The technology ecosystem in Kampala, Uganda

kamp sky

Dan Evans of the Network Science Center at West Point (US) continues to discuss insights from his trips where he collects data on entrepreneurial ecosystems in various cities in Africa. Also see his previous posts on VC4Africa (introoverview and a post on Nairobi).

Kampala’s Tech Ecosystem

Kampala is a hotbed for young African tech entrepreneurs. The current government has set the conditions for economic growth and has encouraged the growth of small businesses. There are four business incubators in Kampala including Hive CoLab.

I visited Kampala to learn more about the entrepreneurial ecosystem through my collaboration with Jon Gosier, a software developer & co-founder of several organizations and initiatives some of which include AfriLabs, Appfrica, and Hive Colab.

Initially I met with Teddy Ruge, the co-founder of Hive CoLab and a noted Ugandan Social Entrepreneur and Brian Ndyaguma, the operations manager of Hive CoLab. Hive CoLab is located in the Kanjokya House in the Kamwokya neighborhood of Kampala.The Kanjokya House is a new 4-story building on a quiet street that houses numerous businesses and Non-Governmental Organizations.

Hive CoLab was the first tech-focused business incubator in Uganda. It was founded in 2010 through the efforts of Jon Gosier and Teddy Ruge. In 2008, Teddy was in the United States writing about the emerging tech sector in Africa and was introduced to Jon who was working in Kampala. At the time in Kampala, tech-focused entrepreneurs were congregating in Internet cafes that were not good for creativity. Jon and Teddy discussed the idea of generating a “next generation” Internet cafe and they established their first “co-working” space.

Hive CoLab is a large open space with reliable internet connection, a back-up power source, and a conference space for one-on-one meetings. It is a community-owned, collaborative, co-working space for the Uganda’s Technology community. Membership is open to all and is free. The only requirement for membership is that the applicant must be working on a project or must be looking for a project to work on. The incubator offers in-house consultants to mentor members and the mission is to provide the new companies the much-needed visibility in order to promote its offerings and eventually find funding or investment capital.

Hive CoLab offices

Hive CoLab offices, Kanjokya House

Hive Colab currently has a rental structure for a dedicated workspace for the firms that are working out of the incubator. They would eventually like to move towards an equity model where companies compete to join Hive and then give up a portion of their equity to the incubator. Teddy is also exploring the possibility of establishing a research division that keeps up with the tech space in Africa, with a focus on mobile, and issues periodic reports. Something similar to iHUB in Kenya

Dr Charles

Dr. Charles Thomas conducts interviews at Hive CoLab

Outbox is another incubator located in the Nakasero area of Kampala. Outbox is housed in Solzi House, another modern high rise building that also hosts a large number of businesses.


Outbox and View from Solzi House

At Outbox, I was hosted by Richard Zulu, the general manager. Outbox was founded in 2012 and is the newest business incubator in Kampala. Outbox is financially supported by Google, Deloitte, and Samsung. Outbox is marketing itself not just as an incubator, but also as a place for the tech community to meet with mentors and to access professional services. Outbox is also involved in facilitating innovation competitions and industry workshops.

outbox tech collaboration

Outbox-tech collaboration and incubation space

Outbox’s goal is to stimulate and foster technology entrepreneurship through the incubation and acceleration of three to five mobile and web businesses from idea to investment readiness in a period of three to six months. They also aim to be a focal point for the local tech community, bringing together developers, entrepreneurs, mentors, advisors, and venture capitalists.

Outbox currently has four teams under incubation and a total of 29 people are spread across these teams. In order to join Outbox, an entrepreneur has to approach the manager to apply for admission. The manager personally interviews the applicant to determine if their business idea or skill set is a good fit for the incubator. Interestingly, start-ups get a Google employee as a mentor.

Similar to Hive CoLab, the start-up pays rent for their space and the incubator does not take any equity in the business. Outbox also host events in their space in order to generate additional revenue. Richard is also in search of additional IT projects to generate revenue as well.

@The HubKampala is an incubator also located in the Kamwokya neighborhood. @TheHub is located in two renovated Kampala City Council flats on a quiet street and has a slightly different focus. Members are more diverse and not all are tech-focused entrepreneurs. Members include graphics artists, journalists, and local small businesses needing an office space. @TheHub also has a quaint garden cafe that serves excellent food, coffee, and a wide selection of fresh juices. It’s a natural gathering place for Kampala’s creative set.

the hub11

@TheHub Kampala

Here we were hosted by Jantien Zuurbier, @TheHub’s founder. Jantien is Dutch and worked in Uganda in the field of development after completing her graduate studies. She started to focus on web design and web development and soon found a market in Uganda’s dynamic art industry. Jantien is also the editor of Arts 256 magazine, a local art-focused magazine (256 is the telephone country code for Uganda). Jantien established @TheHub about a year and a half ago and it currently has about 12 workspaces and a larger meeting room.


The Junction Café and Meeting Space @TheHub Kampala

@TheHub offers time-based membership for its members. Their rates provide different opportunities to use the space and offer the flexibility to change. @TheHub relies solely on this rent for revenue and does not currently take any equity from the hosted start-ups. At this time @TheHub does not have a mentorship program and is really more of a networking space.

Mara LaunchPad is the fouth incubator, located in Ham Towers in the City Centre. It is across the street from the main entrance to Makerere University. At Mara LaunchPad we met Delia Dean, the LaunchPad Country Director. Delia is also a business development consultant.

Mara launchpad

Mara LaunchPad

Mara LaunchPad was founded and funded in 2010 by the Mara Foundation, established by well-known Ugandan entrepreneur, Ashish J. Thakkar. Ashish is driven by his concern about youth unemployment and is interested in developing mentorship and guidance for young entrepreneurs. Mara LaunchPad links each entrepreneur with a mentor and focuses on accounting and financial training.

Mara LaunchPad has an open-plan layout with modern furniture. Members are able to take advantage of the fast Wi-Fi internet connection, lounge area, and conference room. The businesses under incubation at Mara LaunchPad are more diverse than those at the other incubators that we visited. Their start-ups include manufacturing companies, call center operations, and agriculture, in addition to tech start-ups.

LaunchPad typically seeds approximately $2,000 – $4,000 per company and takes an equity stake with a three to five year time frame. Additionally, each firm pays rent ranging from $35-$125 per month depending on the size of their space. The incubation goal is 24 months. Mara can house up to 40 businesses at one time and their Innovation Center has room for 50-60 individuals.

In addition to the shared office space, Mara Launchpad runs a speaker program and hosts many external events. The speaker program brings keynote professionals to talk to entrepreneurs on technical issues of relevance to them, such as taxation and venture capital. The Young Entrepreneur Club meetings of the Entrepreneur Launchpad mentorship program also take place at the Mara Launchpad.

Keep an eye on the VC4Africa blog for more insights from other entrepreneurial ecosystems across Africa.