Ugandan start-ups part of the solution during COVID-19

6 April 2020
ITC News

Start-ups in Uganda are developing innovative products to help consumers and businesses survive during COVID-19

Being locked at home with borders sealed, seeing transport halted and curfews imposed, the all-too-familiar consequences of COVID-19 are being felt in Uganda as well.

Increasing market uncertainty has meant decreasing revenues for many small businesses. However, a few innovative enterprises are doing their best to turn this crisis into an opportunity – not only to keep themselves afloat, but also to help consumers and other businesses ride out the pandemic with as little pain as possible.

We present to you some striking examples of innovative responses from e-commerce start-ups to the current crisis.

Prepaid meal plans

As many business-to-business clients shut down temporarily and others reduced their demand, Online Butchery saw a radical reshaping of their clientele. Chief Executive Tony Ayebare reports that while Online Butchery has lost many of their traditional customers, their business has seen an unexpected leap as well. “The start-up’s business-to-consumer meat orders have skyrocketed overnight – from 10 orders a day to 150 a day in just two weeks.” He says.

‘More people realize they can now buy meat without leaving home, which bonds well with one of our objectives of being a household name when it comes to meat and meat products,’ Ayebare said.

They are now providing a new service called ‘prepaid meal plans’ to support Ugandans who are now facing the task of cooking every meal of the day at home. For a weekly or monthly fee, clients can get lunches and dinners delivered right to their door.

Fresh produce from the farm

Business is also booming for Bringo Fresh. Their online platform allows people to order fresh, organic produce and have it delivered to their doorsteps. Orders began to climb immediately after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Uganda, and the size of each order has grown by about 150%, says public relations officer Lysandra Chen.

In a show of solidarity, the start-up dropped its delivery fee to better serve their community in this time of need.

“We are also buying more from our farmers and engaging with more farmers on our database, so we plan to do more with our farmers after the pandemic.” Chen said

‘Made for situations like this’

The spread of COVID-19 has curtailed Xente’s efforts to raise capital and forced the fintech to revise its targets, says chief executive Allan Rwakatungu. But it’s also created opportunities and reinforced the importance of embracing digital and cashless solutions – Xente’s raison d'être.

Xente is helping small enterprises in Kampala stay in business during the crisis by listing them as vendors on its app. The start-up has waived the setup fees and commission for three months for micro-enterprises, Rwakatungu said.

Migrating to the online sales platform helps merchants switch to cashless payment processes. It also gives them access to the platform’s more than 50,0000 customers and around 50 businesses with cashless payment options.

Crisis highlights the value of digitalization

A remarkable jump in the use of digital payments has been a boon for ChapChap.

ChapChap has introduced mobile money features that allow its approximately 6000 clients to deposit and withdraw cash. The start-up developed a calculator function linked to the mobile money feature that makes cashless payments possible and practical from the comfort and safety of home.

“Several businesses now need user friendly mobile money receipts system.” Emmanuel Emodek, managing director explained. Embedding the calculator with mobile money payment options creates ‘a unique and simple customer journey’.

Even with just 1% of its merchant base introduced to mobile money, ChapChap’s daily revenue has already increased by 10%.

Mfeyti supplies COVID-19 data

For Ugandans looking for accurate and up-to-date information about the COVID-19 situation, Mfeyti is providing a solution. Prior to the pandemic, Mfeyti operated as a platform for consumers to help detect counterfeit drugs. Since the outbreak, the start-up has added two new interactive platforms, and, that supply key information about the crisis.

It’s also working on a WhatsApp-powered interactive messaging interface that will provide the same services, said chief executive Benjamin Bimanywaruhanga. This chat robot, now in its testing phase, will enable Myefti to monitor quarantined patients every hour to determine their prognosis.

“We’re looking for financial support to expand and help more people. We need support in managing and maintaining the services during the crisis.” He said. ‘The beauty of our services is that they can be replicated anywhere.”

Netherlands Trust Fund IV (NTF IV)

Myefti, along with Online Butchery, Bringo Fresh, Xente and ChapChap, are supported by NTF IV project in Uganda. The National Information Technology Authority in Uganda has also recommended AkelloBanker, ClinicMaster, Makanika Dot Com, Safeboda, Kola Studios, Yunga Tech,Kaino and Swipe2pay (also part of the NTF IV initiative) as effective tools during this crisis.

NTF IV is based on a partnership between the International Trade Centre and the Dutch Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries, and funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.