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Japan International Cooperatrion rolls out Accelerator Program for Ugandan startups

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In collaboration with Uganda Startup hubs, the Japan International Cooperation (JICA) has launched the Next Innovation with Japan (NINJA) Accelerator Uganda to take high growth startups to the next level of business growth to attract investment worth US$0.5m. The program will be implemented by The Innovation Village, Hive Collab and Outbox

Speaking at the launch, UCHIYAMA Takayuki, the Chief Representative at JICA Uganda Office said, the Uganda startup ecosystem has potential for growth because of the aggressive and determined nature of entrepreneurs.  With the right investment and partnership opportunities they will be able to grow and scale their businesses. The Next Innovation with Japan (NINJA) Accelerator Uganda which is first of its kind is designed to help businesses gain market traction, build a strong network and partnership with Japan investment and consulting firms. 

“By the end of August, we anticipate having 200 applications from eligible startups who will be subjected to a critical three levels assessment. The top five startups will qualify for the NINJA Accelerator Uganda program that will start on September 13. These will go through the training and mentorship provided by Hive Collab, The Innovation Village and Outbox.”

UCHIYAMA Takayuki, the Chief Representative at JICA Uganda Office

“These three hubs will develop the individual curriculum for startups based on their sector or business needs, growth level and business capacity. They will provide mentorship and coaching sessions, develop models and market traction strategies for their business to scale” said Takayuki. Adding, we shall provide up to US$18,000 proof of concept funding to these startups. 

UCHIYAMA Takayuki, the Chief Representative at JICA Uganda Office. Image/NilePost

He said, “For startups to participate in the program, it must be a registered company and operational for at least one year. It should be at a high growth-stage of development earning approximately $50,000 in revenue and ready for the next level growth. And it should be economically viable and be able to demonstrate a strong promise of building a sustainable and impactful business.”  

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 expertise to grow cash flow and raise capital like other African countries. With this, the sky will certainly not even be the limit towards the growth of our ecosystem” Mutabazi said. 

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 negative effects of the pandemic on SMEs, the project served to bridge the funding and investment gap, offered technical support and facilitated collaborations between M-SCAN & Japanese companies for scale. 

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2019/2020 ranked Uganda one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world with 30 percent of Ugandans starting businesses annually. In the United States of America and Japan, that figure stands at 7 per cent and 11 per cent respectively. 

However, poor quality of business ideas, inadequate accelerator program, insufficient financial resources, dependence on NGOs funding and “Grant Preneurship”, unfavourable government policies and unattractive environment for investors, are some of the reasons why many Ugandan startups fail to celebrate their first birthday. 

“Through the funding obtained from the project, we managed to explore new avenues of innovation to impact. We launched a Home-Based Ultrasound Service (HBUS) 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.’’ Menyo said.

According to Japheth Kawanguzi, Team Lead at The Innovation Village, “With many startups still struggling to recover from the impact of the two lockdowns. The ecosystem has been tasked to deploy any means necessary to survive and move to recovery where time and resources have been lost. How well we adapt will determine how well we recover. We have an opportunity to reconfigure ourselves to an ongoing new reality to extend the reach of our products and services to the people who need them most.”

Let us continue to collaborate, to think big, to innovate and accelerate the use of technology not only to invigorate our businesses but to foster the development of the ecosystem to the growth of the economy, Kawanguzi said. 

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