African Innovation Prize – Two Year Update


Back in March, I wrote a 2- year update on a topic close to my heart – Social Venture Capital for Health – it was nice to see how the world has changed its perceptions on the need to embrace risks in innovations and engage the private sector with pull incentives.  Reflecting today on the summer that has passed, it seems like 2009 and 2011 have a lot in common.

Two years ago in 2009, I travelled to Rwanda for a health project, and on my last day visited the local university in the capital, Kigali – and proposed the idea of a business plan competition for students to apply their “entrepreneurship theory” learned in class to the real world. Two years on in 2011, I travelled to Rwanda with 4 other brilliant folks to run a week-long entrepreneurship training conference called Rwanda Entrepreneurship Week (REW) and to follow up on the business plan competition, and on my last day, visited the same hospital where I volunteered in 2009.

What came about after a simple presentation in a classroom in 2009 – I co-founded a business plan competition along the lines of the famous MIT 100k challenge and Cambridge University Entrepreneurs developed at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) called the African Innovation Prize.

The Africa Innovation Prize has been successfully running for 2 years at KIST with over 100+ student team entries. There have been 6 honourable mention prizes awarded for “Best Idea under 200 words” and 2 grand prize seed awards given for student ventures.

2010: Rwanda Environmental Design and Implementation Limited (REDI) with Mr. Bertin Harerimana and Mr. Jean-Baptiste Dushimiyimana to make a decompostable toilet for rural villages. [side note: Bertin and Jean-Baptiste were students in that first KIST class I presented to in 2009 asking them if they thought business plan competitions were a good idea – It was really nice to see them in person again!]

2011:  HP&A Eden Flowers Ltd by Mr. Patrice Habinshuti and Mrs. Marie Louise Uwimbabazi. The goal of the business is to create a horticultural business. The business will be focused on production and supply of horticultural items (products department) and providing assistance to agricultural cooperatives and farmers in training and advisory programs (services department – and opportunity to hire KIST students!).  The Eden flower project will meet the needs of a growing Kigali city, providing construction and cleaning companies with needed flowers, ornamental plants and trees.

Our team travelled to Rwanda this summer to run Rwanda Entrepreneurship Week – a week long entrepreneurship training and education conference for 150+ Rwandan university students.  It was an experience that was both inspiring and humbling. After nine months of hard work planning for REW: brainstorming, organizing, fundraising, pulling together curriculum and workshop leads, planning logistics – it all came together within this one week July 25-30, 2011.

Prior to getting to Kigali, we had over 200+ students register online for the conference through our facebook and website – but we were not sure how many students were actually going to come on the first day – because we had advertised to universities across the country. And then exactly at noon, they came… students from 5 different educational institutions, some travelling two hours by bus, some rushing from their university across town to get there for our conference… Amazing! I was overwhelmed by their enthusiasm, spirit and eagerness to learn. I was also extremely touched by their gratitude and understanding. And so as the room began to fill, our team tried to source chairs from all over the building to squeeze into the conference room. What we had-thought was a week-long conference for 100 ended up having 150+ students every day!

More details about the student entrepreneurship conference and the program of events can be found on the AIP blog – but what you can’t see neatly laid out on the program is the teamwork demonstrated by Sarah, Alex, Baillie, Jackie, Julia.  We are a diverse team, and we knew that from the beginning, each with a different major at Cambridge, each with different interests, side-rants and passions. However, what united us was this love for entrepreneurship and the belief that if we acted in the spirit of opening opportunities, good karma would follow.  Man, this team knew how to execute: Planning a conference for 150 people in a country 5000 miles away without stepping foot on the ground until 4 days before the start of the conference – Everyone pulled through, Rwanda Entrepreneurship Week 2011 added wood (+skills!) to the already burning fires within entrepreneurial students… wohoo!

REW 2011 @ KIST, Kigali Rwanda- Murakoze!

And a sneak peak into Plans for 2012…

a) Taking African Innovation Prize nationwide across 3 national Universities in Rwanda: Kigali Institute of Science & Technology, National University of Rwanda, School of Finance & Banking

b) Exploring opportunities to establish African InnovationPrize business plan competitions in partnership with universities in Sierra Leone

c) Out of REW 2011 was born a Kigali-based Student Entrepreneurship Club – promotion of year-round Entrepreneurship activities aligned with academic curriculum


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