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 the institution you work with? 

Matthias Möbius: Great. My name is Mathias Möbius, I studied Physics in Germany but was very active in the social entrepreneurship space. Later when I and a few friends got an opportunity to further the entrepreneurship interest we founded StartHub Africa in 2017, an organization to build entrepreneurship infrastructure across universities in East Africa. The idea is to bridge the gap of non-systematic quality of entrepreneurship and innovation education within the universities in Uganda. 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 to support students and young people, to come up with innovative ideas for ventures that are viable.

 

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 which is conducted at the partner universities with a focus on inspiration and exposure. This semester-long program introduces the young people to a guided and practical way to start a venture and is channeled through the student clubs as an infrastructure for entrepreneurship. Weekly training sessions are conducted for three hours as well as online content provided to the students. Additionally, guest speakers are invited to inspire young people. The practical learnings we use include ideathons, idea courses and problem discovery programs where we take young people to the field to understand the challenges within communities. We further give young people training to take the next steps on the journey to implement the idea that they have on their mind. We specifically adopted a Five Thousand Ugandan Shilling challenge where teams are formed and start a business within a week with Five Thousand Shillings (5,000=). This mindset activity pushes young people to the market place. At the end of the week some came back with Twenty Thousand Shillings (20,000=) while others returned with One Hundred Fifty Thousand Shillings (150,000=). The participants in this challenge are further guided to come up with prototypes and finally participate in a university pitching competition. This approach builds a scalable pipeline of entrepreneurship support across the universities and is followed up by the big national pitch event. This flagship event happens once or twice a year and 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 incubation and investment. Here we identify startups that have very good ideas and solutions to important problems but lack further guidance and practical experience. The program supports them on knowledge acquisition, prioritization, and business modelling in order 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 10 enterprises in this program. StartHub Africa continues to welcome innovative ideas from different 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 learned from them?   

Matthias Möbius: The testimonies and lessons on how startups have fared during the pandemic depend a lot on the sectors and business models but 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 stop operations because the fitness facilities were closed during the lockdown. Similarly, for another startup in the educational space working with secondary schools, it first closed when the schools closed. However, they later reconfigured and came up with a new product line called a whole learning science kit used at home for children 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 tournament sponsorships. These revenue streams were affected when sports activities were stopped but after the lockdown being lifted, 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 (20,000=) a fee payable thrice a year. 

 

Charity M Namala: What can be done to increase the level of participation of young people in entrepreneurship? 

Matthias Möbius: There are a few things that need to be done to increase the participation of young people in entrepreneurship but we see some hindrances to participation too.

Inadequate funding is a hindrance and like 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 plus too much focus on good marketing for products and services that are not yet fully developed. All these problems cause entrepreneurs to lose the faith in entrepreneurship as viable option.  

Therefore participation can increase if the young entrepreneurs are practically shown the importance and relevance of entrepreneurship by helping them start something off and access early-stage investment finance. They need to be taught clear and viable pathways to build a business rather than focus on generating fast revenues. Lastly exposure of the young people to customers for them to understand their needs and then develop products and services that address the real need.