They represent Rwanda’s bold attempts at being named as an ICT hub of the region.
The fact that they are final year ICT students churning out latest mobile phone applications, taking head on, established players in the industry and collaborating with major players, regionally and internationally, in the field of mobile phone applications development while juggling books as students at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology(KIST), puts them in a class of their own.
Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah of The New Times talked to the five students led by Clarisse Iribagiza Karungi. The group of 5 have incorporated a start up company known as Hehe Ltd that is curving out a niche within the mobile phone local applications in Rwanda.
How did Hehe Ltd start off?
Hehe Ltd was founded by a group of five computer engineering and information technology students from Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST).
We formed Hehe Ltd after winning a competition that was being organized by Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( MIT) and African Information Technology Initiative(AITI).Our entry for the competition was based on developing mobile application programmes. We came out third best.
When was that?
July of last year.
How did the idea of having Hehe Ltd as a company come up?
Hehe Ltd came into being through a business plancompetition that we participated in as I had mentioned. The natural thing to do once we won was to incorporate a company. I must point out that prior to that we had always had a couple of ideas but when we won we went straight into forming a company.
So why are you being located at Telecom House?
We are working with the national ICT scale up programme otherwise known with its acronym NICI .
Whereby we have created a website that imbeds most of the applications that we had created before. In that we are working closely with NICI secretariat whereby the site we have created can be used via a mobile phone to post comments and carry out surveys on NICI plans.
When did you create this site?
We have been working with NICI team since December last year.
What else are you doing?
We are working closely with Rwandatel to develop various applications.
What kind of applications are you developing for Rwandatel and what is the status of such applications?
For instance we have a quiz application that is already developed.
In this application one can register for a quiz and after registration one can gets random questions with a chance of winning courtesy of Rwandatel.
It is an automated system that sends random questions to the user. That way the application adds local content to what Rwandatel offers as a telecoms company.
So how many applications have you developed so far?
We have developed about nine applications. However, I must say that it depends on who the client is.
We partner with clients based on different settings. We could go into partnership based purely in revenue sharing for instance. However, the main element is to guard our intellectual property.
How does that revenue sharing element work?
We sit on a round table and decide on what the client brings and what we bring and we hammer out an agreement for sharing revenues.
How about other companies-may be international or regional companies you are working with?
We have worked with an American company known as e-consulting .
I would not wish to get into the precise details of the work as it will jeopardize client confidentiality. Other projects includes working with various ministries to provide them with data collection mechanisms as a form of work in progress.
Another area that we are into, includes mobile applications development training. In this we are working with AITI to rollout packages including AITI extended programmes for students without particularly going through the competitive process.
It means that you train your fellow students?
Yes. That is what it means. I must add that we have just completed a three month programme with 11 students.
Have you looked at competition as this world of applications is very competitive?
We have looked at competition. For instance I must say that Kenya is doing well in that respect. We follow the developments closely. However, for us at Hehe Ltd, our unique attribute is focusing on local content development.
Locally would it be wrong to assume that you do not have competition?
I cannot really say that we do not have competition. That said, I must add that other providers are taking a slightly different angle from ours. For instance we are currently developing smart phone applications something that is new locally.
Let us talk about collaborations which are very important in your industry. What is Hehe Ltd doing in that regard?
Our greatest collaboration is with AITI.
We have partnered with one of the founders of AITI Martin Mbaya who is seating on our board of directors. Martin is also very instrumental in keeping us updated on what is going on in the industry which is very important.
How do you foresee Hehe Ltd in 5 year’s time?
Our aim is to be information giants locally and regionally. We want to provide ordinary people with relevant information. We are looking at all sorts of information and related services that they may need.
That means that you want to be content providers of choice. If so why curve out such a niche?
We are living in the information age. Rwandans are becoming hungry and hungrier for information and that prompts us to position ourselves within the information industry.
We also want to simplify people’s lives as we want people to use phones more optimally as a life enhancing tool.
How about competitions that you have participated in, after incorporating Hehe Ltd?
We have participated in a couple of competitions. For instance we took part in the World Bank’s applications for development competitions that is still under judgement process. That was in early January this year.
In that we developed a data mining application which a mobile phone can be used to access information.
Before we conclude, you have not talked about the yellow pages project that Rwandatel is saying that Hehe Ltd has developed.
The application has been developed and it is running. It is called “Niyoboza” or can be loosely be translated to mean “Find your way’’.
We are using the readily available resources such as the Rwandatel directory as a data base. With a smart phone you can access the map for Rwanda where you can pin point with accuracy any location.
Is this Niyoboza thing running?
Yes. From our website. What we have done is to customize google maps for the case of Rwanda to make it work locally. What is left is all about how we finalize our agreement with Rwandatel.
That is quite big not in terms of money but in terms of putting Rwanda out there in the digital world.
This application will cut transport costs by enabling users to move around efficiently.
What is your last comment?
Hehe Ltd is here to transform the way one uses his or her mobile phone as a way of enhancing one’s lifestyle. For instance we have a mobile news application whereby from the comfort of one’s phone you can get the latest news from Rwanda.
We are able to retrieve content from media companies such as The New Times and this can be sent to any mobile phone user who has subscribed to this service, in what ever category be it business or leisure.
Rwandatel will have final say on how this application will run. It is not a smart phone application meaning that more Rwandans will be able to enjoy using it. It is SMS based. We are just simplifying people’s lives.