Up-close with Clarisse, winner of Inspire Africa Season one
The 24-year old Clarisse Iribagiza the Co-founder of Hehe Limited, a Mobile Application Development Company became the pioneer winner of Inspire Africa.
Inspire Africa project is a reality television show and competition that was unveiled in East Africa with the aim of engineering successful youth entrepreneurship in the region.
Briefly tell us about your self?
I’m the C.E.O of Hehe Limited founded in August 2010. I just completed a Bachelors Degree in Computer Engineering at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST). I was born in Uganda and it’s where I attained Primary school and secondary school education. I went to Kitante Primary School then went to Kibuli Secondary School for my O’ Level and Our Lady Of Good Counsel – Gayaza for A’ Level.
How best can you describe yourself?
I’m a geek. That I know. I love working as a team because l love seeing other people also discover their potential. I’m also an entrepreneur and I’m someone who chases their dream, if I have a dream, I go for it. My family used to call me a dreamer; I guess yes there is an aspect of that in me.
How did you get know about Inspire Africa?
We had attended an activity for young entrepreneurs at KIST and whoever was on the emailing list was sent an email to attend the auditions. At first I thought since I was still in school, I would not have a chance to participate.
When I got an email and call from whoever was in charge encouraging us to go for the auditions that was when I decided to try it out. I went for the auditions in the morning and went to school to do a test then came back to find out that I had made it to the top six contestants that would represent Rwanda.
What inspired me the most to participate was how the C.E.O Inspire Africa, Nelson Tugume talked about leadership and entrepreneurship. The two things I’m so passionate about are entrepreneurship and leadership. I was like if I’m to inspire other young people, this was the opportunity to as well put my leadership skills to the test.
Briefly tell us your experience regarding the tasks at Inspire Africa?
I had my up and downs during the project, but at the end of the day I must say I achieved what I wanted. It was simple things like losing a task or being nominated as the weakest link was a down.
My integrity, competition and principles were tested. I stuck to what I believe in. It was more of a process of being sharpened.
I got to learn a lot like how to work with people, how to hang in there when you feel you can’t take it anymore, but I always remembered why I was there, in fact the best word to use is I learnt how to endure.
What was your most memorable experience during the whole project?
Besides being considered the winner of the project, the most memorable experience was when we were given a task; a road-trip task from Kigali to Kampala. We had only a quarter of the transport and we were very tired from a 2am flight from Mombasa, that morning.
I remember when they where giving us the task, I literally wanted to cry because I thought when we got to Kigali; we were going to rest and then do another task.
Physically we were tired and exhausted because we had done a task the previous night. When we reached Mbarara we had to sell beans and tomatoes. We didn’t know the language so we used sign language in order to sell our products. On reaching Kampala, we made a presentation, like we didn’t go to sleep until we finished everything. This showed me that even when I think I’m about to give up, I still have that little ounce of energy to get to the next step. The beauty of it all is that the three of us in the team won this particular task.
How did you feel when you were crowned the winner of the project?
That night when I went to Serena Hotel, I told myself that Clarisse you have come a long way and faced many challenges in the tasks, so many things have not gone your way but just celebrate and be yourself.
So when we went through the question and answer session, the contestants voted for me and I got the most number of votes and I was the only one nominated to take the 50,000USD at home, I realized that things where changing. I didn’t expect to win since I had not won most tasks.
When the announcement came through that I was the winner, it was just amazing I was super excited and my family as well. I was just thinking how the hard work and all that I had gone through had paid off. I was on cloud nine.
How do you plan on spending the 50,000USD?
I plan in injecting part of the money in Hehe Limited and also invest in other profitable ventures.
What is the way forward for Hehe Limited?
After the Inspire Africa win, many people got to know about Hehe and what we do. People are giving us a lot of stuff to do for them. It has really had a great impact on our company. There are four of us in Hehe Limited and we are all co-founders. However when it comes to working with other people or contractors, we go for the students most, we have had interns come in and part-time employees like an Accountant.
What was your childhood dream and are you living it?
Its funny, my childhood was very silly. I wanted to be an astronaut and live on Pluto and get married to an alien. I don’t know but I think it was too much Television. But later I wanted to become a Bank Manager, I didn’t know why, may be because it’s a prestigious job.
However when I grew older, I fell in love with Science and Technology. When I was sixteen, I really wanted to become a computer scientist. I used to say I want to invent in things like the fastest space ship. I can’t say that I’m living my dream because I’m still on that journey.
Ultimately I would want to build a school where children can feel that everything is possible and their dreams can come true. Basically a school with lots of information, philosophies in rural Rwanda which is how I grew up because it is the dreams that have kept me going and they made all challenges possible for me.
As a young woman what do you think is the greatest challenge that a Rwandan woman faces?
It’s like for some reason we think that most of the things are for the men. People ask why have you done something; as woman how can you do that? It’s some of the stereotypes we have grown up in that we have failed to overcome. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking I’m a girl, so let me go do girlish things. I think it’s because of my background and how I was raised, at home everyone was treated equally as long as you were capable of doing something then you would do it.
I don’t like it when I am told to do something because I’m a girl. We can all do anything if we put our minds to it with out focusing on gender.
What do your parents think of your ventures?
My mum, always right from the start believed in whatever I did. My dad was always like, go to school get good grades and get a secure job. He would say you have to study and you will find a Government job. But now I have my whole family backing me in everything I do.
How do you spend you leisure time?
I read a lot of books, magazines and online material. I love to watch movies and listen to music.
What are your future plans?
I want to focus on growing Hehe Limited in terms of revenues but also having a product that is helping the ordinary Rwandan. I want to further my studies; I’m still trying to figure out what I will do for Masters between software engineering and MBA or anything. I look forward to getting married and having children.
Contact email: Doreen.umutesi[at]newtimes.co.rw