By Elizabeth Nyeko
Innovation is a manifestation of creative strategic and tactical thought. That said, the novelty of a product, service, or business, alone, is fleeting, and isn’t a hallmark of ‘disruptive innovation’.
So, what is Disruptive Innovation?
In entrepreneurship, the term disruptive innovation tends to be almost automatically attributed to software startups, and/or the impact that their innovation has in the lives of people or in the ways that businesses operate.
Typically, the “appy clappy startups” as I call them, the Ubers of this world, are instantaneously considered to be disruptive innovators. However, the Harvard Professor, Clayton Christensen, who authored “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and invented the term “disruptive innovation”, recently weighed in with the view that Uber, despite its immense successes, is not technically a “disruptor” in the classical sense of the term, because it did not “create an entirely new market”, nor did it gain its “initial foothold in a low-end market ignored in favor of more profitable customers”. Commenting on the role of innovation in the prolific international expansion of Uber, at an FT Innovate conference in London, Michael Mandel, the chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington DC, suggested that “Uber’s real innovation has been in working with governments around the world”.
Steve Jobs and Henry Ford on the other hand, are names that are undeniably synonymous with disruptive innovation. With the introduction of affordable cars for the masses, Ford permanently transformed the automobile industry. Meanwhile Jobs created new markets with innovations that significantly disrupted the music, telecoms and technology industries at large, and he is said to have won a further 141 patents since his death in 2011.
Software Doesn’t Always Enable Innovation
In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, ‘IT doesn’t matter’ Nicholas Carr suggested that “What makes a resource truly strategic –what gives it the capacity to be the basis for a sustained competitive advantage –is not ubiquity but scarcity. You only gain an edge over rivals by having or doing something that they can’t have or do”. Along this vein of thinking, one could argue that by providing all businesses across an industry, a single standardized way of doing things (i.e. testing candidates, training employees, revenue generation, or indeed any critical operational process etc.), the vendors of software that introduce ubiquity, to make ‘life easier’ in the short-term, also have the ultimate effect of stifling innovation and consequently diminishing differentiation within their customers’ businesses…
But Software is a Powerful Tool
More broadly, the technology industry is undoubtedly firmly at the forefront of innovation. However, its value creation strategy has notably shifted over time, from an initial focus on hardware in 1980s, to software in the 2000s, and the past decade has ushered an age, in which software is increasingly, no longer considered significant innovation in itself, but a tool to create value and impact. As we progress into an increasingly digitized world, with even more software developers, the current abundance of software that’s largely free to use, can only increase, as aptly demonstrated by the dominance of the likes of Facebook/Twitter (no pun intended), which are evidently disruptive innovators.
Disruptive Innovation in Uganda’s Energy Access Market
Based on Christensen’s definition, one example of a truly disruptive innovator in the energy access market, is Mandulis Energy, an enterprise developing software-enabled renewable energy microgrids. The company is working in partnership with French NGO, ACTED, to deliver affordable, reliable and productive rural electrification to off-grid rural farming communities in Uganda.
1.3 billion people in the world lack access to electricity, including 80% of Uganda’s population of 39 million. “We use biomass power to deliver an integrated solution to the perennial global challenges: energy security, food security, climate resilience and poverty alleviation” said Elizabeth Nyeko, Co-Founder of Mandulis Energy. The company couples its proprietary software with an innovative business model that delivers a ‘triple bottom line’ –of economic, social and environmental returns, and has the potential to transform the world’s approach to rural economic development. At COP21, Emilie Poisson, the ACTED Director for Africa, referred to the venture, as an exemplar model of “how governments, private sector and NGOs, can join forces and work effectively to deliver climate resilience and poverty alleviation”.
Launched in Northern Uganda, where a pilot project is operational, the social enterprise is currently developing an 8MW (500kW x 16 sites) prototype for the Practitioners Dialogue Climate Initiative program supported by the German government’s international development entity, GIZ GmBH, which consumes biomass supplied by 15,000 farmers. The startup has ambitions to scale across Uganda and internationally, in countries with similar fundamentals. “We go wherever rural communities lack access to electricity. As long as there are farmers to provide a sustainable and renewable source of biomass, which in our case is simply agricultural waste”, said Peter Nyeko, Co-Founder of Mandulis Energy. A study by Uganda’s Ministry of Energy, found that agricultural waste aggregated at agro-processing centers across Uganda can power 1650MW –nearly double the country’s current power generation capacity.
