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Managing Director before turning 30: Nathalie Niyonzima contributes as she grows

A few weeks before turning 29, Nathalie Niyonzima has reasons to celebrate. Last week, she was announced the new Managing Director of Inkomoko Business Development in Kigali.

After two years as Director of Operations and Finance at Inkomoko Business Development, Nathalie Niyonzima is ready to take on her new role as Inkomoko’s Managing Director from June 1st.

Nathalie has more than six years of experience in Finance, Human Resources and Administration from a range of international and local non-profits. She holds a BA from College of Business and Economics (former SFB), and she is a Certified Public Accountant from Kenya Accountants and Secretaries National Examinations Board (Kasneb).  She has done direct business development with some of Inkomoko’s clients, so she knows the business model of Inkomoko from top to bottom.

While her new role in many way adds to her field of expertise and experience, Nathalie is expecting to push herself to new heights as Managing Director.

“This role is exciting because it will cause me to grow.  Whenever you meet a new challenge, you figure it out. This is how it is in this industry: new projects always come up, and they never come with a set manual. But eventually you find a solution. There are always a lot of surprises, and I like how it pushes me to do my best.”

Supporting promising Entrepreneurs

Inkomoko works with Rwanda’s most promising young businesses to develop powerful new strategies that accelerate their growth. As the Rwandan affiliate to African Entrepreneur Collective, Inkomoko supports Rwandan entrepreneurs through workshops, targeted consultancy, mentorship, and access to finance.

“Nathalie’s determination made her the right candidate for this position, and we have seen her grow to take on new challenges,” said Julienne Oyler, CEO of Inkomoko.  “Inkomoko believes in the power of all people to contribute to the growth of Rwanda, and Nathalie is a skilled and able leader to grow our company, and in turn, grow young entrepreneurs.  She understands the market, the opportunities, and how to help people reach them.”

One of the qualities that made Nathalie a perfect fit for the Managing Director role at Inkomoko is her dedication to the team’s work with entrepreneurs. Nathalie is a motivated team player, business coach and leader, who – in her own words – loves working with numbers and with people. Her new role combines her passions,

“The thing I am mostly excited about in this job is to work with a talented team of experts to help entrepreneurs shine.  We can see their lives and businesses improve through what we do with them. This is a chance to prove that entrepreneurship breaks down barriers and gives people new chances.”

In addition to partnering with Bank of Kigali for the Urumuri Initiative, or working with Inkomoko’s 100 Rwandan entrepreneur clients, one of Nathalie’s opportunities also will be to support Inkomoko’s program of supporting up to 800 refugee and returnee entrepreneurs in Rwanda.

“When people live in peace and have better opportunities, it strengthens the community. As we empower entrepreneurs every day, our team will empower refugees to create sustainable businesses”, says Nathalie.

“Becoming Managing Director before turning 30 is something I had never imagined. It’s quite the milestone!” she laughs.

Quite the milestone indeed. We can’t wait to follow Nathalie in her new role – and to see how much she will contribute to Rwanda’s growth in years to come.

To the press:

For more information, please contact Johanne Møller: Johanne@inkomoko.com /+250 786 850 681

 

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Mentoring African Entrepreneurs with AEC

By Alexandra Gamboa Dwerryhouse

Walking up the hill on my first day of work with AEC, the warm sun melted away all memories of my corporate life in London, leaving behind a mild sense of nervous excitement. Having lived, worked, studied and travelled internationally I felt prepared for whatever may await me in my new life in Africa. However, I am very pleased to say that I was wrong. I was not prepared for the wealth of opportunity and experience that awaited me in Kigali.
 
On my first day in the office I was instantly welcomed by colleagues, quickly learning of their individual stories and the team’s collective mission. This unity and ambition was inspiring and made me increasingly eager to meet with my clients. Meeting with my first, second and third client it quickly became apparent that the passion I had seen in my colleagues was also shared by my clients.
 
