At the time of writing this article, I am seated at “The Innovation Village” in Kampala after just having a conversation with Vusi Thembekwayo, an acclaimed business mogul, global speaker and venture capitalist. A son of the African soil, Vusi is the CEO of MyGrowthFund, an African focused venture capital fund. The nuance of his discussion mainly focused on how corporates can collaborate with start-ups to catalyze innovation and entrepreneurship in Uganda and on the African continent.
A piece of the puzzle to be solved: Corporates have the funding but do not do innovation, and many innovators have innovative ideas but do not have the capital. The major points centered on creating the right incentive framework for corporates and start-ups to form sustainable collaboration and partnership structures to enhance mutual support and investment.
Undoubtedly, when global speakers like Vusi travel, they do not just travel. They carry with them an entire spotlight and network of market focus in media and analysis. No wonder, #VusiAtTheVillage is currently one of the top 5 trending topics on Ugandan Twitter. A deeply charismatic and consummate speaker and entrepreneur is in the country. From an ecosystem analysis point of view, the innovation space in Uganda has come of age from the “launch” phase and we are now at “early-stage growth” inspired by a series of youth-led initiatives such as creation of innovation hubs, conceptualization of mentorship and acceleration programs, formation of angel investor networks, and peer-to-peer partnerships and collaborations enabled by rapid digitization and acceleration effects.
This point was succinctly made by Vusi when he alluded to his last visit in Uganda, which was in 2007 and there was no talk of innovation at the time. The exponential growth has been mind-blowing and is poised to generate more catalytic benefits as we attract deeper penetration of capital, technology and skills into the ecosystem. As the traditional sub-sahara Africa innovation markets (South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya) reach maturity, Uganda will have much more opportunity due to several linkages like established digital payments systems, improving regulatory frameworks, more public and private sector cooperation, and attitudinal changes in career and professional development towards non-traditional jobs like software development, start-up advisory, and ecosystem builders.
As the Ugandan innovation ecosystem moves to the next phase of growth, figures like Vusi are necessary to re-focus our energy and vision towards relationships that are required to form a solid and sustainable base upon which we can build the requisite structures to unlock future value through ecosystem networks that create shared opportunities and broader economic participation in both the formal and informal sectors of our economy. The ultimate end goal is harnessing a wider ecosystem approach to deliver coherent and sustainable problem-solving solutions. Story by story, the book is being written. Watch out for Uganda.