Mwiriwe from Rwanda

Greetings from Kigali, Rwanda! My name is Heather LeMunyon and I’m a Master’s degree candidate at the Fletcher School at Tufts University in the US, where I’m concentrating in international business relations and development economics.

I’ve been in Rwanda for about one month now, and have been gaining incredible experience diving head-first into the challenges and opportunities that the Rwandan economy and its businesses have. During the summer break between my first and second years at Fletcher, I am working with the African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC), a non-profit business accelerator for young, growth-oriented entrepreneurs in Africa to create jobs for the unemployed in their communities.

To reach these goals, AEC works through local business development partners in order to best tailor services to the communities of each country. In Kigali, I am working through AEC’s local Rwandan partner, Inkomoko Entrepreneur Development, a full-service business development firm focused on developing start-up, small and medium enterprises to grow them into effective businesses. In Kinyarwanda, inkomoko means “the source” or “origin.” Inkomoko is industry-agnostic, meaning that they do not focus their business development services for any one particular sector. However, their clientele is fairly representative of the Rwandan economy – about 40 percent of their clients work in agriculture or food processing, with other large sectors being construction, professional services, information and communications technology (ICT), and energy.

My role with AEC through Inkomoko has been to work directly as a short-term consultant and business mentor for two of their clients, HPS&B, a rice processing company, and Hollanda FairFoods, Rwanda’s first potato chip company. My background is in agribusiness development, so the opportunity to work hands-on with two of Rwanda’s promising post-harvest agricultural processing businesses has been incredible.


The work that AEC, Inkomoko, and their clients accomplish on a regular basis is quite impressive. On my first day in the office, I read an article on the front page of The New Times, one of Rwanda’s national newspapers, on the impressive business growth of one of Inkomoko’s clients, Green Harvest, a company producing hot sauce and spices. Four out of the fourteen national finalists for Rwanda for the international SeedStars Business competition were Inkomoko clients, one of which was Hollanda FairFoods.

I was honored to be here for the last day of Inkomoko’s fiscal year on June 30 when all of their nine full-time staff celebrated the 80+ new clients they brought on this past year and the impressive successes many of them have had in growing their businesses. My work has been busy, rewarding and fun! My assignments thus far have included updating market analyses and financial projections for both HPS&B and Hollanda FairFoods; liaising between clients and international investment firms looking to invest in emerging markets, particularly in Rwanda; collaborating with my clients to develop data collection mechanisms for market information; coaching Hollanda FairFoods on its first pitch to international investors; compiling funding opportunities for Rwandan agribusinesses into a centralized database; and analyzing Inkomoko’s metrics for organizational development.

Life isn’t all work, though. The Inkomoko staff work incredibly hard but also know how to let loose. Last weekend, we celebrated the end of the fiscal year with a day-long goat roast, complete with about 100 brochettes (kebabs) for all of us by the end of the night. They’ve also had a bit of fun teaching me words in Kinyarwanda as I slowly learn a few phrases in the language. Living in a large group house with AEC’s other short-term business mentors has been fun as well—a great platform for getting to know other graduate students and young professionals interested in entrepreneurship in emerging markets, and great for planning weekend trips to explore Rwanda outside of Kigali. Time is already going by so fast! I’m looking forward to meeting up in Uganda this coming weekend with some this year’s other Blakeley Fellows in East Africa, too – Anisha Baghudana, Manisha Basnet, Owen Sanderson, and Anjali Shrikhande. More updates to come during my next few weeks in Rwanda – until then, many, many thanks again to the Blakeley Foundation for making all of this possible for me, and enjoy the photos of life in Rwanda thus far!

Lima’s entrepreneurial landscape

Contributed by Anna Valeria, Blakeley Fellow 2013

The main reason that brought me to Peru was to learn and find out more about the stage of their entrepreneurial ecosystem. According to the Global Entrepreneurial Monitor (the most relevant publication about entrepreneurship) Peru is one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world.

I have learned a lot since I arrived. I have met all types of entrepreneurs. Some more related to the definition most of us have from the American schools, but others do defer and even challenge our definition of entrepreneur. However, in most cases this difference does not stop them to feel part and work towards the improvement of their entrepreneurial ecosystem. At the end of the day an ecosystem is made up by people, so that is what we need, passionate people willing to share ideas and make things happen.

