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

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.


Financial Training

How financial literacy training helped ATACO Country Resort thrive during covid.

he Covid-19 Business Info Hub spoke with Richard Twesige, the managing director of ATACO Country Resort, to learn how the Stanbic Business Incubator helped his business overcome the challenges caused by the pandemic.

Ernest Wasake: Describe your business and tell us a bit about yourself.

Richard Twesige: My name is Richard Twesige. I’m the managing director of ATACO Country Resort, which is a hospitality industry business that is located near the Tooro Kingdom Palace. We offer services like accommodation, and conference services.  Next year, we will have been in business for 20 years.

Ernest Wasake:  Why did you decide to participate in the training from the Stanbic business incubator?

Richard Twesige: I decided to participate with in the business incubator training because I believed the quality training that would help us at ATACO Country Resort transform itself from a purely family business to a more professional, structured hospitality business in the region. The class offerings were very precise and that’s exactly what we wanted.

Ernest Wasake: What were the main learnings from the Stanbic Bank Incubator Training that you have integrated into your business?

Richard Twesige: The entrepreneurial attitude training at the Stanbic Business Incubator helped us start planning and implementing more innovative ideas at work. We were able to look at our business with another set of eyes and implement dynamic skills that made us more fluid in comparison to our previous rigid business models.

Ernest Wasake: Are there any specific learnings from the training that the business incubator offered you that have helped you cope during COVID?

Richard Twesige: The financial literacy training helped us become dynamic with our finances in terms of how we spend, how we invest as well, and keep the business afloat.  So without those learnings, it would have been difficult for us to try and think outside the box.

Ernest Wasake: How has your business been affected and how have you coped during COVID?

Richard Twesige:  Some of the changes and decisions we had to make as a business were to cut as many costs as possible to maximize the income, that little income that we could get. For example, as a hotel, we could still deliver packed lunches. However, you still can’t have full occupancy. We have to leave a few rooms unoccupied because just in case you have a COVID patient or someone that we suspect has COVID, the guidelines require us to have some rooms vacant.

Because of these challenges, we really needed to cut as many expenses as we could. It was a good thing that we had done these trainings with the business incubator. We looked at different ways of leveraging what little we had and investing it into implementing sustainable strategies and technologies to help reduce on our utilities.

Unfortunately, we also had to let some of the staff go and keep others on a temporary basis. As we recovered and implemented more changes, we are slowly able to bring people back. However, right now, the changes are still in effect and we’re hoping to get back on track.

Ernest Wasake: What do you think the future of the tourism sector looks like in terms of what needs to be done to help the sector revive?

Richard Twesige: When all the borders were locked down, we still had our local tourists now to serve. We need to improve the road networks so that at least the local people can get to the natural places. Payments are also changing to entirely cashless. I believe the industry will revive faster because we have had digital payments for some time.

Implementation by some of the big telecom networks is really good. And also some of the workings of the financial institutions is really great. But there is another level to go because sometimes actually what is going to happen is that when industries like us start to adopt to these other situations like covid, you have to do cashless payments, there are other places that are really thinking about. As ATACO we could use a token system – such that as a guest, as you check-in and spend you, end up accumulating these kind of tokens that could be transferred into monetary value. So we’re looking into things like this now. And that is where I feel that the industry would go and the industry will revive faster because we have had digital payments in Uganda for some time.