Working as a mentor I partnered with entrepreneurs across several sectors. Noella –  “The Fruit Lady” of Wawili – was the first entrepreneur I met. She had identified a clear need and was working hard to meet demand and bring her product to market but struggling to scale.  Working together we were able to put an operational plan in place that in time allowed the business to turn its first profit. Alongside Noella I also worked with Alpha and his Discorvery pre-school, helping secure vital funding and growing student numbers to +40, and Pascal of Medicslist.com, launching the application pilot scheme for his hospital and health directory in November 2016.

I feel honored to have worked with such dedicated entrepreneurs and to have played a role in the next steps of their success stories.
 
Beyond the traditional mentoring role, AEC also offered me the opportunity to get involved with some of their latest initiatives including the GAIN International Business Plan Competition and the launch of its refugee investment and business development program. It was very rewarding to put my experience to use helping a local entrepreneur develop a robust business plan that could not only compete with but also beat several other international parties competing for significant start-up investment. However, it was the chance to help launch the development scheme, working directly with the refugee community, that was truly awe-inspiring.  With the help of AEC, refugees can access guidance and investment to grow a business and change the lives of their family and community. The combination of skill development and investment is an essential tool and the first step on the road to recovering much of the life they were forced to leave behind. This was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life; a real chance to make a lasting difference in the lives of those in need and determined to action change.  
 
Having spent months in Kigali, there was obviously much more to life than work, and my AEC family never let me forget this. Rwanda offers a wealth of nature and history that must be experienced to be believed. There is always something new to see or do, not to mention the fun times in the house or office. Trekking to national parks to find the gorillas and golden monkeys, exploring the Kigali food scene, attending live outdoor music festivals and my very first goat party are just a few of the wondrous things I have been lucky enough to experience so far during my time in Rwanda.

I have already recommended to any one that will listen that they must try to get involved in the exciting world of entrepreneurship and starts-up businesses. Specifically, I would recommend AEC and Kigali to anyone looking to experience entrepreneurship in a very pure and exciting form – not to mention the chance to immerse themselves in a beautiful and exiting culture and landscape that can be experienced nowhere else. Through this experience, I have witnessed the passion and curiosity that sits at the heart of life and entrepreneurship in Rwanda, developed new and unique skills and gained a new understanding of myself. I cannot wait to see what adventures and experiences await me in Tanzania when I continue my journey with the AEC family.

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AEC Launches Innovative Program to Build the Business Skills of Burundian and Congolese Refugees

Partnering with UNHCR, we’re implementing private sector solutions to moving refugee populations towards self-sufficiency and out of poverty.  

At present, there are 150,000 Congolese and newly arrived Burundian refugees, living in Rwanda. Most of these refugees have few opportunities to advance economically, instead relying on support from the World Food Program and UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) for daily supplies.

 Soon this may all change.

On October 1, UNHCR will launch a “cash-transfer” pilot program in three refugee camps in Rwanda that will impact these refugees in a fundamental way.  Instead of giving items like soap, sanitary pads, and blankets, UNHCR will give the equivalent in mobile money.

For the first time since fleeing their home countries, refugees in Rwanda will have total control over their finances, and will have the freedom and dignity to make their own choices. 

With the transition to “cash camps” for both food and non-food items, UNHCR is launching an innovation in refugee relief that has the potential to be a wide scale approach to improve refugee livelihoods worldwide. The systemic change of how aid is delivered provides a unique historical moment to test new models that can have lasting impact and potential for global replication. 

That's where AEC comes in.

Impressed with AEC’s work with Rwandan entrepreneurs, UNHCR has asked us to launch an entrepreneurship development program for refugees in Rwanda -- in essence, to build the other side of this new market. 

For refugees to take advantage of the “cash aid” opportunity, African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC) has committed to train 400 refugee entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.   

