Success of Greenpreneurs in Uganda: A tenure of transcendence!

The Greenpreneurs program is a joint initiative by the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), Student Energy and the Youth Climate Lab. Through the 12-week global business accelerator and competition, the program identifies and recognizes the efforts of young persons from developing and emerging economies, that are leading positive change that impacts their communities in the field of -for example- sustainable energy; water and sanitation; sustainable landscapes; and green city development.

Initiated in 2018, the entrepreneurship program has received applications from more than 40 countries, the number of applications steadily increasing each year. Consequently, it has awarded 10 novel ideas from different youth teams worldwide since its inception. What has become peculiar about the competition is the consistence of Ugandan teams applying for the program, being part of the semi-finalists and ultimately being awarded each year – now three times in a row. In the recently concluded Greenpreneurs final competition 2020 which took place online instead of in GGGI’s headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, the Director General of the GGGI recounts that, “It has always been difficult for the jury not to award at least a team from Uganda”.

Keen to establish the secret behind the trail of success in the competition and beyond, former GreenPreneur semi-finalist and current GGGI Intern in Uganda, has executed a deep-dive into the program and interacted with all Ugandan program alumni and undertaken a survey to garner information from them.

Of the 40 semi-finalist that made it into the Greenpreneur program (of which 5 were Uganda based), 11 were awarded as finalist (there is no ranking), and three of those are Uganda based enterprises, with a strong focus on sustainable energy, followed by green cities, sustainable landscapes and water and sanitation respectively.

The road to success of Greenpreneurs in Uganda started with Brian Kakembo Galabuzi, the CEO of Weye Energy Uganda Limited, one of the winners of the first competition in 2018. Weye Energy is a green enterprise that ventures into institutional use of Waste to Energy technologies with an innovative business model that leverages a contractual relationship between the customer and the enterprise. The enterprise provides a free institutional briquette stove to the potential customer in exchange for a 3-year contract to supply briquettes. Brian specifically noted that the Greenpreneur program, and its comprehensive business skill training along other technical trainings, has supported him to strengthen and grow his company and has also supported him to obtain other (international) recognitions and awards each coming with its own benefits and support to Weye Energy. “With the funds received from the program, we were able to build four additional cook stoves in two schools, doubled our production capacity and sales increased by 30%.”  Prior to the award, he could only reach 200 people but the seed award has enabled him establish a training center, reached more than 800 women and young people, 600 of which are now earning income from briquette making and waste recycling. As such, he has reduced pressure on forest ecosystem, saving an estimated 1080 trees annually and mitigated climate change. Among other awards, Brian won the Commonwealth Young Person of the Year 2020, the Africa Energy Innovation award and has been recently shortlisted for the Uganda Green Enterprise Finance Accelerator. Weye Energy mainly attributed both their success and that of other Greenpreneurs in the competition to the supportive GGGI country office, persistence and commitment of the participants.

The competitive and winning spirit was carried on to Kimuli Fashionability and the Divine Bamboo Group who emerged as semi-finalist among the 15 companies that made it to the semi-finals in 2019. Coincidently, all 2019 award winners were women-led enterprises and Uganda was represented by Juliet Namujju, CEO of Kimuli Fashionability. This enterprise transforms plastic waste into an inclusive eco-fashion label, through turning polythene into sustainable waterproofing garments and accessories, providing employment to persons with disabilities and youth. “The robust business training and later the award were a turning point to our company” explains the enthusiastic Juliet. She used the prize money to organize the first ever inclusive and sustainable regional fashion show to increase awareness about the potential of waste to fashion and to purchase more sewing machines. This exposure has led to the signing of supply contracts with 7 international fashion houses thus triggering the upcycling of 50 tons of plastic waste into garments and accessories in just one year.  Consequently, 80 more disabled tailors have been directed employed, 120 youth trained and employed as waste collectors and, the direct stress on the environment has been greatly reduced. She acknowledges that as a result of the skills and mentorship acquired, her innovation of an inclusive mask won the AdamStart COVID-19 Challenge Award, an initiative to recognize youth with outstanding ideas to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Juliet and her co-founders also received recognition as the best communication and creative industry from Uganda, Courtesy of the Kampala Innovation week 2020 and have been shortlisted for the Uganda Green Enterprise Finance Accelerator. Juliet Namujju attributes their triumph to an inclusive business model with a unique value preposition to change mindsets and view waste as fashion as opposed to garbage. She also thinks their success as a team has been due to support by the GGGI Country team, team spirit and hard work.