I also find out there are several international organisations with a heavy presence in the country:

Wayra

Telefónica’s global startup accelerator. It established a presence in Lima in 2011. Twice a year they elect 10 teams with the best Internet related business ideas. Each team receives the equivalent to €40,000 plus office space and most importantly: mentoring.


NESst

An NGO that has the mission to develop sustainable social enterprises that solve critical social problems in emerging market economies. NESst established in Peru in 2007. 


The feedback I often heard from the entrepreneurs is that it is hard to find a place to start working with their startup idea. Rents are quite expensive and contracts are made for at least one year. Entrepreneurs most of the time are not willing to invest the little money they have on working space.

This is the reason why the Peruvian landscape has seen in the last year a proliferation of co-working spaces. However there is a need of more!! (this is obvious when one enters any Starbucks in Lima and finds the place packed with more computers than people).

On the other hand there is a feeling that something is changing in Peru and that the economic growth is already giving some payoff. People feel the entrepreneurial is about to boost in the years to come.

As part of my work here in Lima we are building a network of entrepreneurs that have already achieved a success with their endeavours. The idea is to use them as example for others to come. This coming Wednesday (4:30 pm Boston time) we will be broadcasting live through YouTube an event that is looking to highlight the positive and negative aspects (and how to overcome them) of the Peruvian entrepreneurial ecosystem. Even though the event will be held in Spanish it would be great if you could join for support. I hope this will be the first of many more conversations that will help build a stronger and better ecosystem for the entrepreneurs in Peru.

If you like to join, on the day of the event you will be able to find the link to the YouTube channel to watch the broadcast at this Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/aninnovationred

The Entrepreneurial (and Fun!) Ushaverse Family

 

Contributed by Owen Sanderson, Blakeley Fellow 2014

 

“How’s your summer going?” I have been asked this question countless times from friends, family, and former colleagues since landing in Nairobi four weeks ago. This open-ended inquiry is usually followed up with, “What’s Ushahidi like and how are the people?” While I cannot claim to be an expert, the last month working in the Ushaverse (the collection of enterprises and initiatives launched by Erik Hersman, Juliana Rotich, David Kobia, and others) has provided me with a healthy taste of life in Kenya’s magnetic entrepreneurial tech scene. And I am happy to report the experience has been incredibly positive.

Over the last six years since graduating from college, I’ve worked for a number of different organizations. Each one maintains a unique feel. Some are massive, with thousands of employees seamlessly operating around-the-clock. Others are smaller in shape and more defined in purpose. A few are global with networks that stretch from Boston to Bangalore. Ushahidi manages to straddle the line between a local outfit and an international enterprise. It is global while remaining lean and agile. This is a beautiful thing. Despite having less than 30 full-time employees, Ushahidi manages to operate worldwide. There have been over 60,000 Ushahidi deployments in 159 countries since Ushahidi launched in 2007. Enabled by a combination of open-source platforms and whip-smart staff members, Ushahidi has unquestionably created an international impact and recognized brand.

So what is the secret sauce that brings this small yet potent cohort of bloggers, coders, policy wonks, and ultimately leaders, together? Passion and good humor. Consider this: Every Monday the Ushahidi team logs onto Hipchat and connects to a global conference call. The weekly touchpoint provides an opportunity for Ushaverse employees to inform their colleagues about product breakthroughs, solicit advice on thorny deliverables, and advertise upcoming events. But besides these professional updates, the weekly call offers a chance for our remote team to connect. This week’s call included way too many bad puns, a bounty of baby pictures, and epic travel stories from the field. At first glance, these virtual updates seem silly (and some may say unnecessary); but I believe they help bind together a remote team spread across time zones. They represent Ushahidi’s dedication to fostering a positive and productive culture that’s not afraid to have fun.

 

Last week marked the halfway point of my summer with Ushahidi. Simply put, the time has flown by. In four short weeks, I have mocked up a business strategy for a new Ushahidi product, spoken at Tech4Africa in the iHub, ran a half marathon alongside rhinos with a dozen of Ushaverse colleagues, and blogged nearly every other day. In true Ushahidi form, my midway mark was celebrated with a bit of pomp and pageantry. At approximately 3pm, Erik Hersman strode into the batcave (our co-working space located below the iHub) holding a Crowdmap sweatshirt. With a firm handshake and a few snapshots, I was bequeathed a gray hoodie. While only a temporary member of the Ushahidi team, I felt welcomed (and perhaps slightly awestruck). It is this type of camaraderie that drives the Ushaverse forward—and I am very, very proud to be associated with such a path breaking, human-centered organization.