Lack of exposure hurting growth of local innovators, says expert

Lack of exposure to the tech ecosystem is affecting growth of local innovators, according to Louis Muhire, one of the local financial technology entrepreneurs. Muhire said the situation is compounded by lack of entrepreneurship skills.
Co-founder of Traveler, Akah Harvey from Cameroon, one of the continental app developers that participated in the four-day engineers entrepreneurship  training in Kigali last week,....
Co-founder of Traveler, Akah Harvey from Cameroon, one of the continental app developers that participated in the four-day engineers entrepreneurship training in Kigali last week,....

Lack of exposure to the tech ecosystem is affecting growth of local innovators, according to Louis Muhire, one of the local financial technology entrepreneurs. Muhire said the situation is compounded by lack of entrepreneurship skills.

“Some of the local engineering innovators are recreating the wheel, developing things that were created 10-20 years ago, because they don’t know what’s being innovated elsewhere. This has become a huge challenge for us,” he said on the sidelines of a continental entrepreneurship training for African engineers in Kigali last week.

 

The training brought together 16 innovators from the continent to learn how they can advance their ideas. The trainees are all contenders in the ongoing Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, an annual, six-month training and mentorship programme organised by Royal Academy of Engineering.

 

Though the government is trying to establish more initiatives to support innovative youth, Muhire said a lot needs to be done to help young innovators think outside the proverbial box.

 

“The government is trying to create an enabling environment to develop all possible innovations…However great innovations happen when there is structured education in place,” he noted.

Muhire said training and mentorship should be continuous to promote local innovations already in place to make them more impactful.

“Innovative ideas can go far if there are systems to help build them into sustainable solutions. That’s why it is important for engineers to acquire entrepreneurship skills. So, such trainings should be continuous to ensure tech developers become all-round individuals and business suave.”

Many local innovators are currently investing a lot of energy in software applications development, but they also lack entrepreneurship skills which makes it hard to market their innovations or get sponsors.

Elysee Confiance, an electrical engineering student at the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology, said local innovators are limited by lack of adequate laboratory space to “go an extra mile” and create unique innovations.

“Similarly, tech engineers struggle because they have limited resources to develop their ideas,” he says.

Confiance, also a web developer based at K-lab, calls for strengthening of research institutions as well as provision of financial support to creatives for the sector to thrive and become sustainable.

Aimable Kimenyi, the head of Software Developers Association, advised engineers to invest in reading to gain more skills.

“We would be doing a lot more if engineers made an effort to improve their knowledge through reading,” he added.

Kimenyi said there is need for more public awareness to change perception about locally-produced items to support Rwanda’s vibrant and growing innovation ecosystem and enable it to develop critical and locally-sustainable consumer solutions.

Sebastian Scott, the programme officer at Royal Academy of Engineering, said entrepreneurial trainings is essential to empower engineering innovators as most of them lack these critical skills.

“We are encouraging ambitious and talented African engineers from all disciplines to apply their skills to develop scalable solutions to local challenges, and also highlighting the importance of engineering as an enabler of improved quality of life and economic development,” he added.

The engineers training and mentorship programme was organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Meanwhile, after this period of trainings and mentorship, the 16 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation competitors from Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa, Nigeria,Cameroon, and Ghana will pitch their ideas at the final event that will take place in Nairobi on May 23. The winner will pocket £25,000 (about Rwf27.3 million) prize money while runners-up will each get £10,000 (about Rwf13.9 million).

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