Startups in Uganda – different kind of hunger

“Startups and Uganda???” was the surprised reaction I got when I mentioned to people back home that I’m going away for 3 months to work with startups in Uganda. But, yes, there really are startups in Uganda. I came to Kampala to work in a HUB called Outbox that hosts startups like  Kola Studios, CodeSync, Ensibuuko and Beyonic. But there are still no success stories. Why?

As for me, how I see startups in Uganda is that they are like a good dish yet to be cooked. I came here to “cook a dish” about design. All the necessary ingredients are here – talented people, skills for using programs, 4G internet, mobile money, ideas and laptops. Just the proportions are off or missing how to mix them together. But how do you turn raw ingredients into a delicious dish or available resources into a functioning startup? I’d say the answer is the same as with cooking. Follow the base model – logo in the upper left corner, header with some links and a footer. Next, use your creativity. Put that extra hint of curry inside and use modern solutions like parallax. Just for example. But just don’t stop there when it feels good it also has to look good. As with food, presentation is everything. Think of this – why are you willing to pay in a good restaurant for the same food ingredients twice as much as in your around the corner cafeteria?

But how do you get those extra ingredients of creativity? So you read different books, you network. But and important part of productive networking is - don’t be afraid to share the idea or vision you have. You never know who can add those extras inside. Yes – ideas can be stolen but vision and execution can not. And don’t just speak to people who you think are creative minds. Some of the best ideas I’ve actually gotten are are from developers themselves. In the end startups are a community and what you put in, you WILL get back double. So one of the problems I see here is that the first step has been taken – people are working in one room. But they keep to themselves. How do you know the person sitting 10 meters from you doesn’t have a brilliant input to you startup?

Also another problem I see is why most local startups can’t go global? It’s because of the ingredient called mobile money. What is this? Basically it’s your wallet. What you do is that you upload some money  on your mobile and you can use it to pay for a wide range of services and hard goods. I have understood this nifty little thing came to be is because people don’t like banks here. And everybody in Africa uses this instead of credit cards. So when I first came here and started getting to know the local startups, most said that their service is used with mobile money. Of course my first reaction was raising one of my eyebrows and asking “Mobile money??”. So over time I learned to point out to people that if you are thinking of only using mobile money then this means you can’t go global, because most of the rest of the world uses their VISA-s and MasterCard-s.

So what I would say is that there are some obstacles to overcome, but the opportunity is here. Startup-minded people are hungry to prove themselves. There are great startups to be cooked.

Blogpost by: Helen Kokk (Kokk in English translation Cook)
Garage48 designer/mentor & volunteer in Uganda during April-July 2014




Garage48 Uganda Volunteer project is partly funded through Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs by means of Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid.