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By Simplisio Ariho, Team Lead, Info-Code (U) Ltd
Unemployment has reached unprecedented levels across the globe as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the most hit continent is arguably Africa. As a matter of fact, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment in Africa especially among the youth was hardly above acceptable levels.
Every year, universities in Africa churn out graduates who end up unemployed. As finalists, we did not anticipate that ours would be a different outcome. So, immediately after graduation from Uganda Technology and Management (UTAMU), as a group of fresh graduates, we decided to employ ourselves by starting Info-Code. Info-Code a company which aims to digitize businesses was incorporated in September 2016.
As you might know, nurturing a business start-up in Uganda is not easy as many of them don't even make it to their 2nd anniversary. Fortunately, we at Info-Code have been resilient, clocking 4 years and still growing strong. However, we looked over our 4 year journey, reminiscing what has gone well but also re-evaluating and establishing ways we can fly as a company. It was through this process that we considered a place where we can interact with fellow entrepreneurs, researchers, mentors to name but a few. A place we can call home. We needed to belong to an entrepreneurship ecosystem for us to be able to be nurtured to maturity. UTAMURIC, a startup and innovation ecosystem that has come just in time for the leap we needed, is where we are now proud to call home.
To take you back, Info-Code was founded after attending an inspirational talk from different entrepreneurs at UTAMU like Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba (Chairperson of the UTAMURIC Board), Dr. Johnson Mwebaze and Dr. Drake Mirembe. Their inspiration was fundamental, and working with them again through UTAMURIC will not just bring us mentors but also mentorship from the best. We see a bright future for ourselves and after all, they say your network is your net worth.
Over the past four years, we have done research about the impact of Information Technology and its future in Africa. We realized that it will be among the most needed sectors in the world in a few years to come. It is the future. This is how we started our company. We were propelled to start at a lower level, providing simple solutions like website development and digital marketing for different companies. However, we have now taken it a notch higher, researching and designing an innovation that we think can revolutionize East Africa. This will be our first innovation, a transport app called Hi-Bus that will help people to ease their means of accessing transport.
Transport in Uganda alone is manifested with a lot of challenges that include congestion, wrong destinations, wastage of time, theft and lack of efficient means of moving from one place to another. Our innovation is a solution to such challenges and more, in an easy, simple and affordable way.
The innovators at Info-Code have already designed a demo on how the app will work. However, there’s still need for more investment in order to bring out the picture of this disruptive innovation in East Africa. In addition to mentorship and coaching, we hope UTAMURIC shall assist us in mobilizing equity and other resources required to put our product on the market. We need an investment worth USD 40,000 to be able to bring this innovation to life as well as handle marketing & entry strategies which will include publicity and partnerships. We plan to scale up this idea in East African Countries first and then expand, establish more partnerships and regions after market entry. We believe Africa is a land full of opportunities but we are just limited by resources to make our dreams come true.
To other young entrepreneurs, we encourage you to make UTAMURIC your home too so that you can be nurtured through mentorship, coaching and technical support as well as access to other services offered by the ecosystem.
Africa’s youth before independence were not only vibrant but also very knowledgeable and visionaries. These youths led revolutions which culminated into independence of several African countries. At the time when African countries got independence, most of these revolutionaries were still below the age of 45 despite the several years of leading struggles for independence. For instance:
- On March 6, 1957, after ten years of campaigning for Ghanaian independence, Kwame Nkrumah was elected President and Ghana gained independence from British rule. He became President of Ghana at the age of 42.
- Patrice Émery Lumumba (2 July 1925 – 17 January 1961) was a Congolese politician and independence leader who served as the first Prime Minister of the independent Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Republic of the Congo) from June until September 1960. He became Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo at the age of 34.
- Milton Obote became Prime Minister of Uganda on 25 April 1962, after being appointed by Sir Walter Coutts, then Governor-General of Uganda. At the time when he was appointed Prime Minister he was only 36 years old.
