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Japan International Cooperation Agency partners with Ugandan companies to fund local Startups through NINJA Accelerator Program


Japan International Cooperation Agency partners with Ugandan companies to fund local Startups through NINJA Accelerator Program

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in partnership with Innovation Village, Hive Collab and Outbox have Friday launched the NINJA Accelerator Uganda program, to support high growth stage startups earning revenue of approximately $50,000 or above and are ready for the next level of growth. 

The program will run for three months and companies are already applying. Applications are currently open for high growth stage start-ups since July 30th till August 22. The five startups who qualify for the NINJA Accelerator Uganda will be given up to US$18,000 proof of concept funding. 

Uganda is ranked one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.  Statistics show 30 percent of Ugandans have started businesses. In the United States of America and Japan, that figure stands at 7 per cent and 11 per cent respectively.

However, many Ugandan startups do not make it to the growth stage because of limited investment opportunities, relevant skills-set gap, stiff competition and absence of incentives such as tax breaks that would otherwise support startup growth. 

Insufficient financial resources, little or no innovation, and unawareness of business principles, are some of the reasons why many Ugandan startups fail to celebrate their first birthday.

Mr. Uchiyama Takayukiv, the Chief Representative JICA Uganda said during the launch, that the NINJA Accelerator Uganda Program will address some of the key challenges to support and strengthen Uganda’s Start-up ecosystem.

“These will include: providing investment opportunities, shaping their business models and value proposition to gain market traction and finding unique solutions using technology to address Ugandan challenges. This in the long run will grow, shape and transform Uganda’s start-up ecosystem” he noted.

He explained that in February this year, JICA launched a project dubbed the “Survey on Start-ups Ecosystem Strengthening in Republic of Uganda” to understand the common barriers to growth for startups and find out how JICA can support them based on the key findings. 

After interviewing over 10 start-up hubs and over 20 start-ups in Uganda, the JICA Task Force (JICA TF) found key challenges facing the growth of the Ugandan start-up ecosystem.

The results from the survey indicated; inadequate accelerator program, unfavorable government policies, insufficient financial resources, NGO and “Grantpreneurship mindset, unattractive environment for investor, complacency of startups and poor quality of business ideas. These are some of the reasons why Ugandan startups fail to grow into sustainable and impactful businesses.

Based on these findings, the JICA TF sought partnership with Ugandan start-up hubs to run a three-month pilot Accelerator Program (AP) to prove the hypotheses drawn from these findings and propose ways to address these key challenges for JICA’s future long-term support of Uganda’s start-up ecosystem.

The keynote speaker, Mr Collin Babirukamu the Director E-government Services NITA- Uganda, noted that there is a lot of talent in Uganda and that if the young generation can do anything.

“I want to say to young people in Uganda, that all things are possible. Please go for the NINJA Accelerator Uganda program” Babirukamu said.

For one to apply, they should be a registered startup in Uganda, should be at a high growth-stage of development earning approximately $50,000 in revenue and above and ideas will not be accepted.

They must have been in operation for at least one year, must have an economically viable business model, should be able to demonstrate a strong promise of building a sustainable and impactful business and should have a diverse and focused leadership team with at least one team member with strong sector expertise.

Winners will receive advisory services from Rakuten, Japanese biggest e-commerce firm, receive business support which includes feedback on the product and a better understanding of sector issues.

They will also receive up to US$18,000 proof of concept funding, mentorship sessions from a strong network of mentors who will provide advice on topics such as; marketing, scaling, legal issues, business strategy, and pitching to partners, exposure to corporate partners (and vice versa) through networking events, partnership opportunities from Japan investment and consulting firms and funding opportunities for high growth-stage startups looking to raise 0.5 – 1 million dollars in investment. 

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