For a toddler to walk, it must first crawl, which is a confidence-building process. Such a process is also what makes a great entrepreneur; you experiement on something repeatedly and eventually perfect it and are ready to hit the market. Ever the good student, Lilian Uwintwali grew her ICT business from the ‘off-beat’ experiments of her class work. Uwintwali told Business Times’ Peterson Tumwebaze how what started as curious experiments have sprouted into over a dozen million francs enterprise.
It has always been said that making use of the resources at one’s disposal is the best route to achieving their dreams. This fact is supported by living examples of Facebook, WhatsApp and Microsoft whose founders used their skills to build firms that have rocked the world.
This is what inspired Lillian Uwintwali, a 25-year-old graduate of the then Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (College of Science and Technology) and friends to start a communication and information technology (ICT) firm three years ago.
As a student, Uwintwali experimented a lot with the ICT knowledge she got from class. The experiments, what her peers used to call ‘waste of time’ were later to materialise into a business opportunity.
“I had all along admired companies like Facebook and Microsoft, especially the way they were able to provide solutions to ease communication across the globe through computer software. This greatly inspired me to follow in their footsteps,” she says.
With the skills from KIST, Uwintawali used her mini-computer to start M- AHWIII LTD , an ICT firm that specialises in mobile and data applications.
“With some of my friends, we set out ‘walk the talk’ and were lucky that friends and relatives who believed in our dream contributed money that enabled us to kick start the enterprise,” says Uwintwali.
More people were later to contribute cash which helped Kimironko-based firm get more grounded.
Right from the start, Uwantwali knew that they were venturing into a business segment laden with immense opportunities, thanks to the growing penetration rate of mobile phones.
“This, coupled with the fact that the government was promoting the use of ICTs in every sector, convinced us that if we worked hard and were innovative, we would make it,” she says.
Uwintwali says M- AHWIII LTD’s main focus is to provide solutions and systems to help people access information on markets, energy and education using their mobile phones, and at affordable rates.
“In the energy sector, for instance, we wanted to develop a system that would enable people pay energy bills in using their phones. This idea was a great hit, selling like the proverbial ‘hot cake’ because of the current market need,” she explains.
Uwintwali’s first client was the least expected – Rwanda Military Hospital.
“Though we were not sure about the App (application), we surprised ourselves when we explained how it would add value to what the hospital was already offering – making it possible for patients to access their medical information on their mobile phones without necessarily visiting the hospital. That did it and we were offered a deal.
“This was everything for us as it gave that important reference we needed,” Uwintwali notes. And as the old cliché says, the rest is history.
The past three years have been of innovation, persistence, hard work, networking and refining work processes for the M- AHWIII LTD team, all of which are paying off. The company was able to make over Rwf12m in profits last year alone, they have won ICT awards such as the Broadband Commission Award 2012. Presently, M- AHWIII LTD also offers ICT solutions for the agriculture and education sectors.
The firm has also gotten a lot of good will and support from sector players and clients, which is a big plus for a start-up.
Uwintwali says the biggest challenge is “Doubting Thomases”. “Whenever you try to bring something new on board, people are always doubtful about the concept. Also, some company managers, where you are selling the apps don’t understand them; they think about them as sort of hardware and not software, which is a facilitator and not at the core of business. She says one has to invest a lot of money into a project before they can win trust of banks.
Uwintwali is upbeat though her company will in the near future extendM- AHWIII LTD’s reach to serve regional and global ICT sector’s needs, challenges notwithstanding.
Uwintwali says young people need to understand that one has to invest a lot of energy, resources, time and make sacrifices before they can reap returns.
“Also, a lot of exposure is essential as it plays a positive role as far as sustainability of any enterprise is concerned."
“Show how your services can help clients improve their business operations, cut costs and or strengthen their growth strategy. You also have got to do a lot of marketing and be innovative to survive in the market,” she counsels.
Uwintwali notes that it is always important for an entrepreneur to know market needs, and try and satisfy them in the best and cost-effective way. She calls on leaders to trust the youth and stop seeing them as a risky group. Establishing a seed fund for innovative youth will reduce dependency and poverty among the youth, Uwintwali adds.
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