“Rwanda is a key telecom market with immense growth potential and will strengthen Bharti Airtel’s footprint in East Africa,” said Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman and Managing Director last December (12.28.11, C-P Africa).
The HeHe, Ltd. team are believers, having launched their mobile application business after attending AITI's Kigali bootcamp in 2010. Clarisse Iribagiza and her team (Richard Mujyambere, Amiri Mugarura and Diane Ukwishaka) have been busy: teaching their own mini-AITI class, presenting lessons they’ve learned to students from across Rwanda, and rolling out new applications -- while keeping up with their classes! They just completed coursework in September and graduate from Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) in March, 2012.
Since January 2011, I have been videotaping HeHe and other innovation teams in East Africa, to document their startup adventures. A natural networker, I alerted Clarisse to the Pivot25 conference in Nairobi last June: the team applied and won a place among just 25 slots for pitching their mobile apps in Kenya. It was team member Richard Mujyambere’s first trip out of Rwanda, and jumping into the deep end brought benefits. Last fall he was invited again to Nairobi: to train for three months at iHub’s m:lab incubator there, honing his mobile technology skills.
Before setting off to Nairobi last June, Clarisse presented a talk on teamwork (based on experience as CEO of HeHe, Ltd.) to a nationwide gathering of college students convened by Cambridge University (UK) at an enterprise weekend at KIST.
After launch just 15 months ago, HeHe, Ltd. traveled with five other Rwandan ICT companies to represent Rwanda at the ITU Telecom World 2011 Summit in Geneva. [Three of those teams were born in AITI bootcamps, Clarisse says; she and HeHe team member Amiri were teaching assistants for last July’s class.] The Geneva summit was a vital platform to showcase applications HeHe has developed. While there, Clarisse reports, “Two of our apps caught the eye of Liberia's communications minister,” including a mobile business directory and M-Report Card, a mobile app for accessing university student test results.
The Liberian minister asked HeHe to develop another application offering price and product locations in Liberian food markets. Networking note: Clarisse and Richard of HeHe met the “girl geek” founders of M-Farm in Nairobi at Pivot25 last June. M-Farm’s CTO, Susan Oguya, is also an AITI bootcamp graduate, and they develop farm price apps. The two teams must have cross-pollinated ideas at the Pivot 25 conference!
Despite rough patches during the past year -- technology snafus, losing a team member, juggling college and company demands -- last fall Clarisse started a Do-It-Yourself Incubation Circle in Kigali, with help from a Rwandan leadership team she gathered. Now up to 40 young entrepreneurs meet weekly for peer learning on making technology startups sustainable. A Rwandan ICT agency gives logistical support and plans a formal innovation hub in Rwanda, with help from venture capitalists who are already supporting the group. The DIY incubators even skyped with mentors in New York City in November, for remote learning. From the outset, HeHe has been active in shared learning with peers.
Finally, last fall HeHe began work on a mobile/web project called the Girl Hub. Dubbed Ni Nymapinga (the perfect lady), this media project produces a magazine and a weekly radio show run by young female journalists in training in Rwanda; it’s supported by Nike, which funds The Girl Effect in several countries.
Girl Hub has asked HeHe, Ltd. to design and implement innovative software for interactive public opinion gathering. Girl Hub wants to manage SMS feeback from girls wherever there’s an internet connection, and then respond to girls directly on their mobile phones.
HeHe’s scope and action expand by the month, and the “growth potential” in telecom that Mital predicted for Airtel mentioned above is about far more than revenue. In Rwanda at least, it’s about empowering Rwandan teens, especially girls, in a region where women’s voices are not always heard.
~ Diane Hendrix [Director, YoungWorldInventors.com]
* To see videos documenting the progress of HeHe, Ltd. and two other women owned teams, watch for new stories going up in January on YoungWorldInventors’ YouTube channel. Videos show tips on teamwork troubles, sales strategies, distribution dealers, winning investors and more! More info: dhendrix @mit.edu.