I traveled to East Africa for a month to track the progress of recently launched business and development teams and spent two days with HeHe’s smart, articulate and ambitious team, all still students.
HeHe, Ltd is a brand new Rwandan company, born of the cross-cultural learning between Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and MIT’s AiTi program. Not only did MIT students inspire KIST students to create new mobile phone apps, one team, HeHe, Ltd., has won two high profile Rwandan clients. Taking their new roles even further, HeHe co-founders graduated their own class of 11 students at KIST, celebrating their course completion on February 4, 2011. They have done all this in six months, since their six-week MIT course in Kigali last summer, 2010.Staging their own class at KIST was grateful “pay back” for what HeHe founders had learned from MIT students. Since launching last October, HeHe has earned $5000US in consulting fees. The five member team is led by KIST undergraduate Clarisse Iribagiza Karungi, one of three women CEOs I interviewed during my January jaunt to high and low tech companies triggered by MIT programs in East Africa. “The AiTi experience literally changed my life,” said CEO Clarisse to her rapt KIST class, eyes shining. “And I hope this class will be as useful to you.” The other four team members are Jean Niyotwagira, Richard Mujyambere, Amiri Mugarura and Diane Ukwishaka. In two days I taped two team presentations, first to Rwandatel, one of Rwanda’s two largest mobile phone companies; the next day, HeHe presented their crowd sourcing website to the NICI3 secretariat, the national ICT strategy and planning agency for Rwanda [http://www.nici3.com/]. The team scored home runs both times, leveraging contracts and a new office. With a real office they are no longer a “virtual” company, having moved into the professional world on their merits.
For several months the HeHe team had been meeting weekly with their clients to formulate the most useful mobile applications. By the time they presented several proposals for apps that could encorporate crowd sourced surveys from the public via mobile phones, the team persuaded clients of their technology skills and business acumen. Clarisse says, “Our aim is to be information giants locally and regionally. We want to provide ordinary people with relevant information …[and] related services that they may need.”
HeHe seems to be the first local mobile applications team offering such services in Rwanda. Thus, their timing is as fortunate as mine in meeting them and hearing insider secrets about the challenges of teamwork they’ve faced in a half year of intense growth. I look forward to documenting next steps in HeHe’s development and telling stories of other African and international innovators in a webisode series devoted to them.
Note: To see more about January classes in Nairobi and other teams midwifed by AiTi at MIT, check the blog at http://aiti.mit.edu/blog/