These revolutionary Presidents and Prime Ministers exuded brilliance and vision. For instance, President Kwame Nkrumah, when giving his first speech at the foundation summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, 24 May 1963 had this to say and I quote:
We shall accumulate machinery and establish steel works, iron foundries and factories; we shall link the various states of our continent with communications; we shall astound the world with our hydroelectric power; we shall drain marshes and swamps, clear infested areas, feed the undernourished, and rid our people of parasites and disease. It is within the possibility of science and technology to make even the Sahara bloom into a vast field with verdant vegetation for agricultural and industrial developments’’. President Kwame Nkrumah, First speech at the foundation summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Addis Ababa, 24 May 1963.
Even in the 60s, leaders like President Kwame Nkrumah knew and believed that the future of Africa depended on Unity and the ability to harness Science and Technology. Israel is a good example that has managed to turn desert land into vast fields with verdant vegetation for agricultural and industrial developments.
Also in the 70s and 80s, there were still revolutionary young leaders in some countries in Africa. In 1980 when Mr. Yoweri Museveni ran for President of Uganda he was only 36 and his campaign speeches exuded brilliance and vision for Uganda. When he later became President on January 29, 1986 he was just 41 years old. His Cabinet was also mainly comprised of young revolutionaries and intellectuals who had been fighting alongside him in the bush. In 1986, President Museveni’s government took the decision to start Mbarara University of Science and Technology, which officially opened its doors to students in October 1989. This was in recognition of the role Science and Technology would play in the transformation of Uganda. During the 1990s, President Museveni of Uganda, President Kagame of Rwanda and the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Asres of Ethiopia were referred to as the ‘’New Breed of African Leaders’’ by the West in recognition of their visionary and transformative leadership they brought to the office of Head of State and Government.
Today, most African countries are peaceful and young people are not fighting wars. So, one would expect youth to be focused on innovation and entrepreneurship. By and large most African youth are not intellectually active. In Uganda, an 18-year old is finishing high school and preparing to join University. This is more or less the same age when most students join Universities/ colleges in other African countries. Unfortunately, at the age of 18 most African youth are still behaving like babies yet in the western world that’s when youth are either planning their business startups or taking charge of family businesses that later on turn them into billionaires.
For instance, the Forbes World’s Top 10 Youngest Billionaires in 2020 comprises of:
- KYLIE JENNER, 22, whose net worth is US$1 billion and her source of wealth is cosmetics. The celebrity-turned-makeup-mogul is the world’s youngest self-made billionaire ever. In November 2019, she inked a deal to sell a 51% stake in Kylie Cosmetics to beauty giant Coty Inc. for $600 million. She started the company on November 30, 2015 when she was just 18 years old.
- ALEXANDRA ANDRESEN, 23, whose net worth is US$1.1billion and her source of wealth is investment firm.
- KATHARINA ANDRESEN, 24, whose net worth is US$1.1 billion and her source of wealth is investment firm. ALEXANDRA and KATHARINA, the Norwegian sisters each inherited 42% of the family-owned investment company Ferd in 2007. Their father Johan still runs Ferd and controls 70% of the voting rights via a dual-class share structure.
- GUSTAV MAGNAR WITZOE, 26, whose net worth is US$2.3 billion and his source of wealth is fish farming. Witzoe owns nearly half of Salmar ASA, one of the world’s largest salmon producers, which is still run by his father. The Norwegian heir has dabbled in modeling as well as tech and real estate investing.
- ELIZABETH FURTWAENGER, 28, whose net worth is US$1.2 billion and her source of wealth is publishing. Furtwaenger and her older brother Jacob were each given a 37.4% stake in the family’s German media company by their father, Hubert Burda, who is no longer a billionaire. Burda Media’s titles include the German editions of Elle and Playboy. Furtwaenger and her brother Jacob serve on the board of directors.
