Uganda Innovation Week: Paving the Way for a more robust Startup Ecosystem in Uganda

The recently concluded Uganda Innovation Week (#UIW2022) was the first held since the countrywide expansion of the innovation week scope from Kampala Innovation Week to Uganda Innovation Week. Held under the theme, ‘Uganda’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Unlocking the Missing Links,’ Startup Uganda alongside its partners for three days hosted what was in fact, the largest gathering of the startup ecosystem in the country. The now expansive event lived to its true billing in terms of record attendances, discussions and synergies created. 

Here are some notable elements from the event that stood out: 

  1. Highly sought-after speakers, top-notch panels and excellent conversations

The innovation week was graced by entrepreneurship thought leaders from across the continent including Veda Sunassee, Chief Executive Officer of The African Leadership Academy and Vumi Msweli, CEO of Hesed Consulting.  

Veda passionately discussed building & enhancing transfer capabilities between academia & industry and underscored the critical need to bridge the gaps between formal education and the entrepreneurial space—which is a direct call to ESOs, the members of Startup Uganda. 

Vumi gave a powerful keynote presentation on seizing the day that stirred many of the female entrepreneurs especially in the audience, encouraging them to take their branding and marketing very seriously and reminding them that their first and most important investor is the customer, and that is who they must always work to convince. 

Besides, the highly acclaimed speakers, the event also featured entrepreneurs that have been able to pivot, sustain and successfully unlock funding such as Maxima Nsimenta of Livara and David Gonahasa of Tripesa. There were also potential collaborators within the entrepreneurial space from the banking sector, the development sector, the public sector and more. Our panelist pool also included a number of movers and shakers from the Ugandan ecosystem. 

Participants asked many hard questions that were amply discussed during the event. We look forward to finding even more ways to answer these questions and address the concerns during the upcoming innovation weeks. 

  1. A record number of Entrepreneurs & Innovators Engaged

At the end of the event, one of the organizers received feedback that the innovation week should happen at least three times a year to better accommodate the numbers we saw. The event averaged 350+ attendees per day with day 2 going over 500+ people. Online we averaged 1000 stream views per day. This is the largest number of attendees the event has seen since Startup Uganda took over organization of the Kampala Innovation Week in 2019. That we have all these entrepreneurs willing to learn, able to showcase their innovations and market themselves and are excited to take part in ecosystem building conversations – an ecosystem that is being built with them as the primary consumers – is a major part of why this event is held in the first place. While the definitions of a startup, innovator or an entrepreneur are still evolving even within more established ecosystems, as we begin to reach a clearer understanding of each within Uganda, it’s important that we have all potential stakeholders at the table. 

  1. Highest-ever number of Potential Startup Ecosystem Partners Engaged

For a startup ecosystem to thrive, it is no secret that it needs support. Both the public and private sector must be engaged and provide a market for these startups, but even more importantly, support in the form of funding, technical advice, and business development. UIW 2022 had the largest number of partners of the annual event to date, but more than that, also hosted a good number of these kinds of potential partners in the audience. We had plenty of representatives from entrepreneurial spaces within universities including participants from Makerere University, Makerere University Business School, Uganda Christian University with some coming all the way from Gulu University, an important feat for us especially as we have transitioned from Kampala Innovation Week to Uganda Innovation Week. A number of the partners we had onboard have committed to supporting the event in 2023 including the International Trade Center, the United Nations Capital Development Fund and JICA. We are looking forward to putting together something even more formidable that exhibits the amount of ecosystem growth we will have reached next year.

UIW 2022 was a record breaking one in many ways. We are happy with the direction the event is taking. We have not, however, by any means, reached where we need to be when it comes to startup ecosystem development. The space in Uganda is full of potential but still nascent in terms of achievement. We have our work cut out for us no doubt but events like this make the destination seem more attainable. We are excited to work with willing partners to improve the success of development of the next event.