My TEDx Presentation – “Creating a Better World”

January 20, 2012

On December 10th, 2011 I gave a TEDx presentation in Raleigh on “Creating a Better World.” Here is the video.

And here are the slides from the presentation:

TEDx Ryan Allis – Optimism for the Next 40 Years of Human History

Today’s Fuel Explosion in Nairobi

September 12, 2011

I’ve got a special place in my heart for East Africa, having visited there three times and with investments in Pengo Loans and Think Impact, both with operations in Kenya. After visiting the Kibera slum in Nairobi in 2009 to see the work of Carolina for Kibera, I feel especially for those who are living day-to-day in the slums of Nairobi and other parts of the developing world.

Today in a Nairobi slum called Sinai a fuel pipeline starting leaking. Immediately hundreds of people gathered around, grabbing every container they could to capture the fuel. Soon thereafter, the pipeline caught fire and exploded. At least 100 people immediately burned to death in the explosion and ensuing house fires in the densely concentrated slums. Another 120 went to the hospital with severe burns.

Below is a news video of the story from the local Kenyan NTV. Take a look at the living conditions of these communities. Often without electricity, running water, and sewage. Yes, it’s true that 39% of the world survive on less than $2 per day (a per capita income of $730 per year), and yet so few people are aware of this. For those of us in the United States living on an average of $130 per day (the U.S. per capital income as of 2011 is $47,240), this type of existence is surely hard to fathom.

And here is another video from NTV showing some of the burn videos in the hospital (warning: graphic):

Here’s the NY Times article.

My Message to Egyptian Entrepreneurs

July 4, 2011

On Thursday at the Smart Village Egypt outside of Cairo, I had the opportunity to give a keynote speech during the NexGen IT Entrepreneur Bootcamp award ceremony.

The winning teams were Bey2ollak, Inkezny, Supermama, and Crowdit. The team from Bey2ollak and one other team TBD will be interning at iContact in North Carolina in October. The other two winning teams will be participating in a three month Danish startup bootcamp in the Fall.

My message to the young Egyptian entrepreneurs in the room was “You can achieve anything you set your mind to.”

Mike Ducker from the Global Entrepreneurship Program at the U.S. State Department gave an introduction and then I jumped right in.

Here are my prep notes from the speech:

Intro

  • Congratulations to all the teams that have participated in the NexGen IT Entrepreneur Bootcamp.
  • Coming here Monday I wasn’t sure what to expect.
  • The quality of the young tech entrepreneurs here in Cairo is world-class.
  • The youth of Egypt have already proven their ability to affect change, and this class of tech entrepreneurs has been extremely impressive.
  • I run iContact in North Carolina. We do email marketing and social media marketing software and services for small and mid-sized businesses.
  • I also have a small investment fund called HumanityFund that invests in entrepreneurs who are changing the world in both the United States and in East Africa.
  • I hope someday to have my first investment in Egypt.
  • Today I’m going to challenge you to be a leader.
  • Be a leader in in your community.
  • Be a leader in your nation.
  • Be a leader in changing the world.
  • Entrepreneurs change the world.
  • Entrepreneurship is not about making money.
  • Entrepreneurship is about helping others.
  • Entrepreneurship is about creating value–for your customers, employees, community, and shareholders.
  • Wonderfully, the more you help others and the more value you create, the more money you will make that you can then invest in giving back and helping other entrepreneurs succeed.

My Story

  • I started in business at age 11 helping senior citizens learn how to use the internet in Florida.
  • I learned that word of mouth marketing is the best type of marketing you can get because it is trusted and it is free.
  • At 14 I had a business creating web sites.
  • I learned that you need to hire a team of people around you to scale the business.
  • By 18 I was the CEO of iContact.
  • I learned that if that you hire people much more experienced that yourself, amazing things can happen.
  • Today iContact has 300 employees and $50M in annual sales.
  • Here are the eight of the lessons I’ve learned in business in the last fifteen years.

