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  • Writer's pictureSsemujju 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.

Rajiv Ruparelia

Rajiv was born in Uganda on January 2nd,1990, and is a Financial Management graduate from Regents College London. He is currently serving as the Managing Director of the Ruparelia Group. He is responsible for developing sound business strategies and delivering strong leadership across the group.

As a member of the Ruparelia Foundation Board, Rajiv is in charge of the general welfare department. It fervently works towards promoting sports in the country, explaining his love for playing golf and rugby. Rajiv’s heart has always been in his country of birth, where he believes he can effect change by boosting his compatriots' efforts, whether through charity or job creation.

At the age of 17, in 2007, he chose business over education and opened his first business- Club Sway, a youthful club on Kampala Road.

He would later close the club in 2010 to return to school, with some hard real-life lessons learned.

He joined Regent’s University, London, where he pursued a Bachelor’s of Business Administration, majoring in Financial Management. He graduated in late 2013 and returned home.

In 2014, he joined the family business- but had to work his way up.

This was not by accident- it is Sudhir’s way of doing things.

In a July 7, 2014 interview with CNN Money, Sudhir said that while family members needed to join family-owned businesses to ensure continuity, it was always important to get the appropriate mentorship.

“I think it is important that when you have an ongoing business, you create an excellent team of professional managers, and then at the same time, train your family to work with them, and then see how they can manage and move on,” he said at the time.

So, young Rajiv was deployed to the numerous group construction sites where he managed laborers and materials.

Later on, he would pick a keen interest and be mentored in design, planning, feasibility, and implementation of full developments for hotels, schools, retail, commercial, and residential real estate.

Between 2014 and 2017, Rajiv worked hard to deliver some major building projects such as Kampala Boulevard, Hardware City, and Electrical Plaza Nakasero- all on time and cost. With some hand-holding from his father, he also kick-started other major projects such as Speke Apartments, Wampewo, Kitante, and the recently commissioned Kingdom Kampala Mall.

In true Ruparelia fashion, Rajiv is a businessman of his own, in every sense.

In 2018, he was instrumental in Premier Recruitment- a private external labor recruitment company, to tap into the $1.24 billion (UGX4.5 trillion) industry.

He, together with his sister, Sheena Ruparelia, also a director in the Group, are developing their own very first private residential real estate project- Bukoto Living.

Bukoto Living is a multimillion-dollar project, consisting of 9 floors of 27, two, three, four, and five-bedroom units- all for sale. Located at the confluence of Bukoto, Naguru, and Ntinda and only 150 meters from the main road, the units were delivered by July 2020.

A 2 bedroom apartment with 160sqm of space goes for $168,000, while a 3 bedroom apartment with 200sqm of space goes for $210,000. A 4-bedroom apartment measuring 215sqm goes for $330,750, while a 5-bedroom apartment measuring 345sqm goes for $352,250.

Like his father, Rajiv has a warm heart and has participated in several charity causes- both as an individual and through the Ruparelia Foundation, the family’s charity arm.

Immy Julie Nakyeyune

Immy Julie Musoke Nakyeyune is the Founder of ‘Mkazipreneur,’ a community platform that promoted qualitative and quantitative women entrepreneurship by connecting, celebrating, and empowering women entrepreneurs in Africa.

Immy started a cleaning service, MStran Cleaning Services, that does laundry and general cleaning, and making and supplying liquid soap, dog shampoo, and hand washes. This was all to supplement her income from her 9-5.

“I started a cleaning service company as a side business so that it is a fallback position in case I wake up to no contract renewal. When my female colleagues saw that it was doing so well, they pushed me to start a mastermind group where we could share business ideas and skills,” Nakyeyune says.

The mastermind group was initially made of four people. As the numbers increased, Nakyeyune decided to register the group as a social enterprise to become an online community for women entrepreneurs.

She says she started Mkazipreneur after meeting women who were struggling after being laid off work, stay-home mothers, and those who were starting businesses but failing to maintain them and reduce unemployment among women.

Currently, the online platform has more than 500 women entrepreneurs in Uganda and other countries across the continent, with over 300 members in Uganda, 96 in Kenya, 43 in Ghana, 23 in Rwanda, and soon starting up Zimbabwe.

All these cohorts coordinate through the organization’s website and other social media platforms such as WhatsApp groups, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and quarterly networking events.

Under Mkazipreneur, there is a program called Mkazi Create, which encourages women to start their own businesses. Nakyeyune first meets the women who want to join individually, understands their needs and ideas, and places them in the best position possible.

She adds that such women are matched with other women entrepreneurs in similar fields who offer them step-by-step guidance and mentorship until their idea comes to life.

One of the major skills that Mkazipreneur has embarked on and emphasized in the past months is business plan development and writing. So far, they have had three physical pieces of training with 93 women entrepreneurs in Uganda. Women entrepreneurs in Kenya and Ghana are taken through this step-by-step guidance through the website and email engagements.

Mkaziprenuer also carries out skills training in soft skills and technical skills. The latter majorly aims at stay-home women trained in making wigs, candles, bakery, liquid soap weaving, tailoring, and farming.

The community has an e-commerce platform where members market their products. A member who has a product to sell uploads it on the organization’s website with its price, and other members or people who visit the website can view it and make an order if interested.

However, women who cannot access internet services, especially those outside Kampala, have also not been left out. The organization carries out field visits and workshops in villages across the country where such women are taught soft skills in business management and marketing. Some even get a chance to have their products displayed on the website and connect to potential customers.

Nakyeyune, however, says they are focusing so much on personal growth before the business growth. “We believe that before your brand grows, you as a person you have to grow. There are some things you need to pick up like public speaking, having constructive friends such that with our continuous mentorship and engagements, the women grow both personally and business-wise.”

Empowerment to women entrepreneurs is done through social media platforms, mentorship programs, master classes, workshops, showcasing events, the media, and daily articles and blogs on its website.

Mkaziprenuer organization also works with other organizations like UN Women, Akina Mama wa Afrika, Innovation Village, Xeno Investment Management, and NSSF for financial literacy and skills training.

Dr. Nataliey Bitature

A daughter of renowned Ugandan businessman Patrick Bitature, Nataliey is a co-founder of Musana Carts, a company that offers solar-powered vending carts to support a fridge and stove. The coaches also come with a battery backup and light, which can be used at night to charge cell phones.

Already recognized by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), traders can obtain the carts through microfinance.

The World Economic Forum in 2016 named Nataliey among the top 5 African innovators because of Musana Carts, and that same year they (Musana) participated in the US $1 million Hultz prize competition.

Nataliey Bitature is also a co-founder of two other companies — Tateru Properties, which deals in real estate services. Handymen Uganda connects customers to services such as painting, plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, etc.

Additionally, she is the Chief of Staff at Simba Group of Companies, owned by her father, and Project 500K, owned by her mother, Carol, to equip Ugandan youths with entrepreneurial skills.

Bitature holds a dual honors degree in Business Management and Education Studies from Keele University, UK, and a Master’s of Social Entrepreneurship from Hult International Business School in San Francisco.

‘Entrepreneurship provided for my family, and for the first time, I saw that it was something I took for granted. The teenage girls in the class I taught had straightforward and unambitious dreams, which broke my heart. I knew I had to get into a business that changed lives, improved communities, and gave other Ugandan girls the opportunities I had had,‘ she shared with Forbes.

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