Building the entrepreneurship infrastructure in universities to empower young entrepreneurs – Matthias Möbius, Co-founder StartHub Africa, explains.

Charity M Namala: Good Morning Matthias, It is a pleasure to have you today. Could you please tell us about yourself and your institution? 

Matthias Möbius: My name is Mathias Möbius. I studied Physics in Germany but was very active in the social entrepreneurship space. Later, when a few friends and I got an opportunity to further the entrepreneurship interest, we founded StartHub Africa in 2017 to build entrepreneurship infrastructure across universities in East Africa. The hub idea is to bridge the gap of non-systematic quality of entrepreneurship and innovation education within Ugandan universities. To achieve this, we partnered with several universities such as; Makerere University, Kampala International University, Kyambogo University, Islamic University of Uganda, Gulu University, Muni University, and Mbarara University of Science and Technology. At these institutions, we do a range of activities that enable students to develop innovative ideas for viable ventures.

 

Charity M Namala: What programs does your organization undertake to support the young entrepreneurs? 

Matthias Möbius: The organization undertakes two core programs to support young entrepreneurs.

The first program is Startup Academy that focuses on inspiration and exposure. This semester-long program conducted at our partner universities introduces the young people to a guided and practical way to start a venture and channels through the student clubs as an infrastructure for entrepreneurship. Weekly three hour training sessions also provide online content to students and through invitations, guest speakers come to inspire young people. The practical learnings we use include ideations, idea courses, and problem discovery programs where young people go to the field and understand community challenges. Afterward, we give participants training to take the following steps to implement the idea that they have on their minds. We specifically adopted a Five Thousand Ugandan Shilling challenge where teams are formed and start a business within a week with Five Thousand Shillings; UGX 5,000/=. This mindset activity pushes young people to the marketplace. At the end of the week, some returned with Twenty Thousand Shillings; UGX 20,000/= while others returned with One Hundred Fifty Thousand Shillings; UGX 150,000/=. With guidance, the participants come up with prototypes and finally participate in a university pitching competition. This approach builds a scalable pipeline of entrepreneurship support across the universities. Once or twice a year, a prominent national pitch event brings together the best teams and ideas from all the participating universities with a chance to win a prize money award.

The second program is Startup catalyzer which is a blend of incubation and investment. Here we identify startups with excellent ideas and solutions to significant problems but lack further guidance and practical experience. The program supports them on knowledge acquisition, prioritization, and business modeling to grow. Usually, mentors are available to advise these early-stage startups weekly for a year. At the end of the year, we then invest in them Four Million Uganda Shillings; UGX 4,000,000/= and currently, we have ten enterprises in this program. StartHub Africa continues to welcome innovative ideas from various sectors. We are now building up an online learning platform with tailored content and standardizing the processes to guide the startups better.

 

Charity M Namala: How have the startup enterprises you work with fared during the pandemic? Do you have testimonies of enterprises that have survived or thrived? What lessons can be adapted?  

Matthias Möbius: The testimonies and lessons on how startups have fared during the pandemic depend a lot on the sectors and business models. Overall, it has been extremely challenging for them.

Some young entrepreneurs had to innovate or change business models, while others just had to stop and wait for the pandemic to pass. For example, one enterprise providing health and wellness services using health and fitness facilities had to cease operations because the fitness facilities were closed during the lockdown. Similarly, for another startup in the educational space working with secondary schools, it closed when the schools closed. However, they later reconfigured and came up with a new product line called a whole learning science kit which was introduced to parents for children to use at home to build electronics devices such as torches and small robots.

Another startup is in the sports sector. Before the pandemic, they were building a sports movement by recruiting sports clubs in rural areas. They would get revenue from organizing sports tournaments, membership fees from the sports clubs, and through tournament sponsorships. These revenue streams were affected when sports activities stopped. However, after the lockdown ended, the sports activities resumed, and now they are planning for tournaments, with the first scheduled this February. They have also already signed up 120 members paying a membership fee of Twenty Thousand Shillings; UGX 20,000/= a fee payable thrice a year.

 

Charity M Namala: How can we increase the level of participation of young people in entrepreneurship?  

Matthias Möbius: There are a few viable ways to increase young people’s participation in entrepreneurship. However, we see some hindrances to involvement.

Inadequate funding is a hindrance, and as the saying goes, entrepreneurs are over-trained and under-funded – as seen across the board. There is an issue of low-quality entrepreneurship training that leaves no mark on the entrepreneurs which focuses on good marketing for products and services that are not ready for the marketplace. All these problems cause entrepreneurs to lose faith in entrepreneurship as a viable option.

As a result, participation can increase if the young entrepreneurs are shown the importance and relevance of entrepreneurship by helping them start something off and access early-stage investment finance. If taught clear and viable pathways, young entrepreneurs can build sustainable businesses instead of focusing on short-term growth and revenue. Finally, exposing young people to customers helps them understand their client’s needs. By understanding these needs, they can develop products and services that meet customer value.