How Ensibuuko is building Life Changing ICT-Mobile solutions for the under-served Rural Poor
Almost four years ago when youth unemployment was at its peak and everyone was clamoring for a steady job, Gerald Otim decided to walk into the world of self employment. Having had a humble beginning, he was no stranger to starting small and therefore he ventured into the building a solution that would improve financial service delivery in rural communities.
In 2014, Gerald a Fin-Tech Entrepreneur and a graduate of Development Economics at Makerere University together with David Opio, co-founded Ensibuuko, a Ugandan ICT startup that is modernizing the way financial cooperatives (popularly known as SACCOS – Savings and Credit Cooperatives) manage data and deliver financial services.
“We are providing modern electronic banking infrastructure to financial services entities unique to the developing world. Our main service is a cloud-based banking software platform for micro-finances and SACCOS. The platform automates business processes, customer and transactional data, and provides standard accounting and reporting functionality for Ensibuuko’s customers.” Gerald explains.
Ensibuuko’s software is a cloud-based MOBIS Micro-Finance Software first designed at the Kampala based ICT hub, Outbox and is creating a solution that allows for web services even in rural areas with poor telecom infrastructure thereby contributing significantly to the efforts for financial inclusion in Uganda and across Africa.
The Start Up’s software is also integrated to the mobile phone network allowing users to access their account via mobile phone — they can check the balance, make deposits and withdraw. This improves access and quality of service delivery.
“Our solution is integrated with Mobile Money thus people in hard-to-reach places can be part of the easy access of the service. We are now using partnerships with mobile Network Operators to deliver a dedicated internet bundle that enables institutions access the solution on cloud even on weak networks for just 30,000 shillings a month ($8).” Gerald notes.
The platform therefore exists to equalize financial services in Uganda as is the case in many other African countries where banks are urban based. People in rural communities will be served mainly by a cooperative institution.
According to Ensibuuko, there are major issues in the financial services sector in the developing world: Banks are concentrated in major towns, Services are expensive and loans have interest rates of not less than 24%. It is part of the general problem of poor and expensive financial services infrastructure in all of the developing world. Instead of working with banks, most people will prefer a non-bank financial institution mostly in the nature of a Cooperative financial institution such as a Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCOS) or Credit Union.
“These institutions usually have no access to modern infrastructure and they rely a lot on human resources for their operations as they continue rudimentary means to manage financial information and make decisions.” Gerald notes.
To date, Ensibuuko’s business volume is 151 SACCOS reached in 2 years. Of these, 14 are newly signed, 35 are active on the Mobis platform and 102 are on their current pipeline in Uganda. There are over 14 other institutions in 3 other African markets that are currently in business with Ensibuuko through its recently established franchises in Zambia and Tanzania. Ensibuuko has raised 1 Million USD in funding (500,000 of which came through a recent Equity investment deal) and maybe the first ever ICT startup with Ugandan only founders to raise this much funding within its first two years of existence.
Inefficiency, human error, fraudulent tendencies have become typical of these institutions and is undermining their role in delivering financial services to the under-served. In Uganda there are over 6000 registered SACCOS serving 18 million people. It is estimated that there are over 300,000 of such institutions in Africa. By using technology to strengthen financial institutions, Ensibuuko has the potential to significantly disrupt the rural financial services sector not just in Uganda but across Africa.
Fundi Bots, a Lab that is unleashing Ugandan robotics genius
At a time when most African educational systems no longer meet the expectations of “geek” students, a robotic lab, Fundi Bots, was born in Uganda, founded by Solomon King who himself dropped out of the University, tired of “studying for exams. ”
The intelligent and calm, Solomon King says, with a wide smile. “I am not a rebel, I am just a man disappointed by our education system.” He rolled up he sleeves and had to so something about it. From this frustration, Fundi Bots, a robotic lab, that receives engineering enthusiasts from the age of six was born.
The word fundi means engineer in Swahili.
“Here in this lab, we put more focus on practice than on long theories. Our schools and universities train people to just take exams! But nothing practical. He says. This reality is unfortunately that of many African countries.
Based in Kampala, the Ugandan capital. Solomon King is the Ugandan who 16 years ago, left the university after just a semester. He formed passionately alone on the internet. In his early days, he won two awards in 2014 (Echoing Green Fellowship and Ashoka fellow) with his achievements in robotics and computer science. Today, he wants to help thousands of young people to reveal their talents.
