March 15th,2013

I recently moved to Kigali and want to learn about what is happening here. Part of my interest has been piqued by what is going on at kLab. I happened to stop in during a session where tenants were presenting their projects, and they all seemed related to traffic apps.

Later I came to realize I was seated in one of kLab open events called Meet the Market. An event that brings together Applications developers (Mobile or Web) plus final year university students' IT dissertation projects and link them with targeted end users and potential investors to facilitate them bring to reality and commercialize their project ideas. it's a series of events run by sector, the day I visited, kLab tenants were showcasing applications that can help The Rwanda National Police to improve its service to the people.

A few things struck me:

It was interesting to see the different projects being worked on. There was a wide range as far as where each person was on their project; some were just preliminary ideas, while some had working parts to demonstrate. One of the best aspects of the session was that the audience included policemen, who are a perfect group to provide real-world feedback on these types of apps. They were very interested to see how the apps would be used. The policemen asked very good questions and seemed to understand the ways in which technology would be helpful in their field. Including the non-technical perspective in these types of technical discussions is a great approach and I was very impressed to see it.

Another aspect I found very interesting was to see the types of problems that are being solved. Not only was there discussion of the immediate problem - how to take your driver's exam or how to pay your ticket fines, but there was also a focus on solving more wide-spread issues around how "things are done" in Rwanda. For instance, one presenter focused on the problem of how long everything takes. He described a system where a person must make many different trips to many different places, sometimes repeating visits when not everything was in order, to simply pay a traffic ticket. This can take a person days of effort; part of the problem he wants to solve is to speed up the process and save the unnecessary time it takes for completing every-day tasks, like paying traffic fines. This is not only a solution to a technical problem, but a change in mindset for the culture in Kigali - another impressive aspect for me to see being discussed and addressed with ITC.

As a software engineer who believes that design and thinking beyond technology are just as important as the solution itself, this session was very encouraging for me to see. Altogether this was a very interesting first glance at what is going on at kLab and I am looking forward to learning more about kLab, Kigali, and Rwanda.

By Cathy Bishop a kLab Mentor.
March 01st,2013

Starting a software business requires just a computer and programming skills, most people will say. However as Mark Straub a Venture Capitalist who visited kLab on Tuesday 19th February 2013 elaborated, a lot more is required for a software business to be successful and begin attracting investors.

"Starting a business is about finding a customer and solving his problem. Software and ICT are just very efficient tools to do that at scale, but software and ICT alone does not make a business, first you need to find a problem and then come up with a solution." Mark is a venture assistant at Khosla Impact, a Venture Capital fund based in Menlo Park, California that has invested in Kopo Kopo, a Kenyan based company that enables small and medium businesses to accept mobile payments and build relationships with their customers.Venture capital (VC) is financial capital provided to early-stage, high potential and high-risk startup companies in return for equity ownership in the company.

“The Rwandans ICT Entrepreneurs that I met are definitely focused on solving real problems and they face many of the challenges as young entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, such as finding co-founders, identifying customers, and financing their early stage ideas. However there are some things that Rwandan entrepreneurs can learn from those in Silicon Valley." Mark added.

After meeting a number of Rwanda’s Young ICT Entrepreneurs, Mark had a few insights to give out to the developing generation of ICT Entrepreneurs in Rwanda:
  • Rwanda Young ICT Entrepreneurs need not to repeat the same mistakes as that previous generations of US entrepreneurs went through. Since we know that 90% of startups fail to succeed globally, this percentage need not to be higher in Rwanda. There are lots of books describing the common mistakes to avoid when starting up a business including "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries.
  • Venture capitalists who consider investing in Rwanda will look for an early success story: For example 1 or 2 clean and highly profitable technology-based businesses operating in Rwanda. With just M-PESA’s success, a number of investors began flocking to Kenya, thus Rwandans also need to come up with just a few successful companies to spear head development of others.
  • Rwanda Young ICT Entrepreneurs just like their fellows around the world need to focus on solving just one particular problem and not trying to solve several problems at the same time. They need to zero in on just one particular item, and make detailed analysis of how to make it profitable by considering the end users’ needs and ability to pay.
  • Rwanda being stable and secure with an ease of doing business and good climate is a conducive place for an entrepreneur to set herself up and use as the testing ground and headquarters for a company that has intentions of rolling out to the whole of Africa.

