by Aniela Kuzon, Iva Iordanova, and Loukman Lamany
Athgo’s Startup 3.0 program (S3.0) in Kigali, Republic of Rwanda proved to be a major success. A talented group of high-potential young entrepreneurs from 10 African countries was selected to work collaboratively in perfecting, vetting, and validating their socially responsible and high-growth tech-startup businesses and concepts. Many high profile speakers, panelists, and industry experts were also at hand to assist the young entrepreneurs from Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda (the host nation), Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia in laying down the foundation that will help advance their startups from early stage with no or minimum profit to sustainability and soaring profitability.
Over the course of three days, the young entrepreneurs in collaboration with the expert speakers and panelists worked tirelessly to apply Athgo’s individualized entrepreneurship prescription found in its proprietary Four Pillars to Success knowledge framework. Athgo’s own Mr. Joe Barnes, the program’s Emcee, smoothly handled the blend and the transitions between engaging, yet rigorous sessions.
As the days went by, the entrepreneurs’ engagement and excitement level increased in their pursuit of the total $20,000US in Innovation Grants offered for five startups with the most innovative, commercially viable, and timely feasible businesses. Besides seed funding, another great takeaway, in the words of the participants, was the priceless and immeasurable expertise and inspiration found in the speakers and expert advisors, including the President of the Republic of Rwanda, H.E. Mr. Paul Kagame, the Secretary General of ITU (International Telecommunication Union), H.E. Dr. Hamadoun Toure, Athgo’s Founder and Chairman Dr. Armen Orujyan, Athgo’s members of the board and Senior Business and Marketing Advisors, Dr. Timothy Riesen and Mr. Joe Barnes, the young innovator and inventor of the first Africa-made tablets, CEO of VMK, Verone Mankou, and many more.
Day 1 Keynote Dialogue with H.E. Dr. Hamadoun Touré
After a rousing opening ceremony by H.E. Jean Philbert Nsegimana, Minister of Youth and ICT, another high profile speaker honored the participants – this time H.E. Dr. Hamadoun Touré. Dr. Touré engaged the participants in an interactive keynote dialogue along with Dr. Orujyan, which was followed by a Q&A session.
Topics ranged from the emergence of Information and Communications Technologies in Africa to the role of African youth in leveraging these technologies for local solutions. Dr. Touré praised the young African innovators and encouraged them to look at technologies as solutions to many of the communal problems. With this approach, he encouraged the young entrepreneurs to give themselves an opportunity to be as successful as M-pensa, the money transfer and micro-financing mobile technology that emerged from Kenya and has gained worldwide recognition for its innovation.
Dr. Touré talked about the immense opportunity that Africa presents partly because of the many developmental issues present on the continent. Additionally, as many governments are building and bringing infrastructures, including ICT, there are entrepreneurial opportunities to make use of these infrastructures to solve local problems and empower communities. He reiterated that it is in that line that the ITU became a sponsor of Transform Africa Summit 2013 and Athgo’s E3.0S program; to inspire the youth to employ emerging ICT technologies to tackle local and global issues.
To relate to the audience, Dr. Touré spoke about his own upbringing from a small village in Mali to beating the odds and becoming the Secretary General of ITU, one of the most respected institutions in the UN system and the world. It was another way of saying that if he can do it, so could everybody else in the audience.
Bridging and Startup Development Sessions
Throughout the three-day program, the startup founders participated in multiple Bridging Sessions and Start-up Development Sessions designed to help improve their startup businesses and concepts.
During the first two bridging sessions, entrepreneurs gained new critical insights about accelerating and advancing their business development efforts from Dr. Orujyan. He went into great details and length in presenting individualized gains for the attending startups from intellectual, network, financial, and core capacity aspects of the Four Pillars to Success knowledge framework. The application of the new business and development paradigms came during the Start-up Development Sessions, through exploring with other young founders ways to best calibrate their respective business’ four capacities to enhance the business development, accelerate market entry, and improve management and operations.
Day 2’s “Seed and Early Stage funding” Bridging Session led by Dr. Timothy Riesen focused on how to think about financial planning and attracting outside investments. The participants then applied this information to their own start-ups, updating their company budgets and creating more sophisticated calculations about capital requirements for expansion plans.
Day 2 Role Model Panel
featuring Verone Mankou, Founder & CEO VMK Ltd (Congo-Brazzaville), Abdu Ssekalala, Nokia Apps Developer (Uganda), Clement Uwajaneza, Founder & MD, AxIS Investments (Rwanda)
Moderated by Athgo’s Dr. Riesen, this panel was “hands down the most anticipated” to quote one participant. The young entrepreneurs could relate to the panelists in many ways: the panelists were all young, Africans, and successful entrepreneurs. What they had to share however was not the glory of success but rather their paths and experiences going against the odds of becoming widely successful African entrepreneurs.