- JONATHAN KWOK, 28, whose net worth is US$2 billion and his source of wealth is real estate. Kwok, along with his older brother Geoffrey, inherited their late father Walter Kwok’s stake in Sun Hung Kai Properties, Hong Kong’s largest developer, in 2018.
- JOHN COLLISON, 29, whose net worth is US$3.2 billion and his source of wealth is Stripe. Stripe, the payments company founded by John and his older brother Patrick, raised $250 million from investors at a $35 billion valuation in September 2019. John Collison founded the tech company Stripe in 2010, when he was only 19 years old.
- EVAN SPIEGEL, 29, whose net worth is US$1.9 billion and his source of wealth is SNAP. The Snapchat cofounder is one of the youngest CEOs of a publicly-traded company in the world. Evan Spiegel co-founded Snapchat on September 16, 2011, which he first proposed as a class project, with friend Bobby Murphy whilst still studying product design at Stanford University and at that time he was just 21 years old.
- PEDRO DE GODOY BUENO, 29, whose net worth is US$1.1. billion and source of wealth is diagnostic services. A newcomer to the billionaire ranks, Pedro is the son of the late Edson de Godoy Bueno (d. 2017), once Brazil’s richest healthcare billionaire. Bueno is the CEO and largest shareholder of laboratory services firm Diagnósticos da América SA, which has seen its shares nearly triple over the past year.
- LISA DRAEXLMAIER, 29, whose net worth is US$1 billion and her source of wealth is auto parts. Draexlmaier and her father, Fritz, are co-CEOs of Fritz Draexlmaier Holdings GmbH, the holding company of the auto parts maker of the same name. Lisa, now the sole owner, joins the billionaires’ list for the first time.
Among the above 10 youngest billionaires, KYLIE JENNER, JOHN COLLISON and EVAN SPIEGEL founded their companies from scratch at the age of 18, 19 and 21 respectively. Also, some of the world’s billionaires founded their companies from scratch when they were still young, for example:
- Mark Elliot Zuckerberg attended Harvard University (2002-2004) where he launched the Facebook social networking service from his dormitory room on February 4, 2004 with college roommates Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes. At the time of the launch he was just 19 years old. Mark is known for co-founding Facebook, Inc. and serves as its chairman, chief executive officer, and controlling shareholder. His net worth was US$ 54.3 billion in March 2020. He dropped out of Harvard University before finishing his Bachelor’s degree.
- Bill Gates enrolled at Harvard University in the fall of 1973, originally thinking of a career in law. Much to his parents' dismay, Gates dropped out of college in 1975 to pursue his business, Microsoft, with partner Paul Allen. Bill Gates is an American business magnate, software developer, investor, and philanthropist. He is best known as the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation. His net worth was US$ 105.6 billion as of May 2020. He established Microsoft on April 4, 1975 when he was 19 years old.
- Steven Paul Jobs was born on February 24, 1955, to Abdulfattah Jandali and Joanne Schieble, and was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs. In September 1972, Jobs enrolled at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. He insisted on applying only to Reed College although it was an expensive school that Paul and Clara could ill afford. After just one semester, Jobs dropped out of Reed College without telling his parents. Jobs later explained that he decided to drop out because he did not want to spend his parents' money on an education that seemed meaningless to him. He continued to attend by auditing his classes, which included a course on calligraphy that was taught by Robert Palladino. In a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, Jobs stated that during this period, he slept on the floor in friends' dorm rooms, returned Coke bottles for food money, and got weekly free meals at the local Hare Krishna temple. In that same speech, Jobs said: "If I had never dropped in on that single calligraphy course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts." On April 1, 1976, when Steve Paul Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple Computer now Apple Inc, in the Jobs' family garage, he was just 21 years old. Steve Pau Jobs (February 24, 1955 –October 5, 2011) was an American business magnate, industrial designer, investor and media proprietor. Steve Jobs was the chairman, chief executive officer (CEO), and co-founder of Apple Inc. Steve Jobs is widely recognized as a pioneer of the personal computer revolution of the 1970s and 1980s, along with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Apple Inc. on Thursday August 2, 2018 became the first public U.S. company to reach a valuation of $1 trillion.
