The Innovation Space at IHSU where the Program is held.

Building an inclusive and diverse tech ecosystem through a university program

Within the heart of Kampala lies a number of co-working spaces full of emerging coders, designers and enthusiastic entrepreneurs all working to build great, disruptive businesses within Uganda’s tech startup ecosystem so as to catch up with the world.

Startups always dreaming of joining co-working spaces with a list growing day by day but bottom line, they are always digging a bit deeper into their pockets to be part of this coveted, dynamic community of co-working spaces in Uganda.

The co-working spaces in Uganda (referred to many as Incubation Hubs) have continuously failed to find a self-sustaining model to help them thrive to the ranks of the likes of Silicon Savannah’s Nailab and C4D that are self-sustainable or iHub that runs on the more or less model of offering office space, mentorship, access to the internet and linkages with the international venture capital community for possible venture funding, which is a case for most of the spaces here though they don’t graduate them to go & be well off for themselves. This would help accelerate Uganda’s tech startups ecosystem.

Quite Simply, Tech Savvy graduates are a pile but many don’t actually understand how to build an idea with the right team into a disruptive business thus running into tech spaces after the University. A great question would be; Are Ugandan universities doing enough in producing typical computer science / IT / Software engineering / Electrical Engineering graduate that the industry is looking for?

However, the harsh truth is, Ugandan graduates are half baked and can’t do what it takes to survive in this ecosystem. As the government is hesitant to notice or not willing to rectify whatever is not right, some think this can be changed & curriculum revived to support practical learning in Universities.

Well, Michael Niyitegeka an ICT Specialist and expert in Leadership Development, and Business Technology Strategy who had been invited to share his thoughts on ICT in Uganda at International Health Sciences University realized there was a need to start an Applied ICT & Leadership program at the Namuwongo based campus which he’s currently leading.

Applied ICT & Leadership is a skills based learning, intense 6 months program geared towards bridging the digital divide within the different sectors such as; Agriculture, Health, Education, Military etc. The program is non-examinable, and takes students (and these don’t have to be graduates) through different processes; Leadership, IT ecosystem, Accounting and community engagement to equip them with required knowledge, skills and experience to build market fit solutions with a more focus on influencing mindset, skillset and toolset. A balanced graduate with the appropriate mental attitude, a skill set and tools that will enable delivery of exceptional results is what is needed.

“We want to build an environment that enables us to constantly deliver” — Micheal notes

Like Orban Martin Luther, a Program Associate tells us, there are a lot of processes that are involved with this program and 2 keys are followed;

· In a community, there are many challenges so we get to know how to work on them

· We associate with different people.

“I previously pursued BSc. Computer Science and always had passion to do my own business, but I had always had challenges. This program has introduced me to modules like Financial Accounting that has significantly exposed me to running a money making business.”

You don’t need to be a graduate to join Michael’s program, all you need is the passion and willingness to pursue it. It constitutes of Accountants, Industrial Chemists, ICT experts, Nurses, Data Analysts among others.

What are the different experiences being realized out of the Program?

A unique program that’s being implemented using an industry facing model has so far seen 32 students through 4 cohorts, is a ‘mother’ to four (4) products and several projects in the pipeline is yet to test its successes.

I have so far worked in three (3) organizations and I have constantly realized that most of these places lack teamwork. ICT people don’t care what happens in areas not of their specialty. From this program, I have learnt that it’s not what you know but what you’re supposed to deliver. Program Associate Obang Martins notes

Reflecting the rapid growth in the country’s startup scene, many tech products continue to fluctuate the country’s vibrant market. The startup programs don’t seem to provide the much needed mentorship especially towards building a better startup team.

Investors invest in teams not ideas, Ideas are really worthless and it’s what you do with your idea that counts. Entrepreneurial success rarely comes from the idea.

A startup can only be as successful as its founding team. When there’s rapid scaling up in size and limited resources. Instead, it comes from the founding team’s never-say-die attitude and relentless execution

To help ensure teams (startups) formed out of the program thrive beyond the ‘Mothership’, Michael’s entirely looks at Content, community/industry engagement and how to build projects, as each takes 2 months in that order for the 6 months. The program takes students for example through ideation where you can be able to identify the problem in a particular area and use those ideas to fit into a problem, and research where a lot of human centered design & design thinking is involved.

John Mutebi a student of ICT Applied health, and IT graduate notes that, — In life, there are felt needs and actual needs which are very different. You may feel the person you want to help is hungry when the actual need is totally different

We normally have ideas, we spend money & resources to execute those ideas which fail to work eventually because you miss out on some steps. But here, we have a lot of processes that let you understand who exactly your stakeholder is (whom are you building the product for, and having the voice of the customer) and it’s from the voice of the customer that you get to understand the value proposition. Orban adds

The program has really assembled me and put me in my righteous. I was really introverted and honestly reserved to myself but it helped me open & bring the true honesty in me.

How do get our Innovation ecosystem working?

The industry needs you to be able to be agile enough to adapt to different circumstances.

Roy a Program Development Consultant notes that, I have been privileged to work with big entrepreneurs, and one thing I have seen out of this program is the ability to be able to create a backbone in some of these projects.

Michael quickly notes that, The challenge for Uganda’s ecosystem is made more problematic by the fact that we are trained in Silos at school. You go to an engineering class and all you know is tech, you don’t know what happens in Agriculture or Social sciences but you’re busy building systems for those kind of disciplines when you don’t understand the processes.

If exams were a test of Maturity, then every university graduate would be mature enough to take on every kind of work.

There’s thinking or my own conclusion that people still think the way Facebook or Google was formed is probably the way you will hit a jackpot. We have surely passed through that evolution.

From this, There’s need for continuous engagement of the processes to understand two things — what do I know and what don’t I know.

How are you planning to Scale the program?

The team is really hopeful that in the next 2–5 years along the road, they will have built a critical mass to challenge the degrees. Am I seeing 70% of the graduates ready for the Market? Who’s that typical IT graduate that Uganda’s IT industry is looking for? Micheal asks

Uganda’s ICT sector is growing and as such the desire for qualified workforce is bigger than ever before. Employers are constantly looking for graduates who possess an understanding of how the industry operates and the different job roles that the industry offers.

Challenges the program has so far encountered

To help put things in perspective, there’s an overview to which challenges are being encountered at the International Health Sciences University’s Applied ICT & Leadership program.

Many people would like to be part of the program but that’s if it rolls out an evening session which doesn’t work easily in Michael’s experience from his time as a Lecturer at Makerere University. Students get to concentrate maximumly between one & a half hours which will affects our program’s schedule. You will generally be wasting time after the one & a half hours.

John Mutebi emphasizes the point of decision making. The program engages you fully which means you need to find a priority between it & other tasks.

Most of the challenges are being overcome as they continue to refine the ecosystem.

Projects that have been created out of the program include ICU Communicator that has so far raised 10,000 USD, and are currently in their third iteration of building their product. Other projects are TeleConsult , Outreach Capability project with Mengo Hospital and DrugDash, a team that is building a system to enable health centres and drug distribution organisations carry out drug stock returns, so as to understand the trends of consumption through visual reports. DrugDash is now piloting with health facilities in Bukedea District, in the eastern region of Uganda. They were also among winners of Up Accelerate competition winning 10,000 USD