Lessons Learned

  1. Set your goals high. Write them down. Frame them. When I was 16 I wrote down the goal to build a company to 1 million in sales by the time I turned 21. At that point I was making $4000 per year designing web sites, so it was an ambitious goal. I missed the goal. On September 1, 2005 iContact reached 1 million in sales. Eighteen days after my 21st birthday. Because I set that specific definite goal, I went after figuring out how to get the people, knowledge, and resources into my life necessary to make it happen, even though I wasn’t sure how it would happen when I set it.
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail. Fail your way to succeed.
  3. Surround yourself only with positive people. Avoid negative people.
  4. Hire people more experienced than yourself. You should never have a direct report who can’t do their job better than you could do their job.
  5. Have fun. Enjoy the journey. Don’t be boring. Consciously create an awesome culture at your company.
  6. Think big and think globally when you build your business.
  7. There are two types of people in the world. People who watch more TV than they read. And people who read more than they watch TV. Be the second type of person. Read as often as you can. Five hours of reading per week minimum. Book recommendations: Rich Dad Poor Dad, Think and Grow Rich, and How to Win Friends and Influence People.
  8. Create your business around one simple principle, “do unto others as you’d have done unto yourself.” Make every interaction you have with every employee and customer follow this principle.

Final Thoughts

  • As entrepreneurs, you are all in the business of changing the world.
  • Our generation can communicate and collaborate globally like none other before it.
  • Work hard, collaborate.
  • You can do anything you set your mind to.
  • The world is watching what you do now.
  • Be a leader.
  • End with chant of “I’m an Egyptian. I can change the world.”

What message would you have shared with an auditorium full of future Egyptian changemakers and innovators??

Egypt: From Political Revolution to Entrepreneurial Evolution

June 30, 2011

I came to Cairo five days ago not knowing what to expect. I leave knowing there are world-class tech entrepreneurs here in Egypt.

In April, I learned I had been selected as one of six American entrepreneurs who would be mentors for a USAID/State Department program backed by the Danish and Egyptian governments to mentor tech entrepreneurs here in Cairo.
The program, called the NexGen IT Entrepreneur Bootcamp kicked off on Sunday in Egypt�s Smart Village, just outside of Cairo.
The Mentors
The six American entrepreneurs were:
Jeff Hoffman, Co-founder, Former CEO of Priceline.com
Scott Gerber, Founder, Young Entrepreneur Council
Alexis Ohanian, Co-founder of Reddit and Hipmunk
Shama Kabani, CEO of Marketing Zen
Kevin Langley � Global Chairman, Entrepreneurs� Organization
Ryan Allis � CEO iContact
We were joined by four entrepreneurs from Denmark:
Tomas, Podio
Natasha, Gignal
Kamran, Marketing Lion
Alex, Startup Bootcamp
Together, we worked with nineteen teams young Egyptian tech entrepreneurs age 18-30 to help them refine their business models and pitches in preparations for the final pitch competition on Thursday.
The Winners
On Thursday we held the final pitch session. Each team presented for 8 minutes followed by 2 minutes of Q&A. We served as the judges, scoring each team across five category. After four hours of final pitches, the four winners were announced:
Crowdit � �A digital collaborative storytelling platform that is using real-time pictures, video, and social media reports to reinvent the way stories are told and shared online. Their first project will be called 18 Days in Egypt and provide a 360 view of the Egyptian Revolution told through the eyes of the people of Europe.
SuperMama.me � The iVillage of the Middle East. Creating a community of mothers designed to connect and empower the women of the Middle East / North Africa region.
Inkezny (RescueMe) � An iPhone app that enables travelers to make emergency calls (Police / Ambulance / Fire ) in any location they are traveling in the world without having to know the local emergency phone number, as well as seeing GPS directions to and phone numbers for the nearest hospitals, and posting a panic notification with location to a users social networks.
Be2yollak � An iPhone app that provides live user-generated reports of traffic conditions on the streets of Cairo. They already have 50,000 users shortly after launch and are working on expanding their application globally.
In addition to these four winners, I also really liked
Balooshy – A location-based ad network for mobile content.
Tabshora – A 37-signals like tool enabling designers to easily get feedback on design comps from customers.
OfferQ � A social network for daily deals.
The Winners Interning at iContact
Two of the winning teams will be coming to North Carolina in October for a three week internship at iContact. We are very excited to host them.
They will have a chance to observe every area at iContact including marketing, customer service, sales, finance, and technology. They will also have a chance to meet with investors in both North Carolina and New York City.
The other two teams will have the chance to attend the three-month Startup Bootcamp in Denmark in September, October, and November.
Creation of an Investment Fund for Egyptian Tech Entrepreneurs
On Wednesday night, we all had the opportunity to have dinner at the residence of the Danish Ambassador to Egypt (Insert Name).
While there, we met Hany (Last Name), an Egyptian venture capitalist who runs Flat6 Labs, an incubator and fund that is launching in Egypt in July.
We were so impressed by the quality of the Egyptian tech entrepreneurs. We wanted to do something tangible and meaningful to show our belief in that these businesses would succeed.
After discussing, members of the American and Danish delegations came together that evening to create a $100,000 pool of committed angel investment funds to invest in the Egyptian tech companies that will come out of the Flat6 Labs incubator in the coming months. The excitement on both sides was palpable when we announced this commitment the next day at the finals. It was clear that we believed in these Egyptian entrepreneurs and were willing to back them with more than words.
Leaving Cairo
And so, after a wonderful celebratory dinner cruise for all participants on the Nile earlier tonight, now I am in the Cairo airport heading back home to the USA.
Tonight, I leave Egypt inspired. And I leave immensely impressed by what Egyptian youth can accomplish�whether it is in eighteen days in the Spring or five days in the Summer.
The American Entrepreneur delegates are thankful and inspired as they leave Cairo to head back home.

In April, I learned I had been selected as one of six American entrepreneurs who would be mentors for a USAID/State Department program backed by the Danish and Egyptian governments to mentor tech entrepreneurs here in Cairo. I learned about the program from Scott Gerber of the non-profit Young Entrepreneur Council.

The program, called the NexGen IT Entrepreneur Bootcamp kicked off on Sunday in Egypt’s Smart Village, just outside of Cairo.

The Mentors

The six American entrepreneurs were:

We were joined by four entrepreneurs from Denmark:

Together, we worked with nineteen teams young Egyptian tech entrepreneurs age 18-30 on Sunday-Wednesday to help them refine their business models and pitches in preparations for the final pitch competition on Thursday. It was extraordinarily impressive to see the immense improvement in the pitches as each day passed.

The Winners

On Thursday we held the final pitch session. Each team presented for 8 minutes followed by 2 minutes of Q&A. We served as the judges, scoring each team across five category. After four hours of final pitches, the four winners were announced:

  • Crowdit -A digital collaborative storytelling platform that is using real-time pictures, video, and social media reports to reinvent the way stories are told and shared online. Their first project will be called 18 Days in Egypt and provide a 360 view of the Egyptian Revolution told through the eyes of the people of Europe.
  • SuperMama.me – The iVillage of the Middle East. Creating a community of mothers designed to connect and empower the women of the Middle East / North Africa region.
  • Inkezny (RescueMe) – An iPhone app that enables travelers to make emergency calls (Police / Ambulance / Fire ) in any location they are traveling in the world without having to know the local emergency phone number, as well as seeing GPS directions to and phone numbers for the nearest hospitals, and posting a panic notification with location to a users social networks.
  • Bey2ollak – An iPhone app that provides live user-generated reports of traffic conditions on the streets of Cairo. They already have 50,000 users shortly after launch and are working on expanding their application globally.

In addition to these four winners, I also really liked

  • Balooshy – A location-based ad network for mobile content.
  • Tabshora – A 37-signals like tool enabling designers to easily get feedback on design comps from customers.
  • OfferQ – A social network for daily deals.

Across the board, the quality of the teams was high, nearly akin to what you might see at a Y Combinator or TechStars in the USA.

The Winners to Intern at iContact

Two of the winning teams will be coming to North Carolina in October for a three week internship at iContact. We are very excited to host them.

They will have a chance to observe every area at iContact including marketing, customer service, sales, finance, and technology. They will also have a chance to meet with investors in both North Carolina and New York City.

The other two teams will have the chance to attend the three-month Startup Bootcamp in Denmark in September, October, and November.

Creation of an Investment Fund for Egyptian Tech Entrepreneurs

On Wednesday night, we all had the opportunity to have dinner at the residence of the Danish Ambassador to Egypt.