Fundi Bots has a learning room where everything is removable and mobile: this is the case for walls, furniture and the laboratory.
“Everything is mobile here, we can customize the learning room according to what we want. It’s our magic here, “says Rosebell Nsita, Public Relations Officer at Fundi Bots.
Like her team leader, she too was disappointed by the education system, before discovering her talents in human relations in this organization. Rosebell has been passionate about art since she was very young. But the theory lessons of Ugandan universities have not helped her to pursue her passion. She explains that it is especially by taking inspiration from her experience that she had this desire to help other young people discover their potential through Fundi Bots.
“Classes are free when you register with Fundi Bots and learners are guided in courses of their choice. We have opened this lab specifically for students who feel dissatisfied with what they are learning at university. We teach them the basics of computer science, mechanics and electronics. We do everything so that they learn in a fun way.”
Fundi Bots has proved his skills, so much so that today he is asked in primary and secondary schools in Uganda to provide practical courses in parallel with the theory. This generates an income for the administrative expenses of the lab, which is added to the external financing already collected by Fundi bots. Learning in this lab is via robots.
This way of learning through practice aims to make students learn better and faster. Some have better grades in their universities after their internships at Fundi Bots. “Our methods have recently helped a young person who throughout his school career was terrible in physics. But after learning from practice here at home, her grades in this class have improved. He distinguished himself and he does science at the university, “says Rosebella
Henry, 26, is a trainer at Fundi Bots. It is he who guides us around the laboratory. A treasure room for our eyes that had never seen robots invented by Africans. Wooden rover, with printed cards with exceptional diagrams, or a 3D printer. We were amazed by everything we saw: respect for the proportions and details of these robots. “Personally, I would like to change people’s lives through robotics. I plan to work on an agricultural application to allow Ugandan farmers to increase their output and household income. ” Henry says.
It should be noted that Henry has a university degree, but says that he learned almost nothing concrete. Fundi Bots is the school where his abilities have been enhanced. Today, his greatest joy lies in his ability to create new concepts, which he could not have achieved elsewhere other than in the Lab Fundi bots, he believes. For Solomon King, changing or impacting one life is already a success – dozens of stories of lives changed positively since Fundi bot’s inception.
“We have already had more than 3,000 learners in our walls, and the following years we intend to extend to Rwanda and Tanzania with the help of our partners.” Solomon King deplores the fact that the Ugandan government, which has promised to integrate the best practice provided by Fundi Bots into the national education program, is yet to deliver on its promise.
“As usual, they promise more than they realize,” said Solomon King. He remains confident for the rest of the program and his ultimate dream is that by 20 years, Africa will have caught up in technology and youth employment.”But if possible we would like to do it in less time,” he hopes confidently.
9 Co-Working Spaces for Start-Ups in Kampala
Co-working spaces are a great alternative to working from home or in a crowded coffee shop. Whether you need an office for a day or six months, co-working spaces are ideal for freelancers, start-ups and business travelers.
The spaces offer connectivity, a concentration of digital resources, and a proper work infrastructure where there may otherwise be none. They are affordable, full of startup geeks like yourself and probably cooler than any office your startup could afford. So, feast your eyes on the following 10 coolest co-working spaces available in Kampala.
Tribe Kampala is one of the newest co-working spaces in Kampala. It offers monthly subscription coworking space in Kisementi, Kampala providing affordable, flexible access to a prime workspace to work, learn and meet. Tribe Kampala is open to individuals and teams working in diverse domains of expertise. It’s designed to give you a spacious, uplifting and open environment. Surrounded by great eateries, coffee shops, shops, bars and restaurants – there is no shortage of places to meet your friends, colleagues and clients.
Design Hub Kampala
Design Hub Kampala is becoming one of the most popular co-working spaces in Kampala. The 2000sqm renovated warehouse recently opened its doors to a collaborative work environment where different people (entrepreneurs, freelancers, designers, writers, product developers, marketing minds, tech start-ups, and makers) can feel comfortable working on their own projects, while having the possibility of sharing, engaging and in essence, creating together with others.