Not even the Covid-19 outbreak and its devastating impacts on youth-led enterprises could stop Ugandan young social entrepreneurs from putting forth exceptional ideas that sustainably address social and environmental challenges. Uganda continued to soar even in the 2020 Greenpreneurs virtual program with two teams shortlisted among the 15 semi-finalists. By 2020, the Greenpreneurs have formed their own support system within Uganda with a Greenpreneurs Whatsapp group and Alumni “events” through which knowledge is shared, challenges are discussed, and other future opportunities are shared. Two senior staff of GGGI Uganda are included in these conversations for continued mentoring and support.

Both Zonku Technology and Peec Energy Limited were the enterprises that made it to the final 15 teams in 2020 from which six enterprises were selected to compete in the final virtual pitch following a rigorous business plan assessment. Zonku Technology is a household and restaurant focused application that triggers waste (plastic) collection through collection onsite and the identification of nearby collection points while also actively creating awareness about issues like waste separation, climate change and other relevant issues. Daniel Obua Ocari, from Zonku Technology felt some serious pressure as a 2020 contestant in the Greenpreneur program. “To have Uganda win this award every year since the advent of the program has been an opportunity for us to directly hear and learn from the horse’s mouth, but it has also created pressure for us to follow in their footsteps” Daniel from Zonku Technology emphasized.

His fellow contestant from PEEC Energy, Phillip Kyeswa also felt this pressure, saying, “the challenge ahead of us was enormous having learnt about our predecessors’ success”. However, PEEC Energy and its team managed to take home the gold for the third year in a row. PEEC is a social enterprise that does remote monitoring and metering systems for pay-as-you-go solar home systems (SHS) and mini grids. “The content and design of this program was well thought out!”. He explains that they managed to win because their solution is remote technology that is affordable, with a low carbon footprint. The company has also continued to expand their innovation beyond solar, providing remote monitoring and control to biogas systems, enhancing predictive system maintenance, reducing the risk of spread of Covid-19 and creating more green jobs especially for the youth.  Peec energy is looking forward to using the prize money to increase the full-scale manufacturing of remote monitoring hardware. Therefore, they hope to create at least 100 direct jobs by employing engineers, field technicians, accountants as well as interns in the next 5 years .Phil owes their success to a strong network of Greenpreneurs and the GGGI country office, which is always happy to share opportunities and render support throughout the year, even when the program is not running.

In a conversation with the GGGI Uganda Country Representative Dagmar Zwebe she acknowledges the strong business models of all 5 shortlisted Ugandan semi-finalist over the past 3 years. “Engaging with these young entrepreneurs has been super motivating. Their innovative minds, hardworking spirit, and their commitment and willingness to make change, to ensure future generations have the same opportunities as they had, is just mind goggling. Every single one of the semi-finalists has come to the program with a great idea or even an already fully functioning business.” Furthermore, she indicated that the Greenpreneurs program supports the young entrepreneurs to think bigger, strong and more sustainable. She sees it as the role of GGGI Uganda -besides providing mentorship- to open doors, as most young entrepreneurs have a limited network, for the companies as well as the brilliant individuals to grow and reach the desired impact.

In a nutshell, the success of young entrepreneurs in Uganda in the Greenpreneurs program and beyond is phenomenal and epitomizes the ingenuity and potential young people have to advance green growth through interventions that are inclusive, resource efficient, low carbon and that create green jobs. Even though there might not be a golden bullet for success, a strong business model touching upon all elements of green growth, a strong mind-set, a healthy balance between technical and business skills and a strong network have helped the entrepreneurs in Uganda a lot.

Surprisingly, all program alumni dissent to the fallacy that, Ugandans are more entrepreneurial than other young people. They believe that the looming youth unemployment in Uganda has been a challenge but on the flip side, an enabling environment that has stimulated innovation and entrepreneurship. The flexibility of the regulatory environment has also enabled them to operate, especially in the initial phases when they are short of finances to formalize their businesses.

Asked about how they intend to maintain the winning mentality, the Greenpreneurs alumni unanimously said, “We win as a country, to win as a team”. As such, they appealed to prospective Greenpreneurs to cultivate this spirit if they are to maintain the tenure of success.

You can find more information on the Greenpreneurs program, its nominees and winners here: Interesting in applying? Keep on following our social media as the 2021 announcement is expected in just a couple of months.