Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in partnership with Uganda Tech & Innovation hubs; The Innovation Village, Hive Collab, and Outbox Hub —on Friday, August 6th, 2021 launched the Next Innovation with Japan (NINJA) Accelerator Program which seeks to support high growth-stage startups in Uganda.
The NINJA Accelerator Program will help the selected startups expand and grow their business, and attract investment worth USD$0.5 million (approximately UGX1,765,000,000). The program will help startup founders/owners to shape their business models, find unique solutions that address Ugandan challenges and become profitable.
Uchiyama Takayuki, the Chief Representative at JICA Uganda while speaking to the press in an online webinar, said, “With the right investment and partnership opportunities, Ugandan startup founders will be able to grow and scale their businesses. The Next Innovation with Japan Accelerator Uganda which is the first of its kind is designed to help startups gain market traction, build a strong network, and partnership with Japanese investment and consulting firms.”
Takayuki noted that the Uganda startup ecosystem has potential for growth because of the aggressive and determined nature of entrepreneurs. Thus, providing them with some investments would help them grow and scale their businesses.
With the call for startup founders to apply for this opportunity, Takayuki anticipates that by the end of August, they will have over 200 applications from eligible startups who will be subjected to a critical three levels assessment.
The top five startups will be selected to qualify for the NINJA Accelerator Program and their program will kick off on September 13th, 2021. The selected startups will go through training and mentorship that will be provided by the three Tech & Innovation hubs; The Innovation Village, Hive Collab, and Outbox Hub.
“These three hubs will develop the individual curriculum for the selected startups based on their sector or business needs, growth level, and business capacity,” said Takayuki. Adding that JICA will provide mentorship & coaching sessions, develop models, and market traction strategies for their business to scale.
JICA will provide up to USD$18,000 (approximately UGX63,540,000) proof of concept funding to the five selected startups.
For startups to participate in the NINJA Accelerator Program, it must be a registered company and operational for at least one year. In addition, it should be at a high growth stage of development earning approximately USD$50,000 (approximately UGX176,500,000) in revenue and ready for the next level of growth. Finally, the startup should be economically viable and be able to demonstrate a strong promise of building a sustainable and impactful business.
These eligibilities were emphasized by Takayuki while formally launching the accelerator program.
Uganda is ranked as one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world with 30 percent of Ugandans starting businesses annually. However, poor quality of business ideas, inadequate accelerator program, insufficient financial resources, dependence on NGOs funding, unfavorable government policies, and an unattractive environment for investors, are some of the reasons why many Ugandan startups fail.
Ms. Barbara Mutabazi, the Co-founder and Managing Director of Hive Collab said, Uganda has a very nascent ICT and startup ecosystem which presents a lot of opportunities for the recovery of not just the economy but for the people at the grassroots.
“Now that we all know the struggles these startups face, we must collaborate with one another and work together with the government, private sector, investors, and customers for whom we are innovating. Let’s put in place incentives for startups to thrive, facilitate one another to refine their business model, tackle the actual market challenges, put in place the right teams of experts to grow cash flow, and raise capital like other African countries,” Mutabazi said.
A number of startups have been and are still struggling a lot during this Covid-19 pandemic era. According to Mr. Japheth Kawanguzi, Team Lead at The Innovation Village, “With the many startups still struggling to recover from the impact of lockdowns, the ecosystem has been tasked deploy any means necessary to survive and move to recovery where time and resources have been lost.”
Innocent Menyo, a beneficiary of the NINJA Covid-19 Response and Recovery Business Challenge run by JICA in 2020 said the NINJA Project has been an avenue for selected startups to thrive amidst unprecedented Covid-19 times.
“With the negative effects of the pandemic on SMEs, the NINJA Project served to bridge the funding and investment gap, offered technical support, and facilitated collaborations between M-SCAN and Japanese companies for scale,” said Menyo.
M-SCAN was among the three startups that JICA awarded as winners in the NINJA COVID-19 Response and Recovery Business Challenge.
Menyo said that through the funding obtained from the NINJA Project they managed to explore new avenues of innovation to impact. “We launched a Home-Based Ultrasound Service to help expectant mothers receive ultrasound services at the comfort of their homes. So far, we have scanned over 350 pregnant women with timely referrals done for rightful interventions,’’ he said.
Kawanguzi says they (with JICA) will continue to collaborate, innovate, and accelerate the use of technology not only to invigorate businesses but to foster the development of the ecosystem to the growth of the economy.