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Speakers at the 2021 KIW Call-out Government to Make Access to Funds Easy for Innovators

Speakers at the 2021 Kampala Innovation Week (KIW) have asked the government to make access to funding easy for innovators if it wants to overcome the unemployment problem in Uganda.

While speaking at the third edition of the Kampala Innovation Week 2021 at Design Hub in Kampala speakers/participants have noted that innovators in Uganda deserve better from the government —and one the many issues they raised was access to funds to help the innovators further improve their businesses/ideas/startups.

Among the speakers, Prof. Waswa Balunywa, the Principal of Makerere University Business School (MUBS) asked government to make access to funding easy for young innovators if it wants to overcome the unemployment problem in Uganda. He said although Uganda is one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world, a good number of Ugandans still remain poor because most of the time government is funding huge projects which at times have other forms of access to money.

“We don’t need to finance huge car projects, we have many innovators who can create jobs for millions of Uganda but I must tell you, there are too many regulations and policies in this country, you cannot do anything in this country as a businessman. Unfortunately, there are lots of government programs to do this but to my feeling, they are not right. Government should fund these innovations at all levels,” Prof. Balunywa explained. Adding that although government has put funds and infrastructures for the private sector, they have put up so many restricting regulations to access such incentives.

“The government is giving with one hand while taking away with another. It’s easy to start a business but the facilitating conditions and the regulations are too many so there is a need to ease regulations for businesses to expand and take advantage of the digital era,” he noted.

Other speakers also echoed out similar concerns to Prof. Balunywa that many startups in Uganda are facing. Richard Zulu the Founding Partner of Outbox Hub said many startups have existed for more than seven years but they are stagnant due to lack of funding. While on the other hand, Georgette Ochieng Ndabukiye the Co-founder Wazi Vision also added that one of the strong factors obstructing the development of startups in Uganda are unbearable policies by the government.

“A few years ago we reached out to a government agency [agency name withheld] because we were in manufacturing. We thought this is a perfect agency to support us but they did not give us any way forward, fortunately, thankful we got funding from UKAID which believed in our ideas and our own government agency did not,” Ndabukiye said.

Ndabukiye also noted that funding is still a great vessel if Uganda is to embrace digital transformation.

“We need access to funding from our government and they must believe in us. For Instance, governments that have believed in us are from Europe, although we are trying to do something good for our country, it’s becoming so difficult to get funding from it. There are people who have amazing ideas but don’t have access to funding. Funds might be there, but accessing it is hard because we are nobody but imagine how many millions of nobodies,” Ndabukiye explained.

However, Richard Mubiru, the Manager, Enterprise Growth Development, Private Sector Development unit at the Ministry of Finance, stated that the funds are available but at times some startups don’t have the required qualities.

“We appreciate the fact that access to finance is a challenge however there are mechanisms that government has put up to support startups such as innovations funds in the Central Bank. Very soon the SMD recovery funds will be rolled out and UDC is already moving on looking for projects to support, therefore we are working towards the lasting solution,” Mubiru said.

Bart Cornille, the Digital for Development Expert from Enabel also noted that for innovations to thrive in the country, funding must be accessible to upcoming businesses.

“Indeed it’s very shocking to see that Uganda in 2015 was the number one most entrepreneurial country in the world and it’s still not moving forward. I think funding is one of the problems, plus tough policies yet these are the two most important aspects that determine the growth of innovation in any country. The government needs to create favorable ways to facilitate accessibility to funds by start-ups,” Cornille said.

Meanwhile, the Kampala Innovation Week is still ongoing until November 26th, 2021 — held under the theme, “Harnessing the power of innovation and entrepreneurship for Uganda’s digital transformation and job creation as we work towards economic sustainability”.

The event has been organized by Startup Uganda with partners, UNCDP, Enabel, and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Uganda & South Sudan —and has brought together innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, government stakeholders, and development partners to discuss wins, misses, and opportunities for growth in the innovation ecosystem.

Specifically, participants are exploring the role of innovators and entrepreneurs in achieving Uganda’s development ambitions, deliberate on how innovation and entrepreneurship can be harnessed for job creation and employment, and discussing the links between digital technologies and community transformation.

Startup Uganda will also awards startups of the year in the categories; Education, Agriculture, Health, Technology, and Communication.

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