Tag Archives: small business

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

Dont Just blame Boda Bodas

It’s long since I last strolled through downtown Kampala. I hardly knew what the area around the old Taxi Park looks like after so many years of having no reason to check out that hood.

Having been forced to go shopping at Gaza Land and later eating lunch at some structures surrounding the Nakivubo Stadium, I was shocked to see the bustle of economic activity going on over there. Ugandans are working their arses off to etch a living. The picture I saw was totally different from the one that social media tends to portray. People are serious about what they are doing and that is not something to be ignored.

This quickly took me back to some articles I have been reading online of the boda boda riders’ attacks on motorists. Alot has been said about what the possible causes could be and I do not really want to delve into that for now.

However, as someone that supports Small Business owners to set up their operations, I have a natural tilt towards those self employed people littered all over the city.

I do not want to summarily state that the boda boda riders are reckless before taking us back to the law of energy conservation we learnt while at school that states thus: Energy can neither be created nor destroyed – only converted from one form to another.

Energy is inherent in every human being you see around as well as all items in our environment. That energy expresses itself in different ways. It could be mechanical (just like machinery), academic, sexual (masculine or feminine), graphical, written, spoken, commercial, criminal etc.

Research has proven that the negative utterances we make tend to have a greater impact than the positive ones. Replace utterances with energy.

How that energy is utilised is dependent on one’s environment. There is a young lad I know who is very bright and charming. He could easily sell an eskimo a fridge. This guy chose to tread a path that saw him visit Kigo Prison a number of times. I had to sit him down, understand him, only to realise that he needed to exude his brilliance and unfortunately got a chance to do so with the wrong crowd. We have had sessions together and as I write this, he is on the path of total reform.

Ugandans today are faced with very trying moments in their lives, and this is happening world over. The crime we see is a sign of so many simmering tensions which if left unattended to, could very easily lead to a bubble bursting.

The energy that we see being used negatively can be converted into positive use if we chose to deliberately follow that approach. Remember, energy will never disappear. It only changes form.

Many of these youths we see out there and consider reckless are actually potentially positively productive, some have tried but failed and only need a helping hand to scale greater heights.

We spend alot of money and time on workshops and seminars that hold no meaning to that young lady making rucksacks from recycled plastic material or that young man earning a living through raising worms for sale.

Let us not bluntly follow the condemning bandwagon of the kind of criminal activities going on. We need to ask ourselves what we can do to proactively change the situation for the better.

WHile there is alot of misery going on, there in equal measure is alot of positivity that we can look forward to.

Let us be the change Makers for the change that we want to see.

James Wire
Technology and Business Consultant
Blog https://wirejames.com