Our three-prong pilot is designed to sparks innovation, builds capacity, and removes barriers:

  • Spark Entrepreneurship:  Through interactive workshops on human centered design, AEC will help refugees identify market opportunities and prototype innovations.
  • Launch & Grow Businesses: AEC will provide business plan and market entry support, strategic consulting, mentorship, and capacity building classes.
  • Remove Barriers to Success: AEC will offer affordable, flexible small loans into viable enterprises without burdensome requirements and collateral.

Our goal is to help refugee entrepreneurs launch enterprises in the camps that will be income-generating for their families, will provide employment opportunity for others, and will fill a market need. 

Plus, as refugee camps residents are disproportionately female and items like sanitary pads are now going to be provided exclusively though market access, AEC is particularly focused on identifying and supporting women as leaders in the refugee entrepreneur setting.

Through this project, AEC hopes to demonstrate the true impact that the refugee communities can have. Under normal circumstances, entrepreneurship and small businesses offer relevant products and services, create jobs, and drive local economies. By taking advantage of upcoming opportunities, refugees in Rwanda can use entrepreneurship to drive economic empowerment and self-reliance.

At AEC, we are passionate about providing the tools and resources, and equipping people with the skills and networks they need to realize their own best potential.  By bringing that passion and expertise to refugees in Rwanda, we believe we will create a new model that will show positive impacts on the livelihoods of hundreds of refugees, their families, and their host community. 

As a new program, there are plenty of opportunities to learn - and in the end, this approach may even fail. But, believing passionately in the right to self-determination -- for even the most vulnerable person -- we are optimistic that this path can create lasting change.

This is a unique moment for AEC, and for refugee entrepreneurs, and we hope you will follow our journey as we continue to introduce innovative programs that have a positive global impact.

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NOTE:  AEC has secured operating capital to launch this pilot.  To fully fund our evaluation and to expand our team dedicated to providing these services, we are raising additional funds.  To make a charitable, tax-deductible gift to AEC and our refugee program, please donate here

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Meet Noella Mugisha, “the Fruit Lady” of Wawili!

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Noella Mugisha begins each day at dawn at Kimironko market in Kigali, filling baskets with the freshest fruit in the market. Then, she bumps elbows with her partner in a downtown office as they slice, dice, and box mangos, banana, passion fruit, pineapple and more.

By 9 a.m, Noella and her partner are on the bus, heading to suburban offices and city businesses with tote bags full of fresh, delicious, packaged fruit.  Bundled in small plastic boxes, the tropical fruit arrives at workplaces all day.“Wawili Fruits renders a vital service - providing a product of quality, delivered on time, saving time at lunch hour.  It’s a great service at the base level, and provides healthy food.  I get a box of fruit every single day,” said Charles Wangoe, a faithful Wawili customer.But Noella and her partner can’t do it all, however.

That’s why Noella turned to AEC’s accelerator in Rwanda, Inkomoko Business Development, for help finding more customers like Charles. Her business advisor Xavier has been bringing Noella’s sales challenges to every Inkomoko team meeting, looking for an answer to the question of how to get great, pre-cut fruit into more locations across Kigali. He’s also been helping Noella find a new space, one a bit more conducive to food preparation.

“I studied information technology, but I wanted to run my own life,” Noella said one recent morning while chopping mangos on her office balcony. She goes over a few thoughts with Xavier while she cuts mangos into plastic containers — places to move to, potential new clients.

“Our challenge is sales, and help with that from Inkomoko is what we appreciate,” she said. For Noella and her partner, keeping their business sustainable was very difficult.  They found Inkomoko online, and they are sure they found the right people to help them. 

“We wanted to know what to do after starting. You start a business, what then?”, says Noella.  Inkomoko first helped them with identifying some new strategies to help their business grow.  The idea of hiring more people was a new strategy from Inkomoko, and they also received help regarding financial recording and analysis. “We got a lot of practical help,” said Noella.  

