• Ssemujju Lewis E

Most Influential Youthful Entrepreneurs In Uganda

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

As Uganda ushers in a new year and electoral term, the youth keep looking out for and up to people like them in positions of influence to lend a hand or advice that could propel them forward.

Here is a list of Uganda's brilliant youth taking on entrepreneurship in various fields with high levels of creativity and thought into their craft and establishing a platform for other youthful entrepreneurs in Uganda.

Shamim Nabuuma Kaliisa

Shamim is the founder and Executive Director of Chil Artificial Intelligence Lab, championing Artificial intelligence in medicine.

A cancer survivor herself, her company offers innovative artificial intelligence-guided E-Oncology services to diagnose cervical and breast cancer. If detected and treated early, both of these types of cancers can save a person's life.

Her company Chil Artificial Intelligence Lab, was founded out of both passion and personal experience.

When she was 13, she lost her mother to cervical cancer. Kaliisa’s mother had one last wish.

“She called for me from school, and when I reached the Uganda Cancer Institute, my mother told me ‘my daughter, study hard and become a doctor and look for a way to extend services to women like your mother who lacked key screening services in our villages,’” Kaliisa recounts.

Those last words sank in, and the young Kaliisa vowed to fulfill her mother’s dream.

But things took a different turn.

During her second year pursuing a bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery, she felt an unusual pain in one of her breasts. She got it tested, and the results returned positive.

“Luckily, it was still in its early stages. I was treated, though I lost one of my breasts [to mastectomy] as a way to save the rest of me,” she says.

These experiences led to her founding a company in 2017 to offer mobile cancer screening, which later incorporated the use of artificial intelligence guided e-oncology services (to detect cervical and breast cancer). Today, her company also includes drone services for more comfortable transportation of cervical cancer specimens from the rural areas to laboratories without women traveling long distances out of the villages.

Kaliisa, who locals refer to as “mama cancer,” is a winner of the Takeda Young Entrepreneur Award 2018, Young African Entrepreneur Award 2018, Social Impact Finalist AWIEF Awards 2018, has received an Honourable Mention at the Maathai Impact Award 2019, and was chosen among the top 10 artificial intelligence companies founded in Africa by Google for start-ups.

The Tony Elumelu Foundation has also endorsed her.

Kaliisa continues to make strides in the field of cancer screening. Packing up her things after the photoshoot with us, she heads back to the airport for her flight home.

It’s business as usual for this young woman on a mission to help women in villages survive cancer as she did.

Mildred Apenyo

Apenyo founded FitClique Africa, a feminist fitness space where Ugandan women can do yoga, work out, learn self-defense and discuss being a woman in a patriarchal culture. She spent the summer of 2014 at Notre Dame in the YALI program discerning her new company's goals, which had been spinning in circles as she tried to do too much with her incessant energy.

Two unfortunate events inspired Apenyo in Uganda. One time she got into a heated argument with a man at a Kampala gym when the latter wanted off a shoulder press so he could circuit train. Not long afterward, in September 2013, the country’s minister of Youth Affairs said that if women dress indecently, which he defined as mini-skirts, bikinis, or tight jeans, any man who rapes them should not be prosecuted. Instead, he said the police should charge women for inviting the crime.

She set out to open the country's first-ever Black-owned gym that's exclusively for women. As per She.Leads.Africa, Mildred planned to start with a Facebook page where she would discuss body ownership and self-love. She wanted people to talk about bodies and women enjoying activities typically reserved for men in regular gyms. “I wanted it to be that kind of space online and offline,” said Mildred.

She first had to come up with a name for this space. The naming process varies from one startup to the next. It takes anywhere from several hours to months. The key is to pick a firm name that adequately represents the ethos of your brand. As a copywriter, Mildred could have come up with a name utilizing the same process she used for her clients. However, she wanted it to be a community space and sourced for name ideas from her friends on Facebook. Solomon King, one of her friends, suggested the name Fitclique256. “It got the most likes,” Mildred said. “I decided to call the space that.” In March 2014, the fitness movement officially began.

Mildred decided to quit her job to focus on and dedicate herself to Fitclique fully. “I said to myself, ‘How can you be seated here writing copy about products that you don’t care about when women are out there being undressed on the streets?’” she said. “FitcliqueAfrica hit me in the soul and demanded to be started.” With two salaries saved from her job, she embarked on taking the open and safe online space offline in the form of a gym.

The first order of business was securing gym equipment. Mildred, aware of her financial limitations, had to get innovative to do this. Having done her research, she knew that there were people who had bought exercise and fitness equipment in the hopes of working out but ended up not using them. She started a campaign where she traded equipment training. People would be able to get a personal trainer to work with them for a particular duration at a reduced cost if they gave Fitclique their equipment. The concept excited people, and they responded positively. Some ended up donating their unused equipment. Mildred was able to drive down costs using this strategy significantly. The gym has grown since then and can now buy its own equipment with the money it makes.

Then Mildred had to find a physical space for the gym. She approached a gym she had worked on a marketing campaign for a while at her advertising job. They agreed to let her hold one class for an hour in their space. “It was a yoga class that was massively successful,” said Mildred. After a while, the owner pulled out of the agreement because the classes only had women. “He asked, ‘Why yoga? Why only women? Are you witches? And added, ‘I don’t want this to happen anymore,’” she said. Mildred had to go back to the drawing board, a practice that is not uncommon in the entrepreneurial journey.

Solomon King Benge

Solomon King Benge is the founder of Fundi Bots, a robotics non-profit that uses robotics training inside and outside African schools to create and inspire a new generation of students and innovators. Solomon King Benge is passionate about design, business, and technology. He’s a 2014 Echoing Green Fellow and a 2014 Ashoka Fellow. His work with Fundi Bots has received recognition by Google through a Google RISE grant in 2012, the BBC, Voice of America, and Wired Magazine UK. When he’s not designing user interfaces, pushing 3D pixels, or tinkering with robots, I enjoy traveling, photography, and creative fiction writing.

Solomon was just twenty years old when he built his first company, "NVGOR8". It became a pioneer company for cutting edge TV advertising in Uganda, doing work for MultiChoice, MTN Uganda, Sylvia Owori, and Stanbic Bank.

What stands out about Solomon King is that he knew nothing about computers until his senior six vacations.

"I first became familiar with one when I got myself a job working in one of Uganda's first and oldest Internet cafes, Cyberworld Cafe," Solomon recalled. "I would practically sleep in that cafe."

"I wear many hats, but that's because I have no formal career education, save for the one misguided semester at University, and I am addicted to challenge risk and problem solving," says Solomon of himself.

Today, Solomon King is an entrepreneur, digital artist and runs three registered organizations. Elemental Edge was started in 2005. Solomon refers to it as his "darling baby." It centers on work in the Multimedia industry doing video effects and 3D animation.

"Elemental Edge initially offered web hosting, but I decided to split it into two," said Solomon. So it's safe to say that Elemental Edge gave birth to my next companies, Node Six and Design Kingdom.

Node six was started in 2006 and performs web solution functions like hosting, website design, and website applications. It is the second biggest web hosting company in Uganda, next to Jolis Intercom. Currently, Node Six still holds a reputation as one of the best website designers in the industry and is the largest of all his companies.

His third company, the Design Kingdom, is quite simply a community for Ugandan designers in computers and technology.

Solomon King also serves on the board of Hive Colab, a collaborative workspace for Ugandan application developers and a meeting space for technology events, located on the topmost floor of Capital Shoppers in Nakawa.