Thirty three students from Stanford Business School along with Nobel Prize winning economist Myron Scholes visited kLab. The trip led by four students is part of Stanford Global Study Trip and was focused on understanding the rapid growth rates taking place in Rwanda. The group of thirty three had a lunch session at kLab where after being introduced by Paula Ingabire, External Support Division Manager at RDB-IT they were given a tour by Claude Migisha, kLab General Manager who also answered questions raised about kLab activities and mission.
Among presenters were Carnegie Mellon's Director Dr. Bruce Krogh who introduced Carnegie Mellon University-Rwanda and talked of the university's multidisciplinary curriculum that strikes a fine balance between technology, business, and innovation, preparing the next generation of IT leaders in East Africa as well as its expectations out of the ten year contract it signed with the government of Rwanda. Tony Sebera, ag. CEO of Broadband Systems Corporation also gave a brief highlight of the success of broadband which is one of the key elements the government is investing in a lot as it strives to become the East Africa's ICT hub.
They expressed the team's joy at the opportunity to engage and share perspectives with notable tenants and mentors at kLab. Andrew James a business students from Stanford says his excitement to come to Rwanda and kLab in particular had no limit. "We've only been here for about 30 minutes but this is like exactly the kind of thing everyone is excited about, because you know coming from Silicon Valley and seeing this, it's really exciting. " he said. "From what we've heard it's quite remarkable how much Rwanda has done to get on pace with the first running world, some programs are being made here yet they haven't been made in the USA which is really worthy of attention," he added.
Lindsay Wishart who was also part of the team shares how revealing her first visit to Rwanda is. "It's my first visit to Rwanda and I didn't know how it would be, though it's really been amazing, we visited many places but what's most exciting is the way Rwanda's economy is growing particularly in relation to ICT, we have heard of the incredible projects being accomplished by The Government of Rwanda and young Techpreneurs here at kLab." Lindsay said. She also talked of the impressive appearance that kLab has, "It actually looks like the Google office setup, it's really amazing to find out that the same thing happening in The USA can happen here as well," she concluded.
Among the guests was Myron Scholes, Professor of Finance, Emeritus, at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences, and co-originator of the Black-Scholes options pricing model. Scholes was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1997 for his new method of determining the value of derivatives. The great welcome was concluded with a short interaction between Stanford students and kLab tenants, some of the students actually talked of having thoughts of moving to Rwanda in the future.
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.
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.