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Zim startup Esaja makes it to Rwandan incubator’s accelerator program

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Clinton Mutambo Esaja

A few weeks ago,we wrote about Clinton Mutambo, a Zimbabwean tech startup entrepreneur who had made it to the Forbes Africa 30 under 30 list because of the work he’s doing with his B2B platform Esaja.com

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Now Esaja has been selected as one of four African tech startups to be co-opted into the think Accelerated Program. think is an incubator based in Kigali Rwanda and it offers programs for talented tech entrepreneurs, particularly from digital companies. It is powered by Millicom, a Scandinavian telecoms operator with extensive interest in global markets including parts of Africa. It operates as Tigo.

Traditionally think offers this as a 6 month program, but it has now introduced the Accelerated program as a more intensive 3 month course which will be targeted at entrepreneurs keen on a quick return to their home countries.

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Esaja joins Asuqu from Nigeria (an online market for freelance services), SafeMotos from Rwanda (an “Uber” style service for motor taxis in Rwanda) and Team Tigo (a cohort of staff from the Rwandan mobile network operator Tigo. These are “intrapreneurs” from the MNO’s commercial, marketing and IT departments) Tigo’s involvement in this program stems from the investment it has made to the incubator.

Through initiatives like the think incubator a strong trend towards mobile network operators’ investment in tech startup ecosystems is becoming even more apparent.

In 2014 not only was think launched, but there was Orange’s launch of an incubator in Niger. MTN pledged $400 million towards a partnership with Millicom and Rocket Internet which led to the formation of African Internet Holdings (AIH). This is the vehicle which has been powering into African countries with different clone startups and it’s even shown up in Zimbabwe through startups like Lamudi and plans for Carmudi.

Kenya’s Safaricom set up a venture fund and has even started co-opting startup solutions onto its network while Nigeria’s Airtel also launched its Catapult-a-Startup platform.

Perhaps what we’ve seen with efforts like Econet’s ties with Muzinda Hub, or Telecel’s sniffing around the startup ecosystem are the local equivalent of trying to understand this opportunity?

These are signs of steps being taken to prepare for the next wave in telecoms and internet opportunities. It’s no longer just a discussion on infrastructure roll-out but how this will be harnessed profitably. These startups represent the enterprises which will take advantage of the broadband investment to provide services that will generate the revenue streams of the future.


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2 thoughts on “Zim startup Esaja makes it to Rwandan incubator’s accelerator program

  1. Hahaha what an interesting picture choice Nigel – I guess it highlights the “network wars” that’ll be taking place over the next 5-10 years. Some networks around Africa get it and are willing to build bridges, others are stubbornly resisting change and seem keen to replace the fixed line operators. I feel this way because in internet economics, it’s not an empire game where the deepest pockets win – it’s about ecosystems and building/unlocking shared value (my opinion). We’ve had really senior Millicom folk visit in the last couple of days, it’s insane as more are coming through (Not just from Rwanda but even from London HQ). I have deep respect for the dynamism this great group is displaying. I feel that Zimbabwe’s ecosystem hasn’t matured to this stage yet. On paper it has better fundamentals, in reality there’s a really vicious and short sighted culture that seems to exist. This is my opinion, you could have a different view.

    We’ve only been here for 11 days but I’m impressed by the commitment the Rwandan Government, Millicom & those in the ecosystem have to build the future. Rwanda has a GDP less than Zimbabwe’s, is landlocked and has a similar population size. It’s come from a far more difficult backdrop, making their achievements over the last few years simply remarkable. We’re encouraged by the commitment everyone from the Rwanda Development Board to private sector players like Millicom/Tigo have. They’re an example to practically every other nation in Africa. Data like the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings or the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness ratings speaks volumes of Rwanda’s amazing rise. To see it in action is a great privilege. Technology ecosystems don’t operate in bubbles but real nations. Allow me to share two examples:

    1. Registering Esaja East Africa as a company was done online – as someone who hates filling out forms, I was pleasantly surprised by how pragmatic the process was. Other national services are obtained by applying online, creating a verifiable trail.

    2. To say Kigali is clean & efficient is a total understatement. People don’t throw litter around here. Even the “mshika-shika” equivalent scoots around with spare helmets for passengers (most nations outside the more developed Zim & Southern African block use bikes). This is standard. Actually they’re no “mshika-shika” but actual cooperatives whose level of organisation and accountability is impressive. Such order and efficiency doesn’t exist in Harare and even Lagos, Nairobi or Johannesburg. There’s something remarkable happening here.

    In success or failure, we’re committed to make a contribution to the development of Africa. This is something I greatly believe in. Back to work now 🙂

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