Appfrica Executive Director Bahiyah Yasmeen Robinson chats with business owners in Uganda.
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Mara Launchpad is an exciting incubator and co-working space in Kampala, Uganda.
Following the lead of other innovation spaces across the continent, Mara Luanchpad’s mission is to create an open-ended model which allows for incubation, investment, capacity building and scale. Thus, Mara’s entrepreneurs get access to a place to work together as well as access to early stage seed funding and later stage venture capital.
When you first visit the Launchpad, you’ll notice how densely packed the pace is with desks. These desks are paid for by entrepreneurs using Mara as their startup headquarters. Here they are given access to filing cabinets, meeting rooms, fast internet, a boardroom for meetings and other resources that might prove elusive for early-stage companies.
Mara is conveniently located directly across the street from Makerere University which makes it prime real-estate for student entrepreneurs who need a quiet, professional space to work along or in teams. The space is called the ‘Launchpad’ because of the perfect storm of resources available to participants seeking to ‘launch’ their projects or businesses in a friendly environment.
Appfrica Executive Director Bahiyah Yasmeen Robinson and Director of Advocacy Jon Gosier met with Mara Foundation Director Nigel Ball to discuss a number of opportunities for collaboration (between Appfrica and Mara Foundation), as well as their respective hubs (HiveColab and the Launchpad, respectively).
Despite what might exist as a perception of being a nascent tech community, Uganda’s Mara and Hive are only two of the many resources available to Uganda’s technology entrepreneurs and enthusiasts. By working together, the Ugandan incubator and investment community hopes to spawn a friendly competitive environment that allows all the various initiatives (and perhaps more importantly the entrepreneurs themselves) to thrive.
Apiyo Oweka (of Mara Foundation) and Daniel Stern (co-founder of Hive and Director of UConnect) also met with Appfrica to discuss the need the need to for more cohesion amongst business owners in Kampala’s growing market. Needless to say these conversations have spawned a number of new ideas, and will lead to many new great things for all involved!
Photos: Jon Gosier
On September 1st Kampala saw the kick off of Google’s gUganda, which was held at the Munyonyo Speke Resort Commonwealth Conference Centre. 650 Engineers, Designers, Web Developers, Entrepreneurs and Students learned how Google hope to spur Tech Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Africa and even closer to home Uganda.
“Africa’s the final frontier.”– Google. Hearing this I felt as If I were sitting inside the USS Voyager and we were about to go into Google deep space. And, who do you ask is the captain of this Tech journey? Nelson Mattos Engineering Vice President for Google Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), mentioned that for every 10,000 people in Africa there is 1 domain. In comparison to most Western Countries which have up to 94 domains for every 10,000 people. The Google VP a keynotes speaker at the event commented “We are very pleased to be hosting our first big developer event which will engage the local Tech and Business communities, and highlight the opportunities of the web. Our aim is to make the internet more locally relevant and useful to Ugandans, and help build a viable and sustainable internet ecosystem in Africa.”
Now I know to a lot of people that might think that is just a really good pitch, but what’s the catch? I mean most of the time when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. That doesn’t have to be the case according to Google who across the two day conference demonstrated to Tech Professionals and Entrepreneurs alike how Google’s straight forward and cost friendly (Free) tools and applications can be used to keep African content in Africa through internet exchange points (IXPs) also known as Google cache, create a greater online presence e.g. through applications like Google Maps and more locally relevant information, tools and applications. Through a sort of “Democratization” of locally relevant content if you will, along with trying to inspire people across the continent to innovate and optimize the opportunities available to create a more significant online presence for Ugandans and Africans alike. “Less than 10% of Africa’s users contribute to more than 1% of Africa’s Content.”– Google.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect the second day of the Google event since the day was heavily centred on Tech Entrepreneurship and how we can all use Google and their products such as Google’s Web Optimizer, Adsense (www.google.com/adsense) , Adwords (www.adwords.google.com) , Analytics (www.google.com/analytics/ )and Google Apps (www.google.com/a/ ) to create and maintain a successful online business, Cha ching! Now I am no Donald Trump but by the end of it all I felt that even I should be able to come up with an online income generating idea too. The Google team did a great Job of breaking down each of the online products on offer along with a demonstration and very interactive Q&A. The second day along with the two day conference was concluded with a panel discussion with a few successful home-grown Tech Entrepreneurs such as, Eric Kamau (www.trueafrican.com),
Benge Solomon King (www.nodesix.com) and Simon Kaheru Director of SMS Media along with a few others and the giving way of a Google Nexus one Android handset.
