TMS Ruge: “Our Silicon Valley moment is right now”

On the threshold of Mobile Web East Africa 2013, held in Nairobi this week, we ask TMS Ruge – ‘African Futurist’ and VC4Africa member, who will give the opening address at Mobile Web East Africa 2013 – to share his thoughts on mobile technology and entrepreneurship developments in Uganda and Africa. TMS Ruge is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker, co-founder of Uganda’s technology incubator Hive Colab, online platform Project Diaspora, and many other initiatives. 

What do you hope will come out of Mobile Web East Africa 2013?

“A renewed solidarity to push the envelope of innovation even further. Lots has happened since Mobile Web East Africa 2010 and I think it’s time to kick things into higher gear: more innovation, more local content creation and aggregation. It may also be too early for this, but I don’t think it is too early to start talking about mergers and acquisitions, when we should expect that kind of atmosphere in the area.”

What kinds of developments in Uganda and Africa excite you and what do you see as opportunities for entrepreneurs?

“The rapid adoption of mobile devices and the rapid roll out of mobile internet to the last mile is something that really excites me. There is no longer an excuse why we should tackle these opportunities and start to think big.

I am also excited about the mobile wallet in the region. MPESA set the standard, now other carriers in the region are following suit. The next leg is interoperability of payment services across networks, and then cross border and cross network payments. Then the real fun will hopefully begin. Question is: are we ready for that digital economy?”

What are mobile’s biggest disappointments so far, things mobile can’t do that people should realize?

“Mobile isn’t a magic marker. I think what people in the ICT4D sector need to realize is that mobile is in the end just a service delivery mechanism. It’s really about the innovative transformative services that can be built upon this new medium. We need more than just MPESA & Ushahidi as flag bearers to the power of mobile technology. If the successes were more broad-based, then I’d be a lot more excited. But for now, there aren’t enough services, yet.”

What are you trying to do with Hive Colab and how did it develop from start to today?

“Hive started as a conversation between Jon Gosier and myself. The genesis of the space grew out of Jon’s initial work in Uganda at Appfrica Labs. He saw an opportunity for a collaborative space. I had been sketching out ideas on re-inventing the internet cafe at the time. We talked about it and a few emails down the road, Hive emerged out of Appfrica Labs.

We are working hard to turn it into a successful collaborative space for the tech entrepreneurs in Kampala. We would like it to be as accessible as possible. We want to incubate ground-breaking ideas and give our entrepreneurs as much assistance as possible to perfect their ideas.

Securing additional funding from Hivos and Indigo Trust has been crucial for the space. I think we’ve proven our case as to why we need to exist. To still be relevant almost 5 years later says something.

We moved into a new, larger space where we think we are going to be for a long time to come. Our developers know we are here to stay and they can always count on the space and services being available to them.

Near term, we are creating more programs that we’ll be rolling out later this year to help our entrepreneurs succeed. We are also seeking and bringing on-board a lot of software and hardware partners for the benefit of our developers.”

Could you highlight some ventures at Hive Colab that excite you?

“We are really proud of all the ventures we have in house. I think it’d be unfair to highlight one or two above the rest.

Some of the ventures we have in-house are Bodapay, My Ticket, ClinicMaster, Mama-App, InforexAfrica, BetotM,  Brainshare and Access Mobile teams. All of them are working hard to bring their innovative solutions to market and we are quite proud of their work.

We provide mentoring services for all of the ventures to make sure their ideas are sound, business development to fine-tune their go-to-market strategies, and ultimately exposure to international partners.”

What are your key suggestions to entrepreneurs in Africa?

“If you don’t start now, you are going to be late to the party. And if you start now, don’t quit tomorrow. It takes a long time to bring innovation to market. It is the ones that know that the race is a slow marathon that eventually succeed. Stick with it, the reward will be well worth it.”

What are your key suggestions to investors in Africa?

“I think it is really important for investors inside Africa to look at our emerging digital economies as an opportunity and be brave enough to say: we are going to help shape those future economies. I think Africa loses when we get married to the idea that an investor is someone that comes from the outside to invest in Africa. The opportunities are here, and their investments are extremely critical in the shaping of Africa’s digital economies. Our Silicon Valley moment is right now. Ten years from now it’ll be too late. So jump in now with both feet.”

How do you see the VC4Africa community and how do you use VC4Africa?

“I like what I see so far and I like where VC4Africa has come from. This is what the future of development and investment on the continent looks like. We need to build a culture of supporting entrepreneurs building market solutions on the ground.

I use the platform for my agricultural start up, UMPG. I like the way the platform is laid out. As a start up it helps me figure out how I need to structure the young company and what kind of things to think about when courting a VCs.”

What is your message to the VC4Africa community?

“Keep up the great work. Keep pushing forward and refining your great ventures. You learn a lot about your self, your customers, and your business through constant review and refinement. Above all, don’t give the race.”

Mobile Web East Africa 2013 is held in Nairobi, Kenya from February 19th to 21th. Full details can be found on the Mobile Web East Africa website.