December 11, will always be a story to tell in the life of now-pioneer winner of Hanga Pitch fest startup competition, Diane Cyuzuzo. Cyuzuzo, the Chief Executive of Afriduino, won $50,000 after presenting the best pitch in the just concluded Hanga Pitchfest. She was the only female in a contest involving four other finalists. Among other things, being awarded by President Paul Kagame, and attracting a standing ovation from the crowd at the Kigali Arena are the highlights of her journey. President Kagame speaks to Diane Cyuzuzo ,the overall winner of Hanga Pitchfest on December 11. Photo by Village Urugwiro Cyuzuzo says she picked some valuable lessons from the pitch contest which she thinks can inspire her and colleagues to contribute to the country’s development. “I was also inspired by my friends whom I contested against, really together we can contribute to our country’s development through our different innovations,” she stated. The second runner up, Leandre Berwa scooped $20,000, followed by Norman Mugisha who won $15,000 and Yusouff Ntwali as well as Angelos Igitego who were each awarded with a cash prize of $12,500. The New Times spoke to the young innovators, who shared their plans going forward. “It is not possible for all of us to be awarded with the grand prize, but at least we know that our solution has proved that it has an impact,” said Mugisha. Mugisha founded Afri-farmers market, an e-commerce platform that was created to help local and smallholder farmers access markets for their produce. Berwa, the second runner up in the competition shared similar sentiments, saying it was exciting to sell his idea to a wide audience. “Obviously we had our eyes on the first prize but the second prize was also amazing. This is also like a kick in the back, we have to speed up our solution and get it to the market, and among all the solutions we actually are the ones who didn’t have much traction.” Berwa, who currently builds energy storage solutions from batteries repurposed from electric motorcycles or sewage from the e-waste, says his project is very research based. “We actually spend a lot of time on research and everything, having these funds will help us put something out there to our customers.” Looking at the support and opportunities entrepreneurs can capitalise on, Berwa is convinced that more effort should be put in working together other than competing. Alternative funding “We all wanted the big prize, we couldn’t get it, I do believe that they had a very compelling pitch, I definitely understand why she would get the prize,” highlighted Ntwali. Ntwali is planning to use the $12,500 cash prize to continue developing and tweaking the product. “And also find other ways of funding. That is speaking to different investors which I am already doing,” he says. The 21-year-old says that Hanga Pitchfest was a huge campaign which he said, “Was not there in the early days when we began. These kind of opportunities are really helpful for us.” For Igitego, the six-week journey and awards has been a vote of confidence in the country’s innovation space. “The fact that I was among the top five, it was a boost of confidence showing that I am doing something very valuable for the country.” Much as it is a boost of energy, Igitego said that the accolade also leaves ‘me and my friends’ with a task of working harder to be able to achieve the dreams we have. “The platform gave me a spotlight, and already we are seeing people interested in us. I am going to inject this money on capital expenditure that means I am going to buy equipment for my company.” Mind blowing pitches Alice Nkulikiyinka, who was among the five judges, told The New Times that “for the five pitches we have seen today, it was mind blowing.” Particularly, she was surprised by the high-quality of the pitches, the way entrepreneurs have learnt to pitch their businesses but also the choice of the solutions they are providing. Nkulikiyinka said that young people are tackling major issues around the environment, nutrition, while investing all the energy and funds to be part of a wider solution. “That was very pleasant to see, it confirmed again that Rwanda, as a country, we have a lot of potential within our youth,” she added. Nkulikiyinka who is also the Managing Director of the Business Professional Network (BPN) pointed out that the top three winners will be part of the organization for two years. “We will be helping them fine tune their business ideas, making it more marketable, we will tackle issues like intellectual property because some of them have got great creations but they have not protected them,” she asserted. Launched last month, Hanga Pitchfest is an annual competition that aims to provide a platform to showcase tech-entrepreneurs and creative talent from all over the country. It is organized by the Ministry of ICT and Innovation and Rwanda Development Board. This year, 400 applicants competed for a share of the $100,000 and they went through different stages up to the final five who competed for the top prize.