"Meeting Mark was really fruitful. He asked me all possible questions an interested investor would ask which helped me in knowing how to pitch a business model taking in consideration all strategic data" Jean from Torque LTD shared after the meeting.

December 07th,2012

Online classes and lectures have existed for years - but taking an online class is often about as exciting as watching grass grow. Content can be dry and boring - and even videos from the best institutions lack production quality. Classes taught in a classroom environment rarely translate to compelling online videos; the professor often appears far off in the distance, the audio and video quality are poor and there is no opportunity for interaction. As a result, only the most committed students have the discipline to pursue the online coursework.

This year, however, has been pivotal for online education. Dramatic improvements in production techniques, content that is specifically tailored to the online medium and interactive systems have started a veritable revolution.

The real pioneer in online learning was the Khan Academy (http://khanacademy.org). Started by Sal Khan to tutor his niece and nephews in Algebra, Khan Academy now covers dozens of subjects like Physics, Biology, Economics and even Art History. Khan’s success is in great part thanks to his delivery. The informal style and short format of the 3,200 videos make learning both fun and accessible.

Earlier this year another big university came online, Udacity (http://udacity.com), which was focused on teaching Computer Science. Started by professors from Stanford and some of the brightest minds at Google, Udacity brings decades of teaching experience and incredible talent to the table.

One way in which Udacity has differentiated itself is with its hands-on approach to learning. As any experienced developer will tell you, the best way to learn programming is to do it. Reading books and listening to lectures may help you understand the theory - but only by applying those techniques and experiencing the cycle of designing, writing and debugging software can you truly learn the trade. Udacity realized this early on, and designed their courses to put your knowledge to the test - challenging you to write programs that exercise your knowledge. This approach, coupled with immediate feedback from their automated grading systems makes learning computer science online superior to any physical classroom.

Taken together these two websites offer unprecedented resources for those who want to learn new skills.

The revolution currently taking place in education is a bit like the one that took place with the invention of the motion picture. Before film, we were all dependent on local playhouses and theaters for our entertainment. If your local actors weren’t very good, you just had to suffer through it and your entertainment was doomed to be subpar. But with the advent of film, we were able to watch the best actors in the world put on a show for us, no matter where we were. We could watch those performances at any time, rewind them to see our favorite parts again and again, and view them from virtually anywhere.

The same was largely true for education. The quality of your education was largely based on the quality of your teachers. This was great for the few who could afford to go to prestigious universities, but not so great for the rest of us.

Now anybody can go online and be taught mathematics or programming by the best teachers in the world, using online video lectures which you can watch at your convenience. And those lectures can be improved year over year based on student feedback.

It isn’t hard to see how such a change benefits the students of Rwanda. As the affordability and speed of Internet access continues to improve, so does the availability of this material. And since it is all free, students in Rwanda now have access to the same outstanding education that the rest of the world enjoys.

Of course having great lectures and exercises is only part of the solution, you still need someone to ask questions to when you get stuck and it helps to have a community of people learning with you. And that’s where the kLab comes in.

If you want to learn how to program, take CS101 at Udacity.com. It doesn’t require any prior knowledge, yet in six weeks it will teach you how Google searches the web. You’ll study some of the basic fundamentals of computer science, and establish an important foundation for your future career.

Like any college course it will require a lot of hard work and dedication, but the material is world-class and taught incredibly well. The kLab can help you download the videos for the course so you can watch them offline, and whenever you get stuck, kLab members and mentors are always available to help.

Programming isn’t easy, it takes a real passion to get good at it, but we are at a unique point in history where those with that passion have everything they need to succeed. When that passion is paired with the kLab and the resources it offers, anyone can get a world-class education at their own pace, around their own schedule and all absolutely free. Now that is truly revolutionary.