Uganda’s government is funding 78 startups to power its digital economy

The startups are from five sectors - agriculture, digital economy, fashion and beauty, health, and light manufacturing.

A total of 78 Ugandan businesses have each received $20,000 in seed funding from National Social Security Fund (NSSF) together with the Mastercard Foundation as part of the Hi-innovator Program.

The 78 Ugandan small and growing businesses in total received $1.56 million as part of the initiative that aims at creating an eco-system for indigenous businesses to be supported to mature into viable businesses.

The winners were selected from over 6,300 entrepreneurs that had enrolled in the program’s learning platform dubbed the NSSF Hi-Innovator Business Academy, an online self-directed platform where entrepreneurs obtained foundational business knowledge over the last three months.

Following a weeklong boot camp, 103 entrepreneurs were then shortlisted to pitch their ideas to an investment committee that included seasoned entrepreneurs and investors.

The businesses were from five sectors including agriculture, digital economy, fashion and beauty, health, and light manufacturing.

Speaking at the awarding ceremony, Patrick Ayota, the NSSF Deputy Managing Director said the program that started last year targets 500 businesses in five years and that with the latest 78, they have so far funded 120 businesses.

“It is gratifying to see that the number of businesses we are supporting this year through the Hi-Innovator Program has increased from 32 to 78. This is an indication that we have more innovative ideas and possible scalable businesses to support in growth,”Ayota said.

He explained that money is not the most important aspect for the participating businesses but rather the training they get through the business academy where they interact with various business aspects.

“Our target was to create 132,000 jobs (in five years) but now so far we have 120,000 jobs created out of the 120 startups . In my own expectation, we will even exceed that number because when the businesses grow, they begin to hire more staff,”Ayota said.

He explained that NSSF will continue working with the businesses for the next 12 months to ensure sustainability but said the main aim is ensuring creating more jobs which in turn is an investment for the fund.

“By doing this, we are impacting on Ugandan households. As NSSF we want these businesses to grow. Whereas we want to fund 500 businesses, even if 50 which is 10% grow to become the next KCB banks, MTNs etc, then we will have created Uganda’s future,”Ayota said.

The NSSF Deputy Managing Director noted that in November, they will do an all women cohort.

According to Arnold Byarugaba, the Mastercard Foundation’s Lead Micro, Small and Medium-sized enterprises for Uganda, it is not enough for people to start businesses without addressing the issue of jobs which is critical.

“The good thing with this program is that it is not only creating jobs but also protecting them from going away.The achievements we have seen in the program so far give us confidence in this partnership with the NSSF. Through this program, we believe that we are on the right track to attaining our ambitious goal of creating over 132,000 employment opportunities for youth and women in the country,” Byarugaba said.

Richard Zulu, Founding Partner and Team Lead at Outbox Uganda which is the implementing partner for the Hi-innovator program, attributed the program’s success to the partnership-led approach with several other ecosystem players who provide technical assistance and mentorship which unlocks affordable financing for entrepreneurs at scale.

According to officials, the selected businesses will now undergo a due diligence process and will be supported by other partner innovation hubs in the next four months to enable them address business hurdles.

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