Throughout the 42 days of lockdown, Robert Kabushenga is taking off time to run a daily mentorship program hosted on Twitter spaces and Youtube. In this episode, he hosted CK Japheth, the founder of The Innovation Village, Motiv and the 97 Fund.
RK: What is the story of the Innovation Village and Motiv, how did all these come about?
CK: I am no guru. I’m just another Ugandan trying to do something for my country. My story is like any other person trying to do something. It took me 80 job applications before I landed my first job. The closest I got was at the Auditor General’s office. We were 1332 job applicants vying for 5 jobs. Five of us made it for the face to face interview among whom was my lecturer who was trying to escape the system. I did not get the job. A sixth person who had not sat the aptitude entered the room and took the job. I went back to my former school to teach entrepreneurship and economics at my former school it was great to be in class but it was not something that I was going to do for the rest of my life.
I landed a big consultancy where we were helping telecom companies to select tech innovations. We would select the 3 out of 100. Then I would ask myself what happens to the 97. That is where the idea of the Innovation Village (IV) came from. That is also why we have the 97 Fund. But it was not only about that creating the space, it was more about having working business models.
Motiv was as a result of creative asking questions of where they could produce samples and prototypes of things they were creating cheaply. It was so expensive for them. Motiv was established to address those challenges.
RK: What happens at the Innovation Village, Motiv and at the 97 Fund?
CK: Part of it is my story. I went to university but didn’t get a job until after like 80 applications. Unfortunately, students at university are studying 18th century material which is no longer applicable in the 21st. There are no jobs and the world is in need of solutions. The village is an open door. You do not need to have a degree but a place where you can get in-demand skills.
RK: For a guy who is figuring out something to do, what will he do?
CK: He is likely to be a coder, digital marketer, developer, data analyst, graphics designer or any other. There is a long list form which they can choose.
The interesting element is that for a young person who has seen businesses grow, the village becomes a good place, a natural home to get access to partners, market opportunities. It is a place for solving problems and creating solutions. The 97 fund avails resources for viable, scalable businesses solving problems in the community
RK: In my time, to become someone, one had to have certain qualifications, do I need any qualification to get into IV?
CK: We are taught that we go to school to become something. What you instead need is to grow through school. What matters is how you apply yourself to the problems of the day. Unfortunately many people go to school to become something. In the gig/ passion economy, from the things you love to do, you can build something you want. That is how I built the IV. For someone who is young and scared, your opportunity comes from offering yourself to solve a problem
RK: Where is the IV and Motiv located?
CK: 70% of our work is currently online. We can link you up to a partner, teach you a skill.
But we have (physical) locations in Ntinda, Jinja, Gulu and Mbarara. Motiv is on Old Portbell road. It deals with the real economy.
RK: Can someone like me come to IV come and get a new skill?
CK: A guy like you (at your age) you don’t need to go back to start afresh. You are someone we call an angel investor. A young entrepreneur would need help from angel investment. As an angel investor, your mentorship, introduction and help are far great. One of the reasons we are struggling to get funding is because we do not have angel investors. An angel investor will enter doors a start-up may not be able to go to.
There are so many people who will help an entrepreneur because of the angel investor they have on board.
Comrade Otoa (CO): Uganda is suffering with the question of ideal jobs, we do not have a lot of jobs, what are we doing to see a lot of young people get into the agric space? How are we innovating around financing the agric space?
CK: Agriculture is known to be poor farmers. We need to demonstrate agriculture like how Vision Group made agric sexy and attractive through their different programs.
We have agtech (agriculture technology). That is what the young people are bringing into this space. There are number of them unlocking value chain opportunities. They are leveraging tech like Famunera, Hamwe, there is this tech drive to add value in agric.
Financing is a big monster. No one is funding start-ups at their infancy. There is a lot of systematic change we’re working out to change.
Capital, there is no much capital in investment in Africa. Until we get them we shall not attract finance.
CO: Could it be that many people don’t know about it. Who else knows about the IV story?
CK: It is not about the innovation that gets it to cross the line. One of it is solving the right problem. We should solve problems worth solving.
CO: Have you thought about people in the cities with idle money and supporting rural farmers through people like ensibuuko, famnera.
There is a start-up like that called farm crowding. It’s not in Uganda. We need to open up and attract as many players on this.
RK: Can you tell us what you are doing with NSSF, what opportunity are you doing with them
CK: I need to answer this at two levels;
They recently launched out the high innovator with Outbox. They are going to invest USD 35000 per start-up. That is good money to start.
We worked with NSSF on corporate innovation. Corporate spaces should be hungry to innovate. As this huger grows, they will need to grow. This will in turn make their CSR worth investments.
RK: What is the effect of the 12% on the internet use in Uganda?
CK: Taking away OTT and introducing the 12% is a demonstration of double standards to open up the digital economy and what it can become. What we need government to do is beyond the tax element. There is a whole lot of incentives that it can do. The 12% communicates to investors that we are not an ideal place for their investment. In the US, all the technologies we are seeing were enabled by the government.
If we get government to understand its role beyond tax, to the right policies that will get more work done. There is a bigger conversation that we are not having.
We have also seen that ecosystems in Africa like Lagos that have grown beyond the government’s role. There is room for growth, we should embrace it.
Mary Apolot: What is the time span that your incubation takes from ideation to acceleration?
CK: Ideas grow through 5 stages. You have an idea. You finance it through bootstrapping then you got to early stage financing. That is where you get angel investor. Then you go to the seed investment and then later go into the later stages of what you are trying to build.
You have to get to the seed stage in 18 months, in 2 years of growth stage, you must be ready to grow to series A. All these stages range from USD 250,000 to USD 2 Million
But we do not have this money in Uganda. What we have now is customised intervention. And also because of the 97 fund, we are able to become the first investor.
Paul Kamoga: There are so many start-ups for the farmers. We run a startup called pair and pump where we provide pumps for farmers. There is not much attention given to the farmers on the other side. Farmers are interested but do not have the money to pay as little as UGX 15,000 to rise this money.
CK: It is a good realisation. Start-ups that become investable innovate around the problem they are designing for. The best way to build a start-up is to spend more time with the farmers. Innovators should understand what they are designing for.
Michael Niyitegeka (MN) : Whereas there are so many people with a lot of ideas, the thing is execution. Innovation is not at event, it is a process. What problem is it that you are solving? Is it so painful they can pay for it? How do we get people to be more systematic other than random?
RK: Do innovators understand the problems that they are innovating for or they are just trying to replicate the things they see elsewhere?
CK: That is something we are trying to normalise. We have seen the elevation of businesses beginning to look for innovators.
Maureen Agena: Beyond mobile applications, how would you define innovation?
CK: Innovation is about adding value. That is what we are doing at Motiv. Innovation is not about technology. Tech is just an enabler.
RK: What is the future going to look like? What should people do now either as parents for their kids or people who are going to be in the work place.
MN: No matter what you one is going to be doing, everyone is going to require digital competence. Digital competence is about being able to use tools like excel, power point and things like that. Your digital competence is going to be more important than your 20 page CV.
Secondly, the market has been opened to be all.
We need to step away from facilitating knowledge acquisition at university. You need to know you are a student of life. Careers are no longer about what degree one has, it is about what you are able to do. It is important that the parents begin to learn with their children.
CK: I think what works for me is problem solving and agility. The skillsets that will get us ready for the world ahead are those that are applicable in the changing world.