Over the years, there have been many innovative projects by different young creative innovators, but some of these ideas never come to fruition while others continue to struggle due to different challenges they face. Gad Nishimwe, is one of many youths whose ideas are yet to come fruition.
While pursuing his civil engineering degree at INES Ruhengeri, Nishimwe developed an environmental friendly robot dubbed “G-Robot” that uses hydraulic pressure for lifting heavy loads, excavating and leveling land.
This innovation was billed as critical in the areas of construction, mining, manufacturing, transport and logistics, emergencies among others.
However, four years down the road, he told The New Times that he is still struggling to get support and no feedback or follow up from any institution and despite a successful prototype, it has largely remained a concept.
“We need support for our innovation project to take off. No tangible actions have been done in terms of following up on the innovators who invented or innovated new things,” he said, adding that he had knocked on many doors with no support.
He said even though he has won both local and international innovation competitions he is still struggling to get support to materialize the project and has just remained a concept.
“We need people to trust and invest in our innovation. For example, if I innovate a robot and I keep winning competitions. That means my innovation is relevant to the market. However, I find it strange that I have still failed to get an investor,” he said.
He called for more trainings, workshops and incubation centres to improve the innovations in order to satisfy the market need and customers in way to be successful.
He added that there is also a need for legal support to protect young people’s innovations.
“This is because when we innovate, there are other people out there waiting to copy our ideas because they have the financial muscle to actualize them. We then end up with nothing,” he said.
He said government and other partners’ support is needed to promote such innovations and provide and find the market for them.
“We can innovate and make a useful product to the market but due to lack of promotions and market we cannot be successful,” he noted.
Rwandan biomedical engineers, from Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre (IPRC) Kigali, were also set to release the first locally produced ventilators at affordable prices on the market to respond to Covid-19 pandemic. But due to some challenges the ventilators are still not out on the market.
According to Diogène Mulindahabi, the Principal of IPRC Kigali, the ventilators are still at prototype phase and waiting to be approved by Rwanda Food and Drugs Authority (FDA).
“Because these ventilators are going to be used in hospitals, we are waiting for them to be approved by the FDA, their standards are very high, and so we need to meet them before we put them on the market.”
Mulindahabi added that financial constraints are also a main challenge for the project.
“This also applies to other projects by many of our students, they are given prize money when they win certain competitions, but that is not enough to turn their prototypes into profitable businesses,” he added.
Noel Nizeyimana is the Chief Executive of Greencare Rwanda Ltd, a company that uses wastes – especially plastics – and sand to make bricks and pavers and turns degradable waste into fertilizers.
Nizeyimana said that the biggest challenge they meet is lack of synergies amongst stakeholders.
“We do not have support right from policy makers yet there is still a huge problem of solid waste management. We are not given platform to showcase our projects that are here to provide solutions and help our communities while creating job opportunities for us and others,” he said.
Nizeyimana added that although they always receive awards for their creative projects, they end up fending for themselves, and no further help in terms of product improvement or market provision.
Yeetah Kamikazi, the Director General of kLab, a technology hub in Kigali said that apart from financial constraints, young innovators lack digital skills, which is why most of their projects fail.
“We are planning a programme, where we will be able to put together entrepreneurs and innovators and nurture them from ideation stage to making prototypes, this way we will be able to track them and know who succeeded and who did not and help them,” she said.
Kamikazi added that the start-up programme will provide training, and give these young innovators digital skills and right mentorship which will help them grow and be able to turn their projects into tangible businesses.
ICT and Innovation ministry speaks out
Esther Nkunda, the Director General in charge of Innovation and Emerging Technologies at the Ministry of ICT and Innovation told The New Times that efforts are being mobilized to support young innovators.
“We have realized that young innovators and startups have been struggling because they have no sufficient support. They need support and funding. Therefore we are planning many activities to support them. We are going to open innovation hubs in other provinces and secondary cities which will help to scale up the support,” she said.
She said that the ministry is also starting to mobilize startup funding aimed to improve young innovators’ projects.
“We have to ensure we set up startup funding opportunities and we need different partners in this. Many are organizations competitions that can fund the innovators,” she said. She said they are also trying to operationalize Rwanda Innovation Fund so that young innovators’ projects are supported.
“We are also looking at interventions in terms of laws and policies. We are working on a tech-enabled innovation policy and startup Act which have different interventions,” she said.
The legislative process to establish a national startup act has reached the advanced stage with the Ministry of ICT and Innovation assuring that the procedure ‘must’ be finalized this year.
Startup Acts are an emerging legislative instrument to package strategic incentives and interventions to accelerate the formation and sustained scale of innovative and high-growth firms.