As her Inkomoko Business Advisor, Xavier will continue to support Noella with the required business skills to see her company meet their goals.  Xavier says “She will become a good example of how Rwandan fresh graduates can become entrepreneurs with little investment instead of looking for jobs.”  

For information about becoming an Inkomoko client, contact Olive at olive@inkomoko.com.

And to order your own box of fresh, delicious Wawili tropical fruit, please contact Noella at +250 783282632

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Learning leadership at AEC

I fled to Rwanda after Burundi became volatile in the spring of 2015. Bujumbura – Burundi’s capital – used to be a quiet, beautiful place to live. Then political tensions exploded and I saw fellow young people jailed without cause; others were killed.

I had just passed my final exams and awaited starting my last year of college. Then, I dropped my studies to flee – it was just too dangerous to stay. Almost one year later, I still have not been back. I live in Kigali, hope to return to Burundi one day, and am trying to become the leader the country needs.

In Rwanda, have interned at the African Entrepreneur Collective since September. This internship has allowed me to develop professional skills, become part of a team, and see leadership first-hand. I also contributed to developing my new community: AEC’s goal of reducing unemployment in Africa has become my dream as well.  And I believe that creating jobs for youth might create some of the stability needed to see less conflict across the globe.  It won’t solve it all, but it will solve some.

At AEC I found my passion, and myself. And I found a place to practice the leadership skills I’d learned in theory.

I worked as a volunteer coordinator in the Africa Youth Leadership Forum – an organization that promotes community leadership skills among young people – and saw my passion to serve grow. I learned that the world’s development requires leadership. And leadership is not a matter of position but of how much one contributes in the community. There experienced leaders such a Tim Kreutter, the founder of Cornerstone, mentored me.

But learning in a bubble is different from leading in practice.

Through AEC, I was able to practice this “servant leadership” that I was taught in the movement. Fleeing Burundi forced me to drop my studies, but AEC became my classroom. Behind my desk every day, I am helping to eradicate one of Africa’s biggest problems – unemployment.

Joss Divin Ndikubwayo

Joss Divin Ndikubwayo

AEC was founded to help African entrepreneurs develop their communities. Seventy percent of Africa’s population is less than 30 years old, and the youth unemployment rate is double that of adults. Moreover, unemployed youth are taking part in violent protests, and in some countries, even enroll in terrorist groups.

If African leaders do not jumpstart their business communities and spur innovation, the number of unemployed youth will double in the next three decades. 

But why wait for our leaders? Why not do something ourselves? AEC takes action by investing in businesses across Africa. Since 2013, AEC has offered solutions to many of the continent's pressing problems — including unemployment — through its different programs.

Working at AEC to solve this problem, I have started becoming the servant leader I have always wanted to be. Working at AEC gives me hope that one day, this whole continent will be changed for the better. For African businesses, AEC is like a mother – giving birth to them, raising them, and ensuring they are taken care of, even when they become adults.

 

Joss Divin is a marketing and communications intern at the African Entrepreneur Collective. He is originally from Burundi and founded that country’s first platform for fashion designers to market their work — Burundi Fashion — which has more than 1,800 active traders today.

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Seconding with AEC

With a partnership with award-winning Gong Communications in London, AEC was gifted the ever-talented Sarah Nicholas for a one-month secondment to work with AEC in Rwanda and Tanzania.  Now that Sarah is back in London, here are her reflections on a month in East Africa:

As I struggle to warm my fingers after a freezing commute through London this morning, it’s hard to believe that this time last month I was spitting distance from the equator. I was in the land of a thousand hills – Rwanda – sharing my experiences as a communications consultant with some truly inspirational entrepreneurs and individuals while on secondment with the African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC) in Kigali.

 Listening to the stories of entrepreneurs and colleagues there, it is clear that innovation is thriving in East Africa. But more than that, AEC’s mantra that ‘all solutions to Africa’s challenges already exist on the continent’ now feels more credible and tangible than ever. 

