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UNICEF and Airtel host the first “Pitch Night” event, inspiring innovation and entrepreneurship among Rwanda’s youth

UNICEF Rwanda/2017/Rusanganwa
© UNICEF Rwanda/2017/Rusanganwa
Rosette and David of “My Green Home” stand with representatives of UNICEF, Airtel and MYICT to accept their $5,000 prize.

By Veronica Houser

Kigali, 19 May 2017 – For seven young entrepreneurs in Rwanda, this Wednesday was no ordinary week day. This was the day of “Pitch Night”, the event they had been looking towards for nearly two months. Resulting from a partnership between Airtel and UNICEF Rwanda, Pitch Night was the culmination of a rigorous competition for young entrepreneurs in Rwanda, offering youth 25 years old and below a chance to submit their business and project ideas for consideration. These seven, comprising five finalist projects, were shortlisted from over 100 applicants, and had recently completed several business coaching sessions with UNICEF’s partner organization, Inkomoko Business Development.

When Pitch Night finally arrived, they were prepared. They had practiced, they had trained, they had been mentored in public speaking and business development. They had improved their public speaking skills exponentially over a few short weeks, and they had refined their business proposals to be nearly air-tight. The stakes were high, and they knew it; they would all be pitching their business ideas to a crowd of potential partners and investors, as well as Government officials and the diplomatic community. As Pitch Night was held at the University of Rwanda College of Business and Economics, there was a significant number of their peers in attendance, and the Pitch Night finalists knew they stood as an example and inspiration for future innovators like themselves.

Ted Maly, UNICEF Representative, opened the event by commending the Government for facilitating opportunities like Pitch Night, and emphasized the importance of innovation in development.

“Innovation has driven tremendous progress for children, not only by helping reach the most remote and disadvantaged communities, but also by giving those communities and children new ways to make their voices heard,” said Mr. Maly. “Putting these technologies to work, making these investments, helps us reach the unreachable. And that helps us support the development of the nation.”

Armed with microphones and confidence, the Pitch Night finalists took the stage in front of nearly 200 people. Three panelists sat as judges for the competition: Siddartha Shrestha, Chief of Communication at UNICEF, Antoine Sebera, Government Chief Innovation Officer of Rwanda Information Society Authority, and Alex Ntare, Executive Director of the Rwanda ICT Chamber. The panelists were there not only to choose a winning business, but to ask challenging questions, ensuring each entrepreneur had a profound understanding of their business and ideas.

The presentations were impressive. Dominique, founder of Imagine We Rwanda, a business which aims to improve literacy and inspire confidence in future writers, set the bar high with the first presentation. Dominique sought to create a contemporary co-working and networking space for start-ups called “Imagine Nation.”

“We realise as new start-ups we have very little chance to survive,” she explained, “just because we don’t have the right networks, the right teams, and the right opportunities.”

Several of the young entrepreneurs had innovative solutions to challenges faced by the health industry. Benit sought to streamline health services in Rwanda with Health Cloud, an innovative web-based platform for storing patient health records and allowing doctors to access them from anywhere.

“Basically my web-based application is going to be centralizing a patient file,” Benit explained. “It means he or she can go anywhere with their file.”

Jean Luc and Emmanuel created Mbaza, an anonymous question-and-answer app for youth to obtain accurate information and education on sexual and reproductive health.

“We thought to try and use technology to solve these problems,” said the pair, “and we thought of text messages because we wanted those youth to be in a comfortable place when they’re asking questions.”

Adelin presented a working prototype of his business Health Management System Services, an alert system for scheduling medical appointments and reminding patients to take their prescribed medicine. 

UNICEF Rwanda/2017/Rusanganwa
© UNICEF Rwanda/2017/Rusanganwa
Kepler students Rosette and David pitch their business “My Green Home.”

The final presentation proposed a business called “My Green Home.” Designed by Rosette and David, two students at Kepler University in Kigali, My Green Home outlined a recycling plan for Rwanda that would transform plastic waste and biodegradable waste into construction materials and fertilizer, respectively.

“We wanted to reach far,” they said before the event. “So we thought to ourselves, why can’t we reach out and teach people about recycling?”

My Green Home aims to improve environmental sustainability and improve the health of people living near dump sites.

The audience was fortunate to have Claudette Irere, Director General of ICT from the Ministry of Youth and ICT, as the guest of honour. Ms. Irere addressed all young people in the audience, encouraging them to take inspiration from the event and to continue pursuing their goals.

“Don’t be afraid to think big,” she said. “No one learns when they experience success only. It is from our mistakes and setbacks that we find the strength to improve, rebuild and go forward stronger than before.”

As the judges deliberated and the Pitch Night contestants waited for their decision, the tension in the air was palpable. After a few words from Mr. Sebera, the announcement came: the winners were Rosette and David with My Green Home. Tears were shed, hugs were exchanged between all of the contestants, and congratulations were passed around. All contestants received a smart phone, and the second place winner, Dominique with her business Imagine Nation, received a year of free internet along with her phone. But the biggest surprise came to Rosette and David, who received $5,000 and a new laptop to facilitate the launch of their business. With smiles plastered on their faces, the young duo accepted their check and proudly carried it from the university, displaying it to their friends and crowds on the street as they marched home.

Although the Pitch Night event is over, it is not the end of the initiative. Rosette and David, along with other finalists, will enter into an incubation period, receiving project support and mentoring to develop their business and bring it to fruition. Within the next few months, their recycling project should be ready to implement. It will begin in one sector near Kigali, and with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, perhaps Rwanda will soon see its first country-wide recycling programme.

 

 
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