Ugandan tech firms tap Zambian market through ITC flagship event
Uganda and Zambia are members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the two countries share many cultural similarities. Bilateral economic and political collaboration gives small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Uganda a better chance to access potential buyers in Zambia. Uganda already exports produce, technology and other knowledge-based services to Zambia.
Evelyn Namara, chief executive of the Ugandan technology start-up Vouch Digital, has had her eye on Zambia for a while as a potential new market for her company’s digital platforms. So when the opportunity arose to attend the World Export Development Forum (WEDF) in Lusaka this year, she jumped at the chance.
‘Zambia is one of the countries that Vouch Digital has been considering entering for a while’ because it is a virgin market for digital payments, and all major mobile network operators are active there, Namara explained. And Uganda and Zambia are culturally close, she said, which makes it easier to understand the Zambian business landscape.
‘In terms of growth, it is strategic for us to enter the market early and establish a presence,’ Namara said. ‘My expectations prior to going to WEDF was that I would make valuable contacts and connections in the Zambian market.’
And she wasn’t disappointed: ‘We came back enriched with potential customers who are ready and willing to introduce us to international markets. Attending WEDF was a big advantage for us.’
WEDF is the International Trade Centre’s (ITC) flagship event. The annual forum brings together executives, policymakers, trade organizations and international agencies to talk business – and to do business.
Vouch Digital is one of seven Ugandan tech companies that ITC’s Netherlands Trust Fund IV (NTF IV) Uganda project sent to Zambia to take part in WEDF. All seven are beneficiaries of NTF IV, which ITC manages in partnership with the Dutch Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI). The participants attended business-to-business (B2B) meetings, a capacity-building event and several networking sessions.
‘As a delegation from Uganda, we were able to share the potential of each company and planned to refer business among ourselves,’ said Timothy Byekwaso, products manager at Preg-Tech Communications. ‘The B2B meetings were a great addition to the event.’
Sealing $10 million in potential deals
B2B exchanges are always among the most popular activities at WEDF, and this year, 120 companies participated, ITC Executive Director Arancha González said in her closing speech at the forum on 12 September. The WEDF team arranged matchmaking meetings.
González said: ‘An early estimate is that deals potentially worth around $10 million are on the table.’
Moses Bamutura of Preg-Tech Communications headed to the Zambian capital with the hope of meeting potential buyers of the company’s information technology (IT) services and products, and scouting around for partnership opportunities. He left with a list of new contacts and greater understanding of the Zambian market.
‘We are following up with two clients we met during the event, and we are already discussing business,’ he said.
Edwin Atuhaire, a client partner at IT consultancy Data Care, also had high expectations for WEDF. He wanted to spread the word about Data Care’s ProMISe enterprise resource planning (ERP) module – its star product – and stuffed his suitcase with brochures about the web-enabled system that he distributed at the forum. Atuhaire also wanted to explore partnerships with Zambian tech companies interested in working as agents and helping Data Care expand its market reach in the public and private sectors.
‘We are hopeful of onboarding a partner to work with as an authorized implementer of the ProMISe ERP for clients in the Zambian market,’ he said.
During WEDF, NTF IV beneficiary Hostalite established local presence by signing a memorandum of understanding with an agent in Zambia. Clinic Master International started negotiations with a local agent and a potential client to deploy the Clinic Master Health Information Management System in one of the big Hospitals. 3D Services decided to open a local branch with a local partner.
Tweaking marketing, branding strategies
For Atuhaire, business clinics on social media marketing and product packaging held during the B2B meetings were the highlight of WEDF. ‘The lessons learned are to be integrated into our marketing strategy to enhance ProMISe ERP visibility and the Data Care brand,’ he said, adding that the company is also modifying its export marketing strategy to include Zambia as a potential market for its software development and systems integration service.
The WEDF highlight for Namara was drawing the interest of an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that is interested in using Vouch Digital’s platform in Zambia. ‘I anticipate that in the near future we will sign up this NGO,’ she said.
‘Attending WEDF in Zambia provided us a unique opportunity to talk to different stakeholders in the technology and digital payments sector to understand the landscape of doing business in Zambia,’ Namara said.
The other NTF IV beneficiary that participated in WEDF was Infinity Computers and Communications Company, which used the opportunity to carry out market research in Lusaka to help the firm decide what to export to Zambia in the future.