While there, we met Hany Al Sanbaty, an Egyptian venture capitalist who runs Sawari Ventures and�Flat6 Labs, an incubator and fund that is launching in Egypt in July.

We were so impressed by the quality of the Egyptian tech entrepreneurs. We wanted to do something tangible and meaningful to show our belief in that these businesses would succeed.

After discussing, members of the American and Danish delegations came together that evening to create a $100,000 pool of committed angel investment funds (which has since grown larger) to invest in the Egyptian tech companies that will come out of the Flat6 Labs incubator in the coming months. The excitement on both sides was palpable when we announced this commitment the next day at the finals. It was clear that we believed in these Egyptian entrepreneurs and were willing to back them with more than words.

Leaving Cairo

And so, after a wonderful celebratory dinner cruise for all participants on the Nile earlier tonight, now I am in the Cairo airport heading back home to the USA.

Tonight, I leave Egypt inspired. And I leave immensely impressed by what Egyptian youth can accomplish, whether it is in eighteen days in the Spring or five days in the Summer.

Going to Egypt Tomorrow

June 24, 2011

Hello from Boston. I’m here today for year three of the EO/MIT Entrepreneurial Masters Program.

I am excited to be heading to Egypt tomorrow as part of a U.S. State Department and USAID funded program in alliance with the Egyptian and Danish governments. I’ll be headed there with American entrepreneurs Shama Kabani, Alexis Ohanian, and Scott Gerber of the Young Entrepreneurs Council.

We’ll be mentoring 48 young Egyptian tech entrepreneurs ages 18-30 in Cairo with the NextGen IT Entrepreneurs Bootcamp and judging a business plan competition. Four of the winners will be coming to the US in October to intern at iContact for three weeks. I’m passionate about using business, technology, and entrepreneurship as tools to make a positive impact in the world, so this will be a great opportunity to see Egypt and work with great tech entrepreneurs in an exciting part of the world.

This will be my fourth trip to Africa, but first in North Africa. In about 5% of my spare time, I invest in tech entrepreneurs in the US and Africa via the Humanity Fund, so when I was asked to go by Scott Gerber I knew it would be right up my alley.

Egypt is passing through a very significant time in it’s history and it will be fascinating to be there. Quoting one of the participants in the program, “Egypt holds an important place in human history as one of the birthplaces of commerce, and the knowledge and experience of Egyptian business people will lead to many exciting and valuable products, services, and innovations for years to come. This is a great time for Egypt to truly shine.”

Here’s some additional info on the program. More blogging to come as I’m there…

=================

NexGen IT Entrepreneurs Boot Camp
Background

The NexGen IT Entrepreneurs Boot Camp, is a collaborative effort by the Government of Denmark, the U.S. State Departments Global Entrepreneurship Program, the United States Agency for International Developments Egypt Competitiveness Project, and the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre, affiliated with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. The NexGen IT Boot Camp is a series of training events that includes a Business Plan Awareness Class and an IT Master Class. The later will be taught by US and Danish Delegates in which prizes will be awarded to four winning teams.
Process of Selection of prizes
After the each winner is announced first and second place winners will chose what prize they prefer, the internship in the US or the Boot Camp in Denmark. The third place winners will chose depending if first and second place split their choices. The fourth place winner will be given the remaining prize.
More on the US internship @ iContact
The US internship will be with iContact in October. iContact is based in Raleigh, NC and is working to make email marketing and social marketing easy so that small and midsized companies and causes can grow and succeed. Founded in 2003, iContact has more than 300 employees and more than 700,000 users of its leading email marketing software.
As a B Corporation, iContact utilizes the 4-1s Corporate Social Responsibility Model, donating 1% of payroll, 1% of employee time to community volunteering, 1% of equity, and 1% of product to its local and global community as part of its social mission. iContact works hard to maintain a fun, creative, energetic, challenging and caring company culture.. The triangle business journal (Local North Carolina business newspaper) has named iContact one of the best places to work. The company has been listed on Inc. 500 3 years in a row and its founders Ryan Allis and Aaron Houghton were selected by Inc. Magazine 30 under 30 in 2009 as two of Americas Coolest Young Entrepreneurs.
Two of the winning winning teams, composed of two individuals, will win the opportunity to gain critical knowledge of how to grow a business during a three weeks internship at iContact in Raleigh North Carolina. The iContact internship will be an entrepreneurial rotation in which the interns will learn about the critical parts of the business including marketing/sales, IT, customer service and finance. The internship is paid for by USAID through the Egyptian Competitiveness Project (ECP).

