There is no doubt that Covid-19 is a serious long-term threat to our economy. Many businesses continue to suffer the after effects of the pandemic. While some have managed to wither the ongoing economic crisis, the majority continue to go through the turmoil of business uncertainty registering huge losses and a need for recapitalisation to stay afloat.
It is for this reason that The 97 Fund introduced the Knock Down Innovation Challenge to support innovators and entrepreneurs to deliver solutions to challenges that emerged due to the pandemic. For the third online demo day, 9 teams seized this crisis, saw opportunities and presented their fresh innovative solutions to receive funding.
For instance, the outbreak of the pandemic encouraged a shift to health and safety services. Other sectors such as agriculture received less attention. For some like ‘The Coffee Gardens’ an opportunity was identified. The Coffee Gardens sought a solution that helps smallholder farmers in Sironko, Eastern Uganda to sustain their most relied on occupation. The team is not only making services accessible to farmers but also looking forward to expanding employment opportunities. Additionally, quality of products is encouraged for competitive advantage. The Coffee Gardens focuses on elevating farmer’s products by accentuating financial inclusion. Farmers are encouraged to rely on the use of digital cash platforms to trade their products. For instance, they are given tablets and field phones that have both online and offline communication methods. The team has grown from just helping 10 farmers to having 300 partner farmers.
Along with the tourism and cultural sectors, the creative sector was also curtailed by Covid-19. Creatives and artisans lost massive revenue opportunities since they relied more on international tourists and with the borders closed, they had to find other ways to keep their businesses afloat. Adyeri Creations created an online marketplace for both Ugandan and Kenyan artisans to enable marketing and distribution of their hand crafted products such as jewelry, footwear, clothes, sculptures and more to connect them to their buyers. The creative team partnered with Harvey Agency, a distribution and marketing agency based in Baltimore including 163 Ugandan and Kenyan artisans so far.
With social interactions being limited and most people being subjected to balancing their laptops on their laps while simultaneously participating in Zoom meetings and online conference calls, adjusting to different work systems and being laid off because of the financial constraints that hit the economy, there was a need to save people from mental trauma. Fine Mind presented a solution that can help liberate people’s minds from depression and anxiety. The solution was pre-tested in Agago district with 18 workers ready to provide counselling sessions using a fine mind playbook that helps them assess a patient’s mental health and a WhatsApp chatpad enabling clients to meet their counsellors. For the Fine Mind, inclusivity is part of their DNA.
The agriculture sector is no stranger to Covid-19 after effects. Food insecurity has undoubtedly increased and to add on that, the rural main employment opportunity has been slowed down. Boyi & Boyi Limited is solving this by trying to reduce food insecurity among the rural population through providing agro-output by creating employment opportunities through contract farming. The team hopes to create an app where communities can order products while at the same advertising farmers products to prospective customers.
Covid-19 has disrupted our education system and has taught us to embrace remote working. Schools have been shut down and now, over 15 million students are stuck at home with less hope of having close interactions with their instructors and fellow students. While health requirements have been prioritised by the government, the education sector has a huge gap to fill. Learnesa, is providing an online learning platform that gives students access to 400 lessons on average, each taking twenty minutes. The platform uses qualified and trained teachers to provide the content for the students at their own convenience giving students access to video content and more.
The global pandemic COVID-19 has completely uprooted our lives and changed the way we work. Not only has it disrupted the health sector, it has also encouraged unsafe working conditions and energy poverty. People are spending more time indoors and cooking has become an essential part of their livelihoods therefore there has been an increase in energy demand. Fine Reed is scaling the energy sector with three briquettes innovations including Faya energy, Energy academy and Wonky labs. These shall be sold through Jumia, Safeboda and MoTIV. The company also provides technical support and trains local artisans as it seeks to grow and improve the energy sector. It makes non-carbonised briquettes that can be used by factories which saves us from environmental degradation. Fine reed has so far supplied to 370 homes under Watoto church and also Yo kuku, a chicken supplier that uses the briquettes to warm their breeders.
As restrictive measures such as lockdown and social distancing were being implemented to slow down the spread of CoronaVirus, construction companies and hardware shops were also shut down. Wena Hardware, an online store closed the gap between construction companies and hardware by providing all construction needs. The online store has a wallet that facilitates online payments, professionals can meet clients and access the global market using their global feature. The online store has 400 vendors to deliver services in Uganda and is hoping to expand to Tanzania soon.
River Poultry is looking forward to upscaling poultry farming in Gulu and Lira by leveraging technology and innovation. The company has partnered with a number of poultry farmers to increase supply of local chicken, provide high quality and affordable chicken and more so help with access to market. The company provides a veterinary doctor that often checks on the poultry products every after seven days as a way of assessing the product quality and health.
Lastly, Brisk Beverages is manufacturing fruit juice also known as Omunansi. The company is creating employment opportunities by using agents to sell and market its product. The company has a great relationship with a few support farmer groups in Luwero, Masaka and Mbarara, that supply pineapples as their raw materials and in exchange, the farmers are able to get fertilisers for their farms. Brisk beverages relies on all those regions because pineapples are seasonal hence each region has its own season.
All the 9 teams saw and seized an opportunity to implement change during a volatile time. The teams were vetted by Suzan Nangwale, Kenneth Legesi and Eunice Allo.