- Born in 1964 in New Mexico, Jeffrey Preston Bezos had an early love of computers and studied computer science and electrical engineering at Princeton University. After graduation, he worked on Wall Street, and in 1990 he became the youngest senior vice president at the investment firm D.E. Shaw. Jeffrey Preston Bezos is now an American industrialist, media proprietor, and investor. He is best known as the founder, CEO, and president of the online retail company Amazon. Bezos founded Amazon on July 5, 1994 when he was 30 years old. His net worth is US$ 145 billion (2020).
- Larry Page is an internet entrepreneur and computer scientist who teamed up with graduate school buddy Sergey Brin to launch the search engine Google in 1998. Page and Sergey were both 25 years old when they co-founded Google in 1998. The net worth of Larry Page and Sergey Mikhaylovich Brin as of February 2020 was US$64.6 billion and US$62.3 billion respectively. Born in Michigan in 1973, Larry Page's parents were both computer experts. Following in their footsteps, he studied computer engineering at Stanford University, where he met Sergey Brin. Sergey Brin is a computer scientist and entrepreneur. The two created a search engine that would sort web pages based on popularity. Google became the most popular search engine in the world after launch in 1998, and its overwhelming success turned the co-founders into billionaires. Brin and Page later became President and CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, before they stepped down from their roles in December 2019. Sergey Mikhaylovich Brin was born on August 21, 1973, in Moscow, Russia. The son of a Soviet mathematician economist, Brin and his family emigrated to the United States to escape Jewish persecution in 1979. After receiving his degree in mathematics and computer science from the University of Maryland at College Park, Brin entered Stanford University, where he met Larry Page. Both students were completing doctorates in computer science.
The above examples demonstrate that youth are very innovative and entrepreneurial. Even when one samples millionaires, many of them started their businesses when they were below the age of 30. Also, your parent’s background may influence whom you become like in the case of Larry Page and Sergey Brin. But also, your parent’s background or status may not influence whom you become like in the case of Steve Jobs. Also at times you don't need a college degree but a clear vision to succeed like in the case of Bill Gates, Mark Elliot Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. Also, your background or nationality may not define who you will become, like Sergey Mikhaylovich Brin parents migrated from Russia and Steve Jobs biological father Abdulfattah John Jandali, was born in 1931 to a prominent Syrian family in Syria. Entrepreneurs that end up as millionaires or billionaires focus their businesses on addressing global challenges or taking advantage of global opportunities i.e. they target a global market. But most importantly, they never sleep on their dreams, they persist and work them every day and when they achieve them, they don't rest but continue working and setting new targets.
At UTAMURIC, one of our strategic objectives is to promote innovation and entrepreneurship clubs in schools across Africa in order to re-ignite the children and youth across Africa to think outside the box, innovate, co-establish startups and nurture them into the next generation of companies with the aim of becoming the next generation of millionaires or billionaires. These innovation and entrepreneurship clubs will be clubs like no other. Through our innovation and entrepreneurship capacity building programme, the participants will acquire numeracy skills, analytical skills, critical thinking skills, research skills, team building skills, entrepreneurship skills, leadership and management skills, communication skills and multicultural competence among others, commensurate with their level of education. Our target for innovation and entrepreneurship clubs is school going children and youth in the age bracket of 4 to 20. For instance, stimulation for entrepreneurship starts best in kindergarten at the age of 4, which many studies have identified as the time, in which a child’s brain is reaching a perfect state of learning new things.
Lastly, Africa needs to prioritise scientific and technological research and innovations. We shall be sourcing for partners to start a pilot Robotics Academy in Uganda and later work with governments across Africa to establish Robotics Academies as a way of promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education among school going children and youth in the age bracket of 4 to 20.