Transform Africa Summit: How Japan can get involved in Rwandan startup ecosystem

Transform Africa Summit: How Japan can get involved in Rwandan startup ecosystem

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Kigali Convention Center, the main venue of Transform Africa Summit 2018
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

See the original story in Japanese.
This article is a part of series of covering Transform Africa Summit 2018

Transform Africa Summit (TAS) 2018 was held in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, over two days from May 7th to 8th. 21 countries mainly in sub-Saharan Africa participate in Smart Africa, the organizer of this event aiming to encourage the ICT-driven economy in Africa led by Rwanda.

Japan Pavilion was set by 20 Japanese organizations including large enterprises or startups. Japan and Rwanda have close business relationships; Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) develops ICT Innovation Ecosystem Strengthening Project in Rwanda, and the cities of Kobe and Kigali are in a cooperation relationship.

Japan Pavilion in TAS2018
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Other than Rwanda, only Japan and Estonia set up their own pavilions. Japan Pavilion had about 80 Japanese staffers and stood out among the others. As Chinese companies have the initiative in every country in Africa, none of them can be seen in the context of innovation or startup. In addition to Japan, UK (Rwanda participates in the British Commonwealth) and Israel play a important part to drive a startup ecosystem in this country.

Relationship between Japan and Rwanda in startup ecosystem

Jean de Dieu Rurangirwa (Rwandan Minister of ICT, center), Masahiko Tominaga (Japanese Vice-Minister for Policy Coordination of Internal Affairs and Communications, right) and Takayuki Miyashita (Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Rwanda, left) show a memorandum regarding cooperative relationship between Japan and Rwanda.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

In the first day of the event, Masahiko Tominaga (Japanese Vice-Minister for Policy Coordination of Internal Affairs and Communications) and Jean de Dieu Rurangirwa (Rwandan Minister of ICT) signed a memorandum regarding cooperative relationship in ICT field between the governments of Japan and Rwanda.

JICA had financially supported the establishment of technology hubs such as kLab (2012) or FABLAB (2016) in Kigali City. About 100 entrepreneurs or investors bases their activities on these hubs and had turned out dozens of startups. On the other hand, more than 40 Rwandan students are on exchange at Kobe Institute of Computing (KIC) Graduate School of Information Technology utilizing the Japanese scholarship.

Japanese space / satellite startups such as Axelspace or Infostellar participated in the event. Intelligent Space Systems Laboratory from the University of Tokyo concluded an agreement on partnership with Smart Africa.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

On the second day of the event, KIC and the U.S.-based major drone developer Swift Engineering announced that they will establish a joint venture (JV) in Rwanda. KIC had been training ICT engineers by providing lectures on programing based on kLab, and will expand the range of its support activity through providing education of drone engineers or promotion of drone business, triggered by the JV establishment.

Kobe Institute of Computing Graduate School of Information Technology and Swift Engineering announces establishment of JV for education of drone engineers in Rwanda.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Rwanda is located in the highlands (here in Kigali is at an altitude of 1,500 meters) and has a rainy season, so that the daily utilization of drone is drawing attention in this country because of inadequate road condition out of urban areas. Through the investment into the Rwanda-based drone-driven medical distribution startup Zipline by the Japanese startup studio Mistletoe in 2016, the people involved in startup ecosystem recognized the high compatibility of Rwanda and drone business.

The author of this article plans to visit three sub-Saharan countries of Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya until next week and cover the present situation of the startup scene in these countries.

Jean de Dieu Rurangirwa (Rwandan Minister of ICT) and participants / staffers of Japanese companies / startups, Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, JICA and Embassy of Japan in Rwanda
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy