Uganda has been ranked as the world’s most entrepreneurial country by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), recording the highest youth entrepreneurs with 55.6 per cent of the youth population involved in new or established businesses. In the explanation, some analysts have said Ugandans are opportunists by nature. In other cases, it is because of a high unemployment rate but in reality, with the embrace of technology In the last decade, has contributed enormously to growth story of sub-Saharan Africa’s economies. Technology has opened Africa to new vistas and presented its youths with an opportunity to tackle the scourge of unemployment themselves – some have even turned that opportunity to million-dollar companies while some others like TEF 2017 Alumni, Ishak Hazz Kanonya are on the path to doing that.
Ishak is a software developer and CEO of Forwards Uganda, a software development with several projects including human resource and payroll, stock data management, general accounting, biometric related systems, all round school information management software, point of sales, microfinance, e-commerce platforms, e-learning , among others. These software products have over time been used to automate work processes in several small, medium and big organizations to the satisfaction of clients, strengthening his techpreneurship endeavours.
Unlike other developers, Ishak’s foray into software development came off through personal learning and training “I was addicted to spending part of my free time trying to teach myself one or two new things every day from a number of offline and online resources among which was YouTube. It was in the course of this that l also happened to gain a considerable amount of knowledge and skills to do with software development, more than what l personally felt could have expected to achieve from an ordinary physical classroom”
These personal development sessions and the passion of challenging himself in solving some programming riddles led him towards helping out friends with programming university assignments and ultimately incorporating this as a business and creating a source of income from programming, developing a number of commercial applications such as point of sales, human resource management, document management, virtual learning environments, e-commerce and subsequently evolving to primarily capitalizing on the ICT sector to simultaneously also engage in a number of other sectors such as agriculture, real estates, etc.
Ishak’s work in software development has been recognized through several awards, the first of which he says came in 2012 “One of the major applications that I started with in my software development journey was about health services and I had a friend I used to hang out with who continuously admired it in the course of its development. Some local science and technology competition came by and this friend of mine repeatedly asked me to have it exhibited in that contest. I was initially very opposed to this because I believed there were many bigger applications done by more senior developers that would easily outcompete it. However I latter just agreed to have it feature too but not in any way because I expected anything to be won. Surprisingly at the end of it all, the panel of judges announced my health application as the one that had won the prize for the most innovative software of the year under that competition amidst the lots of other very good applications that had been presented by different teams and individuals. This was quite a big shock to me. It naturally made me gain strong belief and confidence in what am able to achieve.”
This believe was further strengthened with funding, mentorship and training 5 years later. In need of knowledge and capital for his business, Ishak in 2017 applied for the TEF programme with an idea to create an integrated biometric time and attendance in schools using wireless technology. This product is one of the components of an all-round school information management system i.e. Total School Assistant that he had earlier worked on. Some unique features include:
- All attendance data captured through fingerprint recognition from any existing number of compatible biometric devices anywhere within the school is directly integrated into the school software via automatic wireless interactions that are completed in just few micro-seconds
- Raw data from the time and attendance devices is in real-time automatically correlated with data in other school software modules such as the timetable, human resource, students records thereby generating special types of comprehensive school-centered reports like all lessons that a teacher didn’t teach or taught late, subjects in the school or class that weren’t taught in any specified period, students who have taken long without coming to school, etcetera, all of which are accompanied by interactive data visualization tools such as pie charts.
- The biometric time and attendance setting is well customized to cater for any category of persons within the school setting i.e. teaching staff, non-teaching, students. Each category has its own special reporting tools and wide range of customizations
From the outset Ishak says he set out with a mission to developing a wide range of computer applications that are instrumental in qualitatively speeding up day to day information processing and management tasks in any field where attractive market could be visible. This mission has in turn led him to develop the Total school assistant which has provided reliable automated attendance tracking in schools which helps various stakeholders like school heads, governments in ensuring that students can get sufficient education as was planned. It also provides a mechanism where all parents with students who have taken long without coming to school as per the recorded biometric logs and customizable settings like maximum days of absence can easily be notified for follow-up with the use of automated SMS. Generally it provides checks from which some education service provision monitoring and decisions can reliably be made.
This journey into what he terms “techpreneurship” has however not been without challenges, the top of which was striking a balance between employment and personal business initiatives. But with the support from the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Ishak took a decision to focus fully on his business initative and this support he says has been critical to his business success.
“TEF has extensively helped me gain much long-term business knowledge from the 12 weeks start-up toolkit.
The curriculum had each week covering different lessons, articles, tasks and worksheets which are all key to business sustainable success for example brand equity, work hacks, profit logic, etc. Additionally, I’ve been able to enhance my business project in different ways using the seed capital that I received from the foundation. The network has helped me build my social capital with several new friends from all across Africa that are having some awesomely exceptional entrepreneurship projects/ideas. We initially met from the mentorship and learning platform where we used to do the online training and currently communicate very frequently via TEF Alumni WhatsApp groups/personal messaging as well as connecting through the online TEF Alumni hub. There are always many inspiring progress stories, experiences and opportunities that are shared amongst the TEF alumni fraternity which I find very encouraging. I’ve been able to get many friends from different African countries that I always talk to in person for some good knowledge sharing. It has ultimately enabled me understand the African business ecosystem much better than I used to.”
On his future plans, Ishak is diversifying by completing a number of other applications that use the same concept of integrated biometrics with wireless connections but in very different implementations that include general human resource and payroll applications, biometric university cafeteria management system e.t.c.