Just one example is Marcel, who, having been orphaned by the genocide that decimated Rwanda in 1994, wanted to harness the main driver and instrument of destruction – media and youth – and turn them into a force for good. Now three years after launching, and with support from AEC, Marcel’s news website Umuseke is the second most read digital media outlet in Rwanda and employs 20 people – not bad for a 25 year old. 

Another case in point is Rwanda’s answer to Uber, SafeMotos. The app combines booking software with black box technology to ensure customers are only hopping on the back of the safest motorbike taxi drivers in town, offering valuable peace of mind in a city where 80% of traffic accidents involve motos. Peter and Nash developed a go-to-market strategy with think – AEC’s tech incubator, funded by telecoms giant Millicom – and the app now adorns billboards across the country. 

But it wasn’t only the vision and determination of AEC’s entrepreneurs that blew me away, the passion and commitment of their own team was infectious. 

A social enterprise with job creation as its ultimate goal, AEC is a collection of business incubators and accelerators who support local entrepreneurs enabling them to grow, employ others and make a long-term contribution to the economy. In two years, they have already helped 150 entrepreneurs to create 700 jobs and have big plans to expand to seven African countries within 10 years. 

Having a soft spot for the entrepreneurial spirit and our own growing communications practice in East Africa, a partnership between Gong Communications and AEC seemed a natural fit and I was luckily enough to be the first of the team to spend a month offering pro-bono comms consultancy and skills building to the organisation and its entrepreneurs. 

It was certainly a busy month! I created communications plans and marketing strategies, ran messaging workshops, edited websites, drafted press releases, held media training for a bootcamp full of social entrepreneurs and supported AEC’s launch into Tanzania.

But it wasn’t all work. In just 4 weeks I explored Kigali, met a four-month old gorilla in the Virunga mountains, kayaked on Lake Kivu, tested out my first shaky words of Kinyaruanda, got caught in some spectacular rainstorms, was laughed at relentlessly by market stall holders, flew to the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro in a really small plane, and leapt into a lake fully clothed (there was a reason for it!).

For now, while I immerse myself back into the fray of all important client work back at base, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone in the AEC family that made it such a great experience. I will be back!

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AEC LAUNCHES IN TANZANIA! MEET THE ENTREPRENEURS

  

Last week, AEC welcomed 10 entrepreneurs into our new business accelerator program in Tanzania - Anza 360°. They are an amazing bunch of determined, creative and driven individuals who all share a commitment to drive social impact and employment opportunities through their businesses. We had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with each of them last week in Moshi, Kilimanjaro.

 Let us introduce you to the inaugural cohort of Anza 360°:

  • Affordable Computers and Technology of Tanzania – Robert is making tech-enabled classrooms a reality in TZ, stocked with refurbished computers pre-loaded with educational software
  • Arusha Women's Entrepreneurs – David is producing high-quality peanut butter to support small holder farmers
  • Iko Eco Recycling – Evance is implementing plastic recycling across the Kili region, adding value to plastic waste and creating jobs for youth
  • Jasmin Bee –Jasmijn (or “Mama Bee” as she is called) works with local beekeepers to produce raw honey for local and international markets, also leading to forest preservation
  • Last Mile – Liz runs a distribution network of trained local sales agents delivers life-changing products to the hardest to reach communities
  • MicroHealth Initiative – John offers 3-tiers of affordable health insurance to low- and middle-income people; a product that is much needed for the country’s 39M uninsured Tanzanians
  • Silverleaf Academy – Gordon uses curriculum-filled tablets and improved teacher training to differentiate his new chain of affordable private primary schools
  • Safe Water Ceramics of East Africa –Kim’s patented clay water filters are already winning awards and saving lives
  • Totohealth TZ – Giulia’s pregnancy education SMS system, birthing supplies, and infant care packs ensure a safe start for moms and babies.

Among these entrepreneurs is standout Mesiaki Kimirei, known to most as Mr Kim. Mr Kim has been a potter all his life, like his parents and grandparents before him.  “Clay runs in my blood,” he says. “I will always be a potter”. But Mr Kim doesn’t just make any pots – his are ones with a simple, life-saving difference.

The idea was sown when a friend showed him a diagram of a ceramic water filter – could the clay from the slopes of nearby Kilimanjaro be used to create something similar? Now, Mr Kim has turned his potting skills into a water filter business, making clay pots in a small factory in Arusha. These clay filters last for 5 years and cost $40, a price affordable to Tanzanian’s living on $2 per day. Standing in front of an audience of more than 100 community members, Mr Kim conducted a demonstration with the showmanship of a magician – but instead of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, he turned a cloudy, filthy glass of water into one that was crystal clear, which he proceeded to gulp down -- to a big round of applause.

Joining the Anza 360° programme, Mr Kim is eager to develop his business plan and financial models to help find new markets, scale his business, employ more potters and reach more of the 46% of Tanzanians that currently don’t have access to safe drinking water.

Born on the island of Pemba, Tanzania, Giulia knows that she and her mother were lucky. In Tanzania, 1 in 44 women die in childbirth and 40,0000 babies don’t survive their first month of life, mostly because they are born at home without the support and advice from health professionals. Giulia believes that mothers and babies deserve more than luck.

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Guilia and her husband, the co-founders of Totohealth Tanzania, aim to educate parents on healthy practices during pregnancy through SMS services, motivate women to deliver at health facilities by providing delivery kits to clinics, and provide new parents with a newborn survival kit to take home.

Heavily pregnant herself at the Anza 360° launch, Giulia told us she had made sure her local clinic was well stocked with Totohealth delivery kits to test herself when the time came, and planned to be working hard on her business plan and funding proposals right to the last minute. We are pleased to report that her gorgeous little boy was safely delivered just days after we left – congrats Giulia and Tayeb!

Thirty-nine million (79%) Tanzanians don’t have health insurance. John, the founder of MicroHealth Initiative (MHI) is here to change that. MHI offers affordable health insurance to even the lowest earners, while his innovative model ‘pre-pays’ health centres a set amount each month, helping them to manage cash flow and improve services. To date, MHI has reached over 2,000 Tanzanians who have never before had health cover and has ambitious plans to reach 10,000 by the end of the year, creating several new jobs in the process.

John’s biggest challenge is the population’s deep-held suspicion of insurance companies, who have a reputation for being slow to respond to claims and a habit of not paying out – as well as simply being beyond the financial means of most people at the base of the pyramid. This year’s focus, therefore, will be on marketing and sensitisation strategies that capitalise on his strong foundation of satisfied and grateful customers to reach a tipping point in local opinion.

“I am very excited about being in an accelerator,” John told us last week, “I look forward to getting a chance to get underneath my business, put together a strong business plan and rebrand MHI with the backing of committed professionals.

 “But more than this, I believe there will be many intangible benefits from participating in Anza 360° and developing the social business community here in Tanzania."

Anza 360° is a joint initiative between AEC and Anza, whose in-depth understanding and leadership of social impact businesses in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro will be invaluable as we offer these entrepreneurs a 12 month program of top-quality services, strategic consulting, business training, capacity building, brand development and mentorship.   

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NEW 12-MONTH PROGRAM FOR KILI’S SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS LAUNCHES IN TANZANIA

This week, 10 social entrepreneurs from the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania were the first to start a year-long program called Anza 360° to grow their businesses and scale up positive social impact. Anza 360° is a new social business acceleration service based in Moshi, Tanzania, that offers a 12 month program of top-quality services, mentorship and other support to serious entrepreneurs whose businesses will improve the lives of people in the Kilimanjaro region. The program is a joint initiative of Anza and African Entrepreneur Collective

The first Anza 360° program launched this week with a five day ‘bootcamp’ for the ten entrepreneurs, who left with a revised strategy, renewed confidence and passion, and all the tools and skills they will need to complete the rest of the program and build their social businesses.