The NexGen IT Entrepreneurs Boot Camp, is a collaborative effort by the Government of Denmark, the U.S. State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program, the United States Agency for International Development’s Egypt Competitiveness Project, and the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre, affiliated with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. The NexGen IT Boot Camp is a series of training events that includes a Business Plan Awareness Class and an IT Master Class. The later will be taught by US and Danish Delegates in which prizes will be awarded to four winning teams. Two of the winning teams will travel to the US in October to intern at iContact, a very rapidly growing American tech company.

More on the US internship @ iContact

The US internship will be with iContact in October. iContact is based in Raleigh, NC and is working to make email marketing and social marketing easy so that small and midsized companies and causes can grow and succeed. Founded in 2003, iContact has more than 300 employees and more than 700,000 users of its leading email marketing software.

As a B Corporation, iContact utilizes the 4-1s Corporate Social Responsibility Model, donating 1% of payroll, 1% of employee time to community volunteering, 1% of equity, and 1% of product to its local and global community as part of its social mission. iContact works hard to maintain a fun, creative, energetic, challenging and caring company culture. The Triangle Business Journal has named iContact one of the best places to work. The company has been listed on Inc. 500 3 years in a row and its founders Ryan Allis and Aaron Houghton were selected by Inc. Magazine 30 under 30 in 2009.

Two of the winning winning teams, composed of two individuals, will win the opportunity to gain critical knowledge of how to grow a business during a three weeks internship at iContact in Raleigh North Carolina. The iContact internship will be an entrepreneurial rotation in which the interns will learn about the critical parts of the business including marketing/sales, IT, customer service and finance. The internship is paid for by USAID through the Egyptian Competitiveness Project (ECP).

The Rise of Rwanda

January 8, 2011

Muraho from Kigali, Rwanda!

I’m on my way back to the USA today after eight days in Rwanda.

Below are some photos from Kigali, Rwanda taken this week. While here I had a chance to explore Kigali, meet with entrepreneurs, trek with the gorillas in the Virunga National Park, hike on the mountains overlooking Lake Kivu in Gisenyi, and see the future campus of the Akilah Institute for Women in Bugesera District. Kigali is probably the cleanest city in East Africa with lots and lots of paved streets and sidewalks.

The World Bank in its 2011 Doing Business Report named Rwanda as the most improved country in Africa and 2nd most improved globally for ease of conducting business. The Rwanda Development Board (RBD) is working hard to streamline business and investment regulations to make doing business in Rwanda attractive. Take a look at this Powerpoint slide deck from the RBD detailing business reforms and this news article “Rwanda is Now Open for Business.”

The Kagame Administration is halfway into executing on their “Vision 2020″ to build Rwanda into a middle-income country by focusing on economic development from the IT and tourism industries. You must read this Vision 2020 PDF if you are at all interested in economic development or solutions to ending poverty.

Interestingly, President Paul Kagame is perhaps the most active Twitter user among African Heads of State, connecting globally with the IT-savvy world.

Carnegie Mellon will be setting up a computer science school in Kigali in 2011 to train the next generation of East African programmers. And the Marriott, Hilton, and Radisson are all building hotels here to open in 2012 along with the new Kigali Convention Center.

There is so much activity going on here!

Rwanda is not only ready for entrepreneurs, it’s ready for tourists too.

If you have a chance, you must come to Rwanda at some point in your life. It’s a beautiful, dynamic, and friendly country full of “a thousand hills and a million smiles.”

I’m about to board flight one for the trek home from Kigali –> Entebbe –> Istanbul –> New York –> Raleigh. I love long flights as I can read, focus, and plan! I’m back to iContact on Monday morning.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Did you know this was happening in Africa? Why do you think the media so rarely tells this side of the story about what is happening in Africa?

