A team of undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Cambridge are working with 100 students at the Kigali Institute for Science and Technology (KIST), and a host of leading Rwandan entrepreneurs, to create a week-long conference, Rwanda Entrepreneurship Week, aimed at helping to lift the country out of poverty. They are supported by Brussels Airlines and Staples.
The kernel of the idea was formed through PhD student and Gates scholar Julia Fan Li’s experience of entrepreneurship in both Cambridge and Rwanda. “In Cambridge we have so many resources to support students interested in enterprise. When I worked in Rwanda in 2009, I couldn’t help noticing that despite the entrepreneurial spirit of all the students I met, there was an absence of structured support for them to learn and apply their skills outside the classroom.”
After a meeting with the prestigious KIST university in Rwanda, the African Innovation Prize was born: the first business planning competition for students in Rwanda who wanted to set up their own enterprises.
In its inaugural year the prize seed-funded a student initiative, Rwanda Environmental Design Ltd, that created a decompostable toilet; and in its second year, phase 1 business plan winners have shown equal creativity, with paper, light bulb and solar businesses all winning prizes.
However, a key need was identified through running the business planning competition: an absence of hard and soft skills training in entrepreneurship for students new to the idea of enterprise.
Entrepreneurship and innovation created much of the wealth and growth that we see in the UK today. We hope that our initiative can contribute to the same bedrock of wealth creation for Rwanda.
“Rwanda Entrepreneurship Week was a natural extension of our work with the African Innovation Prize”, says Sarah Teacher, a Development Studies MPhil at Cambridge. “Through training Rwandan university students in the hard and soft skills of entrepreneurship we know we can inspire and support them to develop business in Rwanda.”
Led by established Rwandan entrepreneurs and organised by the Cambridge team, the week, which runs from July 25 to 30, will enable students at KIST and other Rwandan universities to engage in product development, understand different business models, learn how to analyse a market, network, measure performance and fund their initiatives.
“We fly out there with Brussels Airlines in July and can’t wait to meet the students who have shown so much enthusiasm for business creation,” says Sarah. “We’ve had such a fantastic response from contacts in Rwanda and Cambridge: the Rwandan High Commission has helped us tap into Rwanda’s lively entrepreneurial sector and both Staples and Brussels Airlines have given us fantastic in-kind support for our work. We know that we are putting their contributions to great use: entrepreneurship and innovation created much of the wealth and growth that we see in the UK today and we hope that our initiative can contribute to the same bedrock of wealth creation for Rwanda.”