"I'm excited about being in an accelerator and look forward getting a chance to get underneath my business and put together a strong business plan and rebrand with the backing of professionals,” said John Mugo. one of Anza 360's first entrepreneurs and the founder of Microhealth Initiative which offers low-cost health insurance.

“I believe there will be many intangible benefits from participating in Anza 360° and developing the social business community," Mr Mugo enthused after the first day of workshops. However, it is after the bootcamp that the hard work really starts for the entrepreneurs. They will complete their business plans with support of expert advisors by February, and in April they will be paired up with highly-qualified international professionals to further develop their businesses.

During the program, the entrepreneurs will receive strategic consulting, business training, capacity building, website and brand development, and will benefit from a support network of experienced professionals and like-minded entrepreneurs to strengthen their businesses and scale up their social impact.

"At Anza, we've always believed that thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Through Anza 360° we've brought together a group of entrepreneurs who are committed to transforming Tanzania,” says Krupa Patel, Executive Director and Founder of Anza, who, along with the African Entrepreneur Collective, designed and co-manage the Anza 360° program.

“I'm excited that through Anza 360° we can support and strengthen their impact businesses allowing them to truly thrive. You can apply to be part of the next Anza 360° cohort through our website http://www.anza.co.com/anza360/

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Revelations from my first week at ‘think’

AEC's tech incubator, think, welcomes Silicon Valley designer Shipra Kayan to Rwanda this month.  Check out her impressions of Week 1 in Kigali:

 

I have been working with the four teams at think for a week now, and it has been quite the challenge to context switch across multiple services, yet do a deep dive with each team to understand their history and ambitions. Some observations so far:  

1. Entrepreneurs are the same everywhere: single-minded and purpose-driven 

The startups here are not fueled by their idea, or just about making money, they generally all have a deeper purpose. It’s about increasing life expectancy - not getting you a moto faster. It’s about promoting African manufacturers or tackling youth unemployment, not building a B2B marketplace. 

I find that these idealistic over-achievers are similar to entrepreneurs I meet in the bay area - the project or idea is one part of a grand plan to alleviate a deeper social problem. 

2. People actually go to meetings without computers

My first day here, a Monday, I scheduled introductory meetings with all of the teams, and all of them arrived with notepads and pens, not a computer. I felt silly with my laptop in between us taking notes and looking at my screen when I should have been looking at them. 

Since then, I have tried to move away from computer assisted meetings - not just to match the expectations here, but because it feels a lot more personal. 

3. The level of product sophistication is pretty high

When a region is undergoing development, you usually see them follow the footsteps of the country that has already done it rung-by-rung. Let’s say in India - we went from dirt roads to paved roads, to highways. Here in Rwanda, and specifically within technology all across Africa, developers are jumping over some of the inefficiencies that we struggled with as a software development community over the 90s and the 2000s. 

The apps being built here are full-featured, interact really smoothly, and in many ways exceed what we are able to do in “developed” countries because of the low regulatory barriers. They have access to the latest tools and knowledge bases. Their customers benchmark their software against google and facebook, because that’s what people here are exposed to, that’s what they expect from software. 

They are going directly from dirt roads to airplanes :)

4. They build for smartphones, and make everything cross-platform

I had assumed - before coming here, that the products would be innovative SMS driven services - like mobile money was. However, many of the teams here, and also the folks I talked to at the co-working spaces, were building cross-platform smartphone apps. 

iPhone penetration is really low here, but Android is extremely prevalent and most young office-workers in Kigali seem to have an Android phone. One of the teams gave me a test phone, and it’s a sturdy Android device that cost just $100. The figures I have heard about smartphone penetration in Rwanda range from 5-10% - perhaps concentrated in a specific demographic. 

I wondered aloud why they bothered to make their apps iPhone compatible in this market, and the answer was almost always that they did it because they were using a framework that made it easy - like ionic

Read more on Shipra's blog.

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