Iribagiza Karungi Clairyce (22), Niyotwagira Jean de la Croix (25), Mujyambere Richard (23), Mugarura Amiri (24) and Diane Ukwishaka (24) at a glance look just like any regular Rwandan university students.
But they are anything but regular. You cannot meet and talk to these third year computer science students of Kigali Institute of Science and Technology and not be excited and inspired.
They have got chutzpah! They are in and they have got passion for business. These five are founders of Hehe Ltd. You’ve probably never heard of this company.
It is new and with some refreshingly new thinking and outlook. It was founded two months ago and is in serious business. Since inception, Hehe Ltd has already made Rwf 2 million net profit. This is a team to watch.
The company develops mobile various mobile applications software that enbles you to add functionalities to your mobile phone. Simply put, they make your mobile useful to you in ways other than making a simple phone call. For example they have an application ‘Surveyful’ that enables you to carry out a survey on your phone by simplifying data collection process which is useful for research.
Instead of carrying endless questionnaires, you input data digitally into your phone and transfer to your computer not only saving time and money but definitely the environment. They also have another application Yoboza (Kinyarwanda for ‘ask directions).
This can help you find your way around Kigali which is very useful for visitors. You enter your current location, sometimes through landmarks and enter your destination and send sms to a number and voila! Directions at your fingertip!
They are in negotiations with the mobile service provider Tigo for this. Naturally, ideas are still in the pipeline. They are partnering with Technology education Centre (TEC) to provide classes and share their ideas with others.
But how do such young people come up with such great ideas? “Simple”, they say, “dream and think big”. They have had these business ideas since they joined KIST three years ago and wanted, as computer students, to implement what they study in class.
They then entered a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sponsored training program under the auspices of the African information technology initiative (AITI) that culminated in a business plan competition where their idea was chosen as feasible and they were encouraged to form a company.
An investor invested in their idea and so here they are. Sounds easy? Well, not really. They had to believe in themselves along the way and avoid pessimism and discouragements along the way.
They set up the company right in the middle of exams with Clairyce as CEO; Jean de la Croix heads software development, Richard as COO, Amiri as Chief Technical Officer and Diane handling the Finances. They learn along the way as they had very little specialized knowledge in all areas of running a company.
The classes have become more relevant, they say, and applicability of what they learn in class improves their performance though they admit that at times balancing school and business is challenging.
Their advice to budding entrepreneurs? Don’t be negative or pessimist, dream! They also feel that the education system should be more ‘hands-on’ and practical as opposed to the cramming and marks. They have a website www.heheltd.com and they are in business!
Sam Kebongo is a skills development and business advisory consultant. He teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College. Comments to: