I’ve always thought that Africa was full of entrepreneurs – thousands of people eking out a living in container stores and markets selling goods a minimal profit, so they can support their families, send their kids to school, and, in general, survive.
Now, there’s clearly a difference between the startups of Silicon Valley that get venture capital and make millions, and the small business owners that run grocery stores or laundromats, and street hawkers that sell chewing gum from baskets on top of their heads. Profit margins are one. But everyone has to start somewhere, and not everyone has the same connections; certainly environment and geography plays a large role in the probable capacity of an individual to aspire.
So what does it take to start a formal business in Uganda? To be a small business owner? I’ve been encouraging some of my students along these lines, and thinking about the “Coded In Country” concept. One thing that plays a large role in the ability to build local capacity is the country’s business environment; how hard is it to start and run a company in Uganda?
After a bit of word-of-mouth consulting, and talking to some small business owners here, I turned to google, and found the Doing Business Project, which provides indicators on 10 topics in 183 economies. While the data itself is also very useful, from a very practical standpoint the fact that they’ve documented all of the (18) steps for starting a business in Uganda, and put them on the web is totally amazing to me. This is not formal e-governance, since the government isn’t the one putting this information on the web, and in theory, the gov’t could change the policy, making this document out of date. However, this does make things easier for people… as long as they have Internet access and pick the right search terms (e.g. “starting a company in Uganda“).
Now, what does this information mean for my students? Mostly it means that they need to hire a lawyer to incorporate as a partnership. We’ve consulted with a friend of a friend of theirs, and it will cost about 365,000 UGX (180 USD) in licensing and lawyer’s fees to go through the entire process. Their hope is to start a company that uses information technology to support healthcare in Uganda, through the development of software and the support of IT systems. They are helping me by providing ongoing computer and mobile phone maintenance to the healthcare providers I’m working with, even after I go back to the States, and working on supporting the software we’re developing.
Now they just have to come up with a name for the company…