Inkomoko: Rwandan tech incubation in Kigali

How one Rwandan startup is providing local business incubation and acceleration services

Rwanda is a geographically small landlocked country in East Africa. Since 1994, it has enjoyed favourable political stability. And, with the support of international donors such as the World Bank and the IMF, the country has been able to make important economic strides. Now it is quickly becoming a technological and economic power hub for the region.

Tech startups are blossoming. Local entrepreneurs are cropping up everywhere. And one business accelerator startup has pitched camp in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, to change the business incubation sector as we know it. Launched in 2012, Inkomoko has been established with the aim of supporting young entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and create jobs in the country.

“Inkomoko is not a traditional [business] incubator or accelerator that would provide a short period of intense training,” Sara Leedom, the startup’s Managing Director tells IDG Connect. “Instead, the entrepreneurs are connected to a diverse range of high-quality services for a full year – allowing us to be with them through the highs and lows of their business cycles.”

The program is comprehensive and includes business planning, strategy development, mentorship, capacity building classes, and access to finance. Additionally, through partnership with the African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC) Rwanda Trustee, Inkomoko entrepreneurs can also enjoy direct financing. This is because Inkomoko is the Rwandan affiliate of this international network of business accelerators, under the umbrella of AEC. By partnering with AEC, Inkomoko has access to international resources and markets that are of particular advantage to the entrepreneurs incubated.

“What makes us unique is that we provide a broad suite of services to entrepreneurs,” explains Leedom. “In addition to working with entrepreneurs to build detailed business and financial plans, we provide strategic consulting, business skills training, mentorship and access to finance. We also offer services such as branding and website design, investment advisory, finance advisory, human resource and management advisory and agribusiness advisory. Sometimes what makes us different is not what we do, but how we do it,” Leedom adds.

But why is Rwanda becoming more and more conducive for business and entrepreneurship? Well, Rwanda has become one of the global leaders in supporting entrepreneurs by reducing regulatory burdens on starting and managing businesses. It is also creating the infrastructure needed to see the country and its private sector continue to grow. The Rwandan government, ministries and agencies fully embrace the power that the private sector, and especially small business, has on economic growth.

“Over 90% of the businesses in Rwanda have fewer than four employees, so there is a lot of room to keep growing these companies to create jobs and wealth,” Leedom observes. “Rwanda is head and shoulders above its peers, and we know it will continue to grow.”

The idea behind Inkomoko came as a result of an event that happened in Mali, explains Leedom. “While visiting Mali in 2011, we met a determined young tour guide who wanted to start his own hotel. He had dreams and talent, but lacked the resources (business support, access to finance, and a network of advisors) to launch his venture.

“After meeting him, we began to take notice of other inspiring local entrepreneurs with incredible potential, and we imagined how different their communities might look if these young people had additional support to succeed in their visions. Because of the strong business environment and motivated youth, Rwanda was the perfect place to start.”

Today, the Inkomoko team has grown to 18 employees and expects more growth in the near future. Last year it provided services to 100 entrepreneurs and targets 100 more this year in Rwanda. The team is also expanding into neighbouring Tanzania.

“We provide technical training in our office and at sites across East Africa. We have begun to use technology to share our training with entrepreneurs who are not in Kigali, through video conferencing. This is still in development, but will allow us to reach people virtually. The government’s support of a nationwide 4G network is making this possible for us,” Leedom informs us.

Inkomoko is a for-profit business, and entrepreneurs pay a fee for services rendered. The annual fee is in a payment plan that makes the services more accessible. This provides the running capital that the startup operates on. They also have strong partnerships with other players in Rwanda that seek to support young entrepreneurs – like the PSF Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs, and Junior Chamber International along with government partners.  

“As a startup ourselves, we can empathise with the challenges that our entrepreneurs face,” explains Leedom. “We too are trying to make sure Rwanda knows Inkomoko and we can find clients, that we can hire top talent, and that we are achieving the results we’ve promised to shareholders and partners.

“The business development environment is just as welcoming and productive as people hear that it is, and we’ve been pleased with the growth that we’ve had in Rwanda in just a few short years. It’s been a fantastic location to test our model, and to learn from the entrepreneurs that trust us with their business development.

“Over the next few years, we will continue to look for ways to support the best and brightest talent in Rwanda to make their dreams come true,” Leedom concludes.