Local tech start-up sub-sector has been earmarked as an opportunity for the country to solve unemployment challenges, especially among the youth, as well as drive the entrepreneurial culture.
With a steady supply of tech graduates from local and international higher learning institutions, it remains unclear why few local tech ventures are debuting into the market.
The sub-sector continues to be dogged by challenges that have held back their growth.
Over the last few years, only a handful of firms have moved from concepts and ideas to launch products and services in the local market.
This is despite the investments by the government and other stakeholders in internet access and incubation hubs such as k-Lab meant to provide a footing for emerging entrepreneurs and developers.
Among the firms that have successfully managed to graduate include SafeMotos, AC Group (Tap&Go cards) and Mergims, among others.
Stakeholders in the sector agree that the sector bears opportunities that are yet to be tapped or explored sufficiently.
Among the biggest causes of downfall for players, experts say, is lack of adequate research to inform the development of solutions and products.
Despite having the right skills to develop a range of tech-solutions, a number of players often fail to factor in research to understand the operations of the various sectors they would like to develop solutions to.
Abdoul Ruhumuriza, who last week launched an application, Hello Kigali (www.hellokigali.com) into the market, a discovery guide for restaurants, cafes, WiFi hotspots, among others, said lack of quality research about the market has affected growth for many emerging developers.
He said, often, most developers share their ideas with their friends and go ahead to launch it without much research.
Sharing his experience, Ruhumuriza said the greatest tasks prior to developing and launching his product was research to learn his market and potential clients.
“Most of them (developers) do not do good research, you can tell that by the number of solutions or applications that become real in Kigali. Often, someone shares the ideas with their friends seeking approval and go ahead to build solutions,” Ruhumuriza explained.
For instance, it is common to find a tech entrepreneur developing a solution to monitor the distribution patterns of supplies without taking time to study the distribution networks and systems of the said firm.
Despite the availability of skills in the local market, most local firms, non-governmental organisations and public agencies prefer to import software products rather than use local developers.
This, experts say, is largely due to the lack of exposure of local developers as they fall short in length of portfolios of products and services compared to their peers.
“Local developers do not have good portfolios to pitch to clients to convince them that they can handle tasks. In the software development industry, one needs to have a prototype. The problem is that there are lots of opportunities but few have the portfolio to get some of the opportunities,” Ruhumuriza added.
Other developers are often derailed from their entrepreneurial goals by lucrative jobs as most firms and agencies move to take up ICT.
Being a nascent industry that bears multiple opportunities for players, some developers say that their peers fail to develop their enterprises due to lack of focus on a specific area to build expertise.
Other developers say exiting agencies and industry are often hesitant to take up the tech solutions presented largely due to limited understanding of how the solutions work or afraid of disruption in their modes of operations.
Preference for foreign software
Richard Muragijimana, who recently launched a cloud file storage solution that supports websites, YegoBox (www.yegobox.com), told The New Times that most local firms tend to prefer software and solution developed outside the country as opposed to within the country.
“That is a challenge that we often have, most companies do not trust software from Rwanda and they tend to get them from outside the country. It is, however, understandable because we have few local firms that have proven themselves,” Muragijimana said.
He said this gap can be bridged by giving priority to local tech firms before going outside the country to source for solutions.
ICT support staff in the country confirmed that most of the software and solutions used in the country by public agencies and most local firms are often reputable international firms.
To help bridge gaps and realise more solutions, Rob Rickard, founded RWBuild, a local incubator programme that enables emerging software developers launch their products in less than three months. He explained that, often, the lacking element has been process to move from concepts or ideas to products.
“Some of them require a process for them to follow for them to be able to launch their software products. The process is so key or otherwise they would get lost while at it,” Rickard said.
He said that, over time, the skills set among most of the local developers is improving but there is need to incorporate purposeful mentorship.
Noella Ishimwe Gakuba and Michelle Nigihozo run an e-Commerce platform, www.ifeza.rw, which enables clients send flowers and gifts within and beyond the country.
They have been able to build an ecosystem with a potential to create multiple jobs along the value chain (from flower farmers to delivery staff) without a bank loan.
This debunks the popular line of thought that emerging tech startups often fail due to access of capital challenges.
Nigihozo said that often access to capital is rarely a challenge for emerging firms as long as one has a solid concept and business plan.
She said that often, for firms to start up, there is not much requirement.
Stakeholders agree that progress could be attained further by boosting mentorship and support skills which could see more emerging tech firms join the market.