Can Innovation be done better in Uganda?

You walk into this innovation hub, located in an exclusive location filled with buzzing youths all claiming to be innovators. The most you see them do if you are to drop by daily is eat burgers, sausages and french fries while discussing the fortunes of the latest global rapping icon and complaining about how people do not understand what they are putting on the market.

True, these guys are innovators according to their understanding but the reality is that they leave alot to be desired. When you take time to listen to some of their “innovations” you can hardly find a difference between them and the Teletubbies. With their DSTV induced imaginations, they make an effort to come up with solutions for a one Fenekansi Wanjala living in Hisega, Butaleja district. Really???

They will theoretically convince you about the landscape they are venturing into and make you believe that they have the secret key to the solution. Others already have concrete business plans for businesses that have never raked in a single shilling of income.

By the way, for our small businesses, I am a believer in drafting business plans after you have gotten your feet dirty. How do you plan for something you do not understand? Blackboard knowledge has proven to be deficient in regard to engineering business success especially as a boot strapping entrepreneur. It is best for the managers of your crazy ideas but not you the fast paced thinker.

Move around Kampala and you will find nearly every academic institution claiming to have an Innovation Centre. This makes me pose the following questions:

  1. Are you doing it for fashion?
  2. Are you doing it to attract funding?
  3. Are you really legitimately pursuing a pressing need?
  4. Are the people staffing the centre proven entrepreneurs or academics?
  5. Are you aware of the randomness that innovation requires?
  6. How much success is registered with the various competitions these innovators get into?

An innovation only makes sense when a prototype comes into the picture, offers value to a consumer and a payment is made. Now, that there is a business taking shape. Innovation especially in our circumstances largely comes naturally. There are numerous people (especially the youths) with compelling innovations spread out there with no access to the air conditioned, english speaking, middle class dominated confines of the urban hubs.

Apart from winning competitions and getting the attention of a few industry players, how many innovators have gone beyond the desktop prototypes? How many after addressing large audiences and getting standing ovations have caused effective change locally?

The goal of innovation in my view should be to create sustainable local success. An innovation has to be a purpose driven initiative that creates genuine transformation on the ground.

By saying what I have said, I should not be looked at as this guy that has a thing against Innovation Centres. No!!! My problem is the way this journey is being handled. It is becoming more academic than practical. It is also alienating numerous innovators by virtue of its structure. I’ll jump up in excitement the day I see innovation support efforts spreading out to the hoi polloi (the masses). I have only seen a semblance of this with the Resilient Africa Network and CURAD.

I long for the day the numerous innovators I find out there on the street get access to facilities that help grow their already income generating opportunities.

James Wire
Small Business Consultant
Twitter: @wirejames
Blog: The Wire Perspective

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