New tech incubator ‘think’ invites tech startups from across Africa and the world to Rwanda

VC4Africa works with entrepreneurship development partners all across Africa. Meet Julienne Oyler of new VC4Africa partners African Entrepreneur Collective and think, Rwanda’s first tech incubator.

What is think and what is the current call for applications?

“In March 2014, Millicom launched a new technology incubator in Kigali. The incubator called “think” is looking for innovative startups and early-stage technology companies from all over the world with products or services that have the potential to scale across Africa. think will select 5 teams per 6-month cohort and will offer a comprehensive incubation program. The full package includes an office in state-of-the-art facilities, technical and business support, mentorship, and networking. In addition, teams will receive 15,000 USD upon selection into the program, in exchange for an equity stake, and will have the opportunity to pitch for more investment throughout the 6-months.

think is currently accepting applications for the first cohort. The deadline for submitting applications is 15 August 2014, and entrepreneur teams can learn more at the think application page.”

You were asked to manage the rollout of think’s program as African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC) – please introduce this organisation?

“In 2012 I founded African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC) to support and finance great entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses and create jobs. We launched AEC in Rwanda — a country with great infrastructure, a government supportive of private sector development, and an entrepreneurial environment with tremendous opportunity.

In the last 18 months, we have worked with more than 100 Rwandese entrepreneurs in a variety of industries throughout the country. We will work with another 100 entrepreneurs in Rwanda this year, and are very pleased to work in conjunction with a great group of partner organizations, such as the Rwanda Development Board, the Private Sector Federation, the African Innovation Prize, the Akilah Institute for Women, and many more. In the long-term, AEC hopes to scale to 7 African countries in the next 10 years.

Some of the entrepreneurs we work with are startups and early stage businesses, while others are more established companies looking for growth support. For instance, one of the entrepreneurs, Henri Nyakarundi, who is also a VC4Africa member, is the founder of African Renewable Energy Distributor, a solar-powered mobile phone charging kiosk business. Henri’s goal is to build a network of 400 franchisees to manage these kiosks in rural markets and at bus stops throughout Rwanda and Burundi. He has established some great partners with providers and advertisers, and is currently looking for capital to scale.”

Why would entrepreneurs apply for think?

“There are several great incubators and accelerators in East Africa and across the continent, and think is very excited to join a growing ecosystem of organizations that support entrepreneurship. We are looking forward to developing many partnerships.

think offers unique benefits to tech entrepreneurs.

First, with Millicom’s global presence, and specifically with operations in 7 African countries, selected teams will have access to a global network of technology experts, mentors, and investors. Entrepreneur teams could leverage this network to scale quickly and broadly.

Second, by being based in Rwanda, incubated companies will benefit from a strong infrastructure and government supportive of technology development. Rwanda ranks second in sub-Saharan Africa in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” index,

Third, think is looking for innovative and scalable digital ideas, and selected entrepreneur teams will receive 15,000 USD in exchange for an equity stake upon selection into the incubator. think will continue to develop other investment opportunities during the course of the 6-month program and beyond.”

What rights will Tigo have towards the entrepreneurs?

“Tigo’s parent company is think’s founder, the financial backer of the incubator, and will be investing the initial 15,000 USD in each of the selected teams, in exchange for 10% equity stake. Both Millicom and Tigo have offered support to incubated entrepreneur teams in the form of mentorship, networks, technical advising and much more.”

What happens after applications close?

“Applications for this first cohort close on 15 August. Then a selection and investment committee will extended invitations to the top five companies by the beginning of September. The incubation program will begin at the beginning of October.

Over the 6-month program, selected teams will work out of our new incubator space in Kigali with high-speed internet. All participants will go through our comprehensive curriculum including product and business development support, mentorship from technology experts, and networking with entrepreneurs and investors. Periodically throughout the program, teams will have the opportunity to pitch for more funding from our investment committee and others.

The first cohort will finish the formal program in March 2015, at which point they will enter our alumni network and another cohort of teams will join the incubator.”

How do you look at Rwanda’s ecosystem and cooperation with other actors like kLab and The Office?

“We value the partnerships of our colleagues throughout Rwanda, East Africa, and beyond. The Office has developed a vibrant co-working space in Kigali, and in the spirit of connecting think entrepreneurs to a larger ecosystem, The Office will develop one portion of space, adjacent to think for their tenants. Our colleagues at kLab have been wonderful recruitment partners, and we look forward to continuing to partner with both organizations – and many more – as we seek to situate the think entrepreneurs in the midst of one of the most vibrant entrepreneurial scenes in East Africa. think has had really positive responses from GSMA, AfriLabs, MEST Ghana, Venture Wave, nFrnds, and I&M Bank and others.

Both think, as the first tech incubator in Rwanda, and AEC, as one of the only Rwandan companies that combines financing with business development support for SMEs, occupy unique roles in the entrepreneurial ecosystem here. Colleagues are currently mapping the full range of entrepreneurial support efforts so that we can all work more cohesively with one another in support of mutual goals.”

What are your tips to investors in African early stage companies?

“One of the things that we have found to be the most successful at AEC is pairing our investments with comprehensive business development support. Granted this is more resource intensive, but by providing our entrepreneurs with frequent consultation, capacity building for the management team, and participating in the strategic planning, we are able to provide better support and conditions for our investments.”

As a new partner of VC4Africa, how do you see and plan to use the VC4Africa community of entrepreneurs and investors?

“The partnership with VC4Africa can be a great benefit to the companies of think and AEC, as well as to the investors and entrepreneurs already involved in VC4Africa. Working together to grow new enterprises in Rwanda provides new investment opportunities that have the potential to be mutually beneficial for all parties. VC4Africa has provided a platform that has had tremendous success connecting relevant players, and we hope to continue to provide new opportunities to the VC4Africa members. In addition, through think’s new mentoring program, we would love to leverage VC4Africa’s extensive mentor network.

To contribute to a larger tech ecosystem, think is pleased to host a networking session at the new think incubator open to VC4Africa members in Rwanda and any visiting members on Wednesday, on 15th October 2014. More details to come soon!”

For more information see the think applications page and think website.