13 November 2017

Uganda: Youth Challenged to Monetise Innovations

Kampala — Last week, the winners of the MTN Innovation awards 2017 were unveiled at a gala dinner hosted by MTN Uganda.

Speaking at the awards ceremony, Mr Olivier Prentout, the MTN Uganda chief marketing officer, explained the overwhelming number of entries, more than 200, as an indication of Uganda's innovative potential.

"Young people, unknown to the public, are busy innovating digital solutions to solve community challenges and harness economic opportunities. For these awards, we had about 250 entries and that really shows you that innovation is happening in Uganda," he said having seen a lot of amazing work at the innovations expo a week earlier.

Mr Prentout said the global digital economy is estimated to account for 5 to 20 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product, which he believes is understated, because the top four global brands-Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft, are all digital.

Transforming economies

Technology presents an opportunity for transforming the economy and experts maintain that it must be harnessed.

Mr Prentout said building a sustainable ecosystem requires that all stakeholders especially government and private sector work together.

Nine innovators selected by a panel of judges from a nominee list of 45 highly recommended applications were each honoured with $3,000 (Shs10.8m) and a plaque.

Winners included Qwicart, the best small and medium enterprise and most innovative mobile application.

The app aggregates commodities from different supermarkets, giving the user an option to select the preferred shopping location.

The best financial services application award went to MamboPay, an application that tackles accountability for payments using purpose-bound digital coupons as well as cards.

On his win, MamboPay's Charles Muhindo, said: "It helps our customers appreciate what you are doing for the community so it gives a sense of trust."

myChild which received the best education application award of the year, addresses the issue of feedback to parents concerning their children's education.

PRISMS was presented with the best health application award for an app that provides timely management plans (both treatment and investigations) to the healthcare provider by SMS.

The team from M-Voucher filled part of the stage after winning the award for best agriculture application.

The AppAbout team followed later after winning best media and entertainment application, thanks to an app with a fully comprehensive and socialised events management system.

The brain behind the M-Voucher app which is championing last-mile digital payments in the agricultural sector, Ms Evelyne Namara received outstanding woman in innovation award.

Representing the Minister of ICT and National Guidance, Mr Fred Otunnu, director corporate affairs at Uganda Communications Commission, said the story of the ICT sector in Uganda has been long but steady in terms of growth. In the early 1990s, when the sector was liberalised, a number of milestones were achieved thanks to the private sector.

"Fifteen years ago, we could not talk of innovations. We were still struggling with the issue of availability of services. Today we are talking about innovation which shows that the sector is part of the fourth industrial revolution taking place globally," he said.

Shs15b support

The ministry of ICT has at its disposal, Shs15b to support incubation of innovative ideas and Mr Otunnu challenged the innovators to grow their ideas so that more revenues are released.

Mr Teddy Ruge, one of the judges, saluted the new crop of young innovators that are working hard to take advantage of the emerging opportunities. He said they are innovating around complex market difficulties in various sectors, a good sign for the local level but said they need more stages where they can showcase talent and inspire others.

Mr Ruge emphasised monetising innovations since companies have a fiduciary responsibility to be profitable.

"You cannot call it an economy when it is financed by grants; you have to call it an economy if it contributes to our tax base, job creation and wealth building in the nation. In order to get our GDP up, we have to produce results as companies and profits are largely part of this indicator," he explained.

He urged teams behind the innovations to have a roadmap that creates profitable companies, to understand where their products will be in future.

The last award of the night triggered a great moment for a young man, David Gonahasa, being crowned the innovator of the year because of his app, Roundbob.com, an online travel app.

"$3,000 is only a drop in the ocean with what we want to achieve. The most beneficial thing is exposure, being able to have conversations around what we can do and if we do that, the growth potential is big," Mr Gonahasa said.

Selected. Nine winners were presented with plaques and money.

Prize money. The amount of money that each winner of the MTN Innovation awards 2017 walked away with.

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