I will say by the end of the two days I had fried a few mental circuits but feel I have walked away with some sort of divine digital knowledge, having momentary access to what felt like an infinite source of opportunity. Now I wait with bated breath for next event. Have a look at the blog to find out about any up and coming events in your region www.google-africa.blogspot.com.
For blogger and citizen journalist Solomon King, the 2009 Kampala riots began with his tweet “Okay, we’re running for our lives.” Here he talks about the role of new media in journalism as well as the potential dangers. Recorded on November 23, 2009 at TEDxKampala.
Appfrica’s weekly review looks back at popular stories from our own blog and others from the week gone-by. This week: Kampala rocked by rioting, the flow of news during crisis situations, GLO-1 finally arrives in West Africa, and the search for African science fiction.
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This week, Kampala was crippled by riots and looting which marred the image of one of East Africa’s model cities. The cause of the uprising is complicated but The Independent described the situation well for the international audience.
One thing the recent riots in Kampala have revealed is the flow of news and how people behave during crisis situations. We still don’t quite know what we’re dealing with in Kampala. It’s either the beginning or the end of a wider scale confrontation. For those of us on the ground, we’re starved for information. The mobile phone and it’s users ere essentially the only reports we can rely on for timely info. Despite the fact that people are more connected than ever through mobile devices and web services like Twitter, there are still some gaping holes in how information is aggregated and disseminated in times of crisis. Over the past three days I contemplated how it might be possible to improve the flow of data during crisis situations.
Yesterday around 2pm riots broke out in specific regions of Uganda’s capital city Kampala. If you lived anywhere else in the world, you probably dind’t hear about the story at all. The BBC World News had pretty deep coverage, but as far as I can tell from here CNN, France24 and SkyNews didn’t really pick up on the story in the same way. For us here in Kampala there were a few tense hours as we worried that our beloved city would be torn apart by ethnic-related violence. For full reporting on the incidents, visit the Observer, NewVision or The Daily Monitor.
In the first of a series of profiles on my staff’s projects and works in progress, today I’m featuring Felix ‘Kayt’ Kitaka and his Facebook application found at Answerbird.com. Answerbird was built out of his frustration from getting answers to questions with a purely local slant. He lives in Kampala, Uganda, and asking a question like where can one purchase the new Asus laptop might result in answers from all over the globe. With Answerbird, developer Felix Kitaka is not only offering a service relevant to Uganda but to the whole world, the questions and answers are crowd-sourced to the users circle of friends on Facebook.
I really admire Felix’s ambition with his applications. Since so many web 2.0 services are worried about the developing world draining their bandwidth, Felix’s approach has been to create local gateways to interact with the service that over 60,000 Ugandans actively use on a daily basis.
How Does it Work?
Answerbird is simple. Just point your browser to Answerbird.com. You’ll be asked to use Facebook Connect to authenticate the use of your application with your profile. Once you’ve signed up you’ll be taken to a Twitter-like interface where you simply ask questions. Automatically your question is posted to your profile on Answerbird.com (which sits on the Appfrica2 servers) but you’re given the option to also make the question your status update. This allows people who don’t use the service to offer their input via Facebook, while Answerbird users can answer using Facebook or in threaded conversations at Answerbird.com.
The first thing you might notice about Answerbird is that it looks a lot like Twitter. In fact, the UI is very much inspired by Twitter, only we’ve added threaded comments and private messaging that live outside of Facebook. This allows for faster search of the data indexed by the service. The site uses Facebook Connect to ‘live’ outside of Facebook because sometimes there may be group discussions that users don’t want to take over their Facebook page.
Future features include sending your question to other social networks like Twitter and interacting via SMS (a feature available for everyone here in the office but we’ve shut it off for the public).
The Value of Local Knowledge
The cool thing about Answerbird is that it leverages your Facebook friends (usually your real-world social network) to crowd-source questions and answers. Some other cool features of Answerbird are chacheing and search for quickly looking up things that may have asked and answered before. There’s a lot of services that do this (like YahooAnswers) but many of them don’t allow for the natural filter of using your close friends and colleagues for quick bits of knowledge. Felix, who lives in Kampala, Uganda understands the value of the knowledge of his peers. Not only can he ask for very specific information (ex. What are the directions to the new Nakumat?) but he can use it as a rallying point (ex. Who wants to go to with me to see XO: Wolverine this weekend?). Beyond that, there’s a search feature that allows users to see what’s been asked and ansered before.
Felix has big plans for the future of Answerbird and even grander plans for his next apps. I can’t say much more at the moment, but definitely look forward to a follow up with Felix and the applications he’s building primarily for the Ugandan market. I can assure you all, this is the least interesting of the apps he’s working on! The implications for this project are huge, services like Question Box (which Appfrica is also incubating) use a centralized database to answer questions for rural and disenfranchised populations. Answerbird has the potential to be the tool connected Ugandans (and anyone else) use to find out the answers to any questions they might have when paired with an offline database like the one Question Box uses. Want to help us beta test? Head on over to Answerbird.com and pilot it for yourselves!
Felix Kitaka, Developer at Appfrica Labs
Discolsure: Answerbird and Question Box are projects that Appfrica Labs is funding as part of our incubator. Appfrica holds an equity stake in the properties it incubates and launches.
So a few months ago when I began organizing the Kampala Facebook Garage I was initially a little daunted. I was worried bout getting the word out and finding people interested enough and skilled enough to make it a success. Then Barcamp Kampala happened and I was reassured that there were tons of developers who’d be interested in the Facebook Garage. Then a there was a big surprise. I was invited by Kaushal Jhalla to attend Barcamp Africa at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, Ca. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t return until the day the Facebook clinic was originally scheduled so it had to be postponned.
It turns out that serendipity was going to change things for the better. While I was in California, I met a woman with extensive contacts at Facebook named Leila Chirayath Janah, founder of Samasource and a member of the Facebook NBI team. She offered to help organize the rescheduled Garage, and offered to arrange for some staff members to attend! Well that’s all happened and on December 13th, Uganda will have it’s first ‘one on one’ with the Facebook Staff!
A few months back there was a similar event in Nairobi, this one will take place in Kampala, Uganda at Makerere University. Topics covered will include using Facebook to fundraise, market a business, and of course the Facebook Developers Garage, a hands on workshop that allows developers to learn how to use the platform to make widgets and applications.
For details join our Facebook Group, visit the event on Facebook or the Appfrica Wiki. I want to especially thank Leila Chirayath (Samasource) and Michael Niyitegeka (Makerere University) for helping this event to finally manifest.
Help us out by spreading the word! Write about this event and tag related media with #fb08uganda
Alan Patricof of the Huffington Post writes about his time spent in Kampala, Uganda; Nairobi, Kenya; and Abuja, Nigeria following the election of Barrack Obama to Presidency of the United States. In it talks about the growing middle class of Africa and what Obama represents for them…
While Africa clearly has a very high level of poverty with incomes of under $2 per day, there is a growing lower-middle and middle class that have jobs, cars, trips, vacations, eating out, new clothes and accessories. These types of Africans are looking to a period of doing with less and don’t seem to express any hardships in the process. I was intrigued to hear a group of ten around a dinner table talk about the fact that not only do Americans have to cut back but they, Africans themselves, could do “without another suit” have a “staycation” (vacation at home). And probably most simplistic or impactful, they universally said “you know we don’t have to turn in our 3, 4, 5 year-old car when with a little fix up the car can run for another few years.” The conversation vividly brought home to me that we, in the U.S., have been living in a society where few of us have been spending on real needs, but rather, satisfying our shopping impulses, subliminally put into our head by advertising and by the media. We have been indulging ourselves for years in excess in every aspect of our lives. We think we “need” things when, in fact, we all have more sweaters, shirts, ties, shoes, cars and “things” than we really need, while the Africans that we conjure in our minds as “needy” are cheerfully willing to do with less. Obviously, those in poverty who don’t have their basic needs met will be more severely impacted and deserve our concern, but the rest of us – both African and American – can afford to cut back.