones who take action. Just do it!”
If there is one project that inspired, it was SafeBoda, a taxi-motorbike business run by Belgian Maxime Dieudonée and his Ugandan partner. The starting point was the more than 100,000 Bodas (scooters) that often transport passengers in unsafe conditions and the numerous accidents they get involved in. Since its establishment in the summer of 2014, SafeBoda has been able to win over about 7,000 men. They are everywhere, the orange helmets and orange bibs displaying the driver’s name. They can be hailed by customers with an app that already has 150,000 active users. “It was a real a-ha moment for me,” says Johan Geysen (VITO). “A proper sustainable approach… It’s right on the money!"
The circular economy is in operation in Uganda. TexFad used the waste product from the trunks of banana trees to make briquettes (an alternative to charcoal), carpets or tablecloths. Bio-innovations, run by Indians, also uses sawdust that is a residue from tree felling to make briquettes, mainly meant for schools. It was striking to see that during the launch some small boys from the village came to watch and also immediately copied a simplified version of the process. Entrepreneurship is in their genes.
“It was notable that global warming is as much of an issue here as elsewhere. We actually have a lot in common,” according to investor Frans Verschelden. Alternative energy sources such as solar panels are making great strides. Belgium’s Tiger Power from Destelbergen has just recently signed a contract here with the Ugandan government for the installation of three mini-grids. Innovex, a data processing and optimization of solar panel infrastructure specialist, has been grafting away at this innovative solution and is supported by OVO. “You see a lot of innovation here. Uganda has the opportunity to make a generational leap. From a standing start hey are being launched into the internet era,” says investor Hugo Van de Cauter.
Regaining market share
There are a few Livara stores in Kampala, a start-up that launched cosmetics on the African market, which until now has primarily been dominated by western cosmetic products. Shea oil forms the basis of a wide variety of beauty products for sale. This is an excellent example of how Africans want to regain and grab a piece of the market for themselves as entrepreneurs. “The work OVO is doing here is particularly inspiring. They won’t be able to address the major problems here, but the approach via entrepreneurs is a strongly viable one,” says Klaas De Cuyper.
“What struck me is that they remain focused, know exactly where they are going, are very motivated, are selfless and primarily hold the community’s best interests at heart,” according to Anouk Vercauteren. It was clear from the activities of start-up Zzimba Games that card and board games are a good tool to get across information to the less fortunate, for example on how to deal with land management, safety and sexuality. Knowledge is shared in a fun way. These start-up entrepreneurs are often quite pragmatic too. They keep their jobs while they get their business off the ground and only do it full-time later. “Conscientiously searching for a solution to a problem, until they have critical mass. The social engagement aspect really strikes a chord,” according to Steven Wensel of Unizo.
A breath of fresh air
A 26-year old artist who uses his ECOaction business to uplift the entire community in three shantytowns in Kampala. It comes as a relief that something like collecting mainly plastic can help alleviate poverty just a little bit. The project has been lauded many times. Local enthusiasm was overwhelming: “Don’t forget to dance!” “It is astonishing to see how happy people are, despite the poverty. In Europe we have so much and often take things for granted,” according to Vincent Vandercruys, who is a student at Thomas More. “Many people in Flanders wouldn’t have a clue what we experience here,” says fellow student Bregt Vervoort with raised eyebrows. Florette Achten was also gripped by the story.
“You must have the courage to leave your comfort zone, take a step into the unknown. Push the envelope. If you can manage that, many opportunities present themselves. But you mustn’t be naive as a Belgian entrepreneur. You have to use your head,” summarizes investor Jan François.