Rising from the ashes of a deadly genocide two decades ago, Rwanda has transformed and positioned itself to become the most competitive economy in East Africa and 62nd globally; this rating beats that of Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria, and East Africa’s regional hub for financial services and telecommunications, Kenya.
It’s relatively tiny land mass of 26, 338 square kilometers is sandwiched between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, while also sharing a boundary with Uganda and a close proximity to Kenya. Looking rather insignificant when the entire view of the African continent is taken in, Rwanda’s potentials far exceeds its size, and this is evident in the kind of innovative ideas that are already springing up around the country.
Rwanda ranks well by a number of economic indicators, and this explains why it is beginning to host and incubate its own startups. Apart from its impressive rating by the World Economic Forum, the World Bank ranks Rwanda as the 32nd easiest economy to do business in globally, this ranking places Rwanda above the likes of the BRICS, Israel, and France. Specifically, It ranks highly in the areas of starting a business, registering property, getting credit and protecting investors; this makes it, in theory and structure, an excellent startup hub in East Africa.
A significant share of investors looking to invest in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole head towards Rwanda. Liquid Telecom has just declared its intentions in that directions and Swedish-based Telecom firm, Millicom, did same earlier in the year, saying it also plans to build a tech incubator called “Think” in order to attract ambitious entrepreneurs and provide seed funding of about $15,000, structured training and coaching sessions to boost their potential in return for equity in scalable businesses that emerge from the incubator.
KLab, short for Knowledge Lab, is jointly funded by the Rwanda Private Sector Federation and Japan International Cooperation Agency and provides free Wi-Fi and workspace for young Rwandese who walk in with business ideas, they gain the mentorship of university professors and business leaders as well. The hub also supports small startups who have actually started doing business but haven’t made enough revenues to acquire their own space.
“The culture is collaboration, but it’s not just collaboration; it’s positioning oneself at an age where you receive the best mentorship that you cannot find anywhere else in Rwanda. At kLab we have all of the knowledge that is required for a tenant to develop their business,” says Jovani Ntabgoba, Klab’s General Manager.
Michel Bezy, Associate Director, Carnegie Mellon University, Rwanda asserts that the Klab’s potential is similar to that of Silicon Valley in the United States; “You say I have entrepreneurs here, I have a world-class university, I have IT businesses and I have IT infrastructure. That looks to me like a mini Silicon Valley.”
With these hubs and other collaborating institutions, Rwanda has successfully incubated a number of startups including GIRA ICT which lets Africans pay for laptops and other gadgets in installments, FOYO which sends out daily health and diet information to its subscribers via SMS, BiDNetwork which prepares emerging market entrepreneurs for investors, and Inkomoko which focuses on developing small to mid-sized enterprises.
Acting together with the Rwanda StartUp Cup Business Model Competition which offers entrepreneurs with all sorts of business ideas the opportunity to turn their idea into a viable business, go to market quickly, test assumptions, and modify their business model as they learn what drives customers and revenue; these hubs are heating up the startup environment in Rwanda and helping to provide a great future for a significant portion of the 12 million people who live and work in Rwanda.
By Emmanuel Iruobe