Founded in 2010, Hive Colab is noted as being one of Africa’s first innovation hubs of note along with the IHub. Hive Colab incubates companies and startups critical to Uganda’s technology ecosystem. It focus on technology verticals that we consider cornerstones to the country’s emerging digital economies: financial technologies (fin tech), medical technologies (med-tech), educational technologies (ed tech), agricultural technologies (ag tech), and technology for governance (tech4gov).
The Square is one of the most popular destination for some of the networking events around Kampala. Located on 10th Street Industrial Area. The co-working space is a flexible work-space. Desk space, Office Space, Meeting Rooms and Event Space make it a convenient one-stop shop for your business needs.
The Mawazo Innovations Hub
The Mawazo Innovation Hub has created a unique space for high-tech entrepreneurs, academics, researchers and venture capitalists to meet, network and collectively work towards growing the Ugandan economy through innovation. Its value-adding business support services contribute to the growth and globalization of technology rich enterprises in an environment that promotes innovation and enhances competitiveness for knowledge-based entrepreneurs. Thee Hub is located on Plot 593 block 28 Off Mugazi Awongererwa Rd, next to Makerere University.
The Innovations Village
The Innovation Village is a leading destination entrepreneurs in Uganda call home. Located at 3rd Floor Block B & C Ntinda Complex, it’s purpose is to deliberately grow innovation by putting in place a platform that challenges assumption, ignites thought and questions status quo. As a launchpad for innovators, The Innovations Village bring together partners, startups, investors and researchers to act as one force for good.
In one sentence, Outbox Hub is “The launchpad for new ideas”
Since its launch in 2012, Outbox Hub has been helping new and upcoming African entrepreneurs interested in using technology to build high growth companies with workspace, mentorship, and training programs. Through partnerships, Outbox Hub helps them raise money for their ventures and access markets. It also works with students, developers, researchers and organizations to build inclusive communities that entrepreneurs can tap into for talent and collaboration. Outbox is built on the principles of sustainability, solving real problems, collaboration, openness and transparency, commitment and personal excellence.
VentureLabs East Africa
Found at Plot 7, Binayomba Road, Bugolobi, VentureLabs East Africa Hub runs as a co-working space for innovative start-ups and small companies. A like-minded, entrepreneurial community, members are central to the VentureLabs network, but work independently of the venture development process. It brings together global and local networks of entrepreneurs, developers, research partners and investors to explore, incubate and launch innovations. These are designed to deliver venture returns, along with systemic social and environmental change.
The TechBuzz Hub
TechBuzz Hub is a collaborative working space focused on youth capacity building and startup development. It offers co-working space and access to business development services such as mentorship, consultancy, incubation, associate networking services, training and seminars.
How Ensibuuko is building Life Changing ICT-Mobile solutions for the under-served Rural Poor
How Nyana Kakoma Is Creating A Generation Of Book Readers Right From The Grass Roots Through Sooo Many Stories
Dishing Out Inspiration: How this Man From Nakasongola Became a Globally Celebrated Chef
These Children with Disabilities May Have Dark Pasts But One Organization Is Ensuring They Have a Bright Future
How The Humble ‘Rolex’ Celebrates Uganda’s Uniqueness!
Kwepena- The tale of a dying game set for the global scene
11 Reasons why you should NEVER, ever visit Lake Bunyonyi
Meet the Ugandan that featured in Captain America: Civil War
Congratulations: 3 Ugandans shortlisted among 10 of Africa’s top female innovators
Classic Katogo: Irish potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes with beans
Women9 months ago
11 Incredible TED Talks by Ugandan women that will Inspire You
Uganda Innovates2 months ago
This Animation Studio is Set to Release Uganda’s First Ever High Quality Animated Short Film
Women3 months ago
She quit a UGX28M job to pursue her dreams- And she’s winning!
Unsung Heroes8 months ago
How Lucia Bakulumpagi- Wamala is transforming access to renewable energy one community at a time
Lifestyle10 months ago
Meet Daniel Kaluuya, the lead actor in the movie ‘Get Out’ which hit 100% on Rotten Tomatoes
Lifestyle9 months ago
Meet Sarah Waiswa, a Ugandan born photographer capturing contemporary faces of Africa
Uganda Innovates3 months ago
From a security guard to a Boda Rider & Co-Founder of SafeBoda; The inspiring story of Ricky Rapa Thompson
Proudly Ugandan11 months ago
A Ugandan teenager has won the prestigious Shakespeare scholarship in Sydney