Congo-born Mr. Mankou is the CEO and Founder of VMK Ltd and also the designer of the first Africa-made smartphone and tablets. He was listed on Forbes Magazine as Africa’s 30 under 30 Best Young Entrepreneurs earlier in 2013. Uganda-born Mr. Abdu Sskelala is an accomplished developer who made a fortune building Nokia Apps. Rwanda-born and France-educated Clement Uwajeneza is one of the leading technology entrepreneurs in Rwanda, as well as the founder of AxIS, a fast growing ICT Company specialized in web and mobile applications development and a multi award winner for its innovations in technology and delivery models.
The panelists shared their experiences from early-stage challenges to scalability issues. According to Mr. Mankou, he worked almost alone until his prototype was ready before he could get any seed funding. To Mr. Sskelala, a seed capital award is fully appreciable when there is a monitoring mechanism to ensure that a startup is using the funds towards building the business. Mr. Uwajeneza agreed that to receive seed funding is just a tip of the iceberg; enrolling in an entrepreneurial program and belonging to an entrepreneurial ecosystem, such as an accelerator or an incubator, ensures the success of a startup.
Day 3 Closing Ceremonies and Keynote Dialogue with President Kagame
The last day of the program was a day filled with cheers and emotions. Earlier in the day, the young startup Founders were given the opportunity to present their strengthened and refined startups in front of an evaluating panel, as well as to the general audience and the press. Then later, the announcement of the winners, broadcasted on live TV, was followed by a keynote dialogue and Q&A session with President Kagame and Dr. Orujyan, bringing wisdom, innovation and public policy in one room…
As the doors of the large conference room at Kigali Serena Hotel opened, 500 hundred seats awaited participants and distinguished guests. The stage was magnificently lit. The insignia “Transform Africa Summit 2013” filled the space with unique and exciting energy. It was the last evening of the Entrepreneurship Web 3.0S program and needless to say – the most anticipated one.
Dr. Riesen, Managing Principal of Madison Springfield Inc. and a member of the Board of Athgo International kicked-off the evening with welcoming remarks, introducing Athgo’s work and recapping the conference’s last three days. He also shared his experience of traveling to Rwanda for the first time and visiting a refugee camp on the border with The Republic of Congo a couple of days earlier. With H.E. Dr. Hamadoun Touré, H.E. Jean Philbert Nsengimana (Minister of Youth and ICT of Rwanda) and other dignitaries in attendance, Dr. Riesen presented each of the young founders with certificates of completion. The room was filled with joy and a sense of accomplishment. Then, while waiting for H.E. President Kagame to arrive, H.E. Minister Nsengimana joined Dr. Riesen up on the microphone platform and the two engaged in a humorous dialogue to the delight of all attendees.
As H.E. Mr. Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, and Dr. Armen Orujyan, Founder and Chairman of Athgo International entered, the room exploded in applause. Almost immediately, the two ventured into honoring five African entrepreneurial companies for developing socially transforming IT solutions. Rwanda’s start-up, HeHe Ltd, led by CEO Clarisse Iribagiza, was recognized as the best, and received an Innovation Grant of $7,500US. HeHe Ltd was founded in 2010 as a mobile technologies company with a vision to help transform Rwanda and Africa into an information society by increasing access to vital information.
Both the first and second runners-up were Kenyan startups -Mobicraft Solutions, a faith-based SMS service, and Fishmate Ltd, which links Kenyan fish farmers to their customers. They received $5,000US and $3,500US cash prizes, respectively. South Africa’s Powerbox, a phone charging innovation start-up, and Ghana’s Mnotify Ltd, a customer service innovation, emerged fourth and fifth, taking $2,000US each.
Upon awarding the winners, President Kagame and Dr. Orujyan took their seats for a powerful and inspiring dialogue. Dr. Orujyan spoke of the President as a man of vision who makes people’s dreams come true. President Kagame replied by thanking Athgo for bringing its expertise to Rwanda and asking the youth to look into themselves for solutions to succeed in life because they have the potential. He added youth should not despair about the future but take responsibility for what they can do about it. “As our future leaders, we have to move forward together and look at what we can do together to transform our societies. We live for a purpose and we must do the best we can”, His Excellency said.
Dr. Orujyan also urged the youth to boldly pursue their dreams. “You must find what you love to do early enough in life and find a way to make a living out of it. This is the biggest difference between people who are successful as entrepreneurs and those who are always seeking for employment,” he said.
The session continued with President Kagame and Dr. Orujyan taking questions from the participants. As there were attendees from across Africa, many of their queries included comments about the challenges and opportunities within the ICT sector on the African continent. Focusing on the topic of success, President Kagame reiterated “It doesn’t always come on the first try; when you fail, keep wanting success and try another route. When you are down, you should never be out. There is no single secret to success. You have to work hard. There is no short cut. The potential is unlocked when we are committed to being the ones to transform our country.”
The evening and the program ended with a memorable reception that allowed participants to network and also share the joy of the winning startups. Athgo thanks everyone from partners to participants for their support and participation. Look for our upcoming programs in Africa and across the globe.