During the US-Africa Business Forum, we’re interviewing leaders of tech startups featured in the Sandbox about their experience with creating and growing a business in Africa. The Sandbox at the US-Africa Business Forum features a curated selection of young technology companies operating in Africa.
Wazi Vision provides affordable eye care to children in Uganda with the use of a mobile application to diagnose vision defects, and creates eyeglasses made from recyclable materials costing less than 80% of the market price. Wazi Vision makes eye care more accessible and affordable for all children.
Founder: Brenda Katwesigye. Katwesigye is a 2016 YALI Mandela Washington Fellow.
What was your “a-ha” moment that led you to create this business/product?
This idea came to me in 2015 when I was trying to get myself a new pair of glasses. At around the same time, my little sister who is still in school was also in need of eyeglasses but that was a tough financial time for all of us. We could not afford even the cheapest pair that was only 300,000 Uganda Shillings ($290).
What was one of the more challenging moments of operating a business in Uganda?
The toughest part about operating a business is getting the capital to either start or expand. Investment is not too easy to raise and loans from banks are too expensive because they charge up to 26% in interest.
What would you tell investors outside of Africa about building and operating a startup in Africa?
It is critical to understand the social impact that every startup has on communities across the continent. It is also key to understand and project the cultural ‘wall’ that a startup breaks. These two questions are imperative in crafting sustainable enterprise. However, what is also of more importance is that in most cases, startups in Africa seek to step in where governments have failed.
For investors, more importantly, the growth of startups in Africa is more organic than in Asia or North America and may take the shape of the traditional enterprise.
What has been your experience when it comes to raising funds? How do you articulate the opportunity to investors?
I have found that it is much easier to raise funds outside of Africa than in Africa. But I have also learned that African startups generally have a harder time raising funds across the board. This often slows their growth and impact.
Investors need to see the long-term future of startups in Africa. Because of the larger socioeconomic challenges, startups in Africa are, in a sense, poised for much more long-term growth and are therefore a viable investment. The potential for impact is also more optimistic, given the population growth and rapid urbanization of the continent and expansion of opportunities for learning and technological advancement.
What are your expansion plans? Will we see you in other African or international markets in the coming year?
We definitely plan on expanding to other markets outside Uganda. By October 2017, we will be able to not only deliver glasses all throughout Uganda but also in all the East African countries. The beauty about Wazi Vision is that the app sends us the prescription and we are able to make the glasses and ship them to any part of the world.
Besides your company, what is another startup in sub-Saharan Africa that you think should be getting attention?
There are two companies in Uganda that I feel have really impacted both women and girls. The first one is Alibeth, a company that empowers women with skills and enables them to start and grow their businesses. The other one is Eco pads which provides reusable pads to young girls in rural areas.
Any advice for other emerging entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa?
It’s very important for an entrepreneur to have a consistent support system around them. It’s so easy to be pressured into giving up especially when the business is not growing as expected. But when you have people that support and believe in you, that makes it so much easier.