Tell me your thoughts in the comments.

Visit to the Akilah Institute for Women Rwanda

January 4, 2011

Muraho from Kigali!

Today I’m working from The Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali, Rwanda.

Akilah is a non-profit school that teaches hospitality, leadership, and entrepreneurship to women 18-25 here in Rwanda. Akilah was started in 2009 by Elizabeth Davis and Dave Hughes and now has fifteen full-time staff including twelve here in Rwanda and three in Tampa, Florida.

The school opened its doors in January 2010 with 50 students and will be expanding to 120 students at the end of this month in January 2011. Through the two-year program, the girls learn skills that enable them to get jobs in Rwanda’s burgeoning hotel and tourism industry that pay on average 10x more than the girls earned previously. Akilah graduates can expect to earn about $6,000 per year at an entry-level hotel position. Akilah received over 1500 applications for just 70 available spots for the class of 2012. It costs Akilah about $3,000 per student per year of education.

The Marriott, Hilton, and Radisson are currently constructing hotels here in Kigali that will open in 2012. These will be welcome additions to the current options in the city of the Hotel Milles des Collines (aka Hotel Rwanda), Manor Hotel, Serena, Top Tower, and Novotel.

More and more travelers are coming to Rwanda every year to conduct business, make investments, see the mountain gorillas in the Virungas in the Northwest, learn about the country’s extraordinary history, climb Mount Karisimbi, visit the Akagera National Park, or relax on Lake Kivu.

I met Elizabeth in October at the Opportunity Collaboration conference in Ixtapa, Mexico. In November I hosted a fundraiser for Akilah called “A Metropolitan Safari” at the iContact Offices in Raleigh at which Elizabeth and Akilah students Anita and Gisele gave a moving presentation. During the eight-city tour that included Tampa, New York, Providence, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C., and Raleigh, Elizabeth, Anita, and Gisele raised $185,000 for the organization, all going to girls scholarships.

Expansion Plans for Akilah

Akilah is currently raising funds for girls scholarships to enable them to get through 2011. You can learn more on their web site about donation options.

Akilah plans to expand from 120 students to 800 in the coming years. They have recently received rights to 40 acres of land from the Rwandan government to build their new campus thirty minutes south of Kigali in Bugesera at the site of an old Italian School that shut down in the 1990s.

Here is how the Akilah model works. Central to the model is the expectation and obligation that each young women who attends Akilah will eventually pay for another to go to school in the future, using a portion of the increase in income they now have.

What is Happening in Rwanda Today

It’s truly amazing what is happening here in Rwanda in 2011 after such a tumultuous history. Kagame has chosen to focus on building Rwanda into the tourism and IT hub of Africa and growing the country through private sector development. He says if Singapore and South Korea did it, why can’t Rwanda. The country is stable, developing rapidly, and extremely welcoming. Akilah is just one example of many of the wonderful things happening here!

More to come from Rwanda in the days ahead…

Muraho from Kigali!

Today I’m working from The Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali, Rwanda.

Akilah Institute for Women Rwanda

Here’s the beautiful vista of Kigali from one of Akilah’s classrooms overlooking some the many hills of Rwanda

Akilah is a non-profit school that teaches hospitality, leadership, and entrepreneurship to women 18-25 here in Rwanda. Akilah was started in 2009 by Elizabeth Davis and Dave Hughes and now has fifteen full-time staff including twelve here in Rwanda and three in Tampa, Florida.

The school opened its doors in January 2010 with 50 students and will be expanding to 120 students at the end of this month in January 2011. Through the two-year program, the girls learn skills that enable them to get jobs in Rwanda’s burgeoning hotel and tourism industry that pay on average 10x more than the girls earned previously. Akilah graduates can expect to earn about $6,000 at an entry-level hotel position. Akilah received over 1500 applications for just 70 available spots for the class of 2012. It costs Akilah about $3,000 per student per year of education.

The Marriott and Radisson are currently constructing hotels here in Kigali that will open in 2012. These will be welcome additions to the current options in the city of the Hotel Milles des Collines (aka Hotel Rwanda), Manor Hotel, Serena, Top Tower, and Novotel.

More and more travelers are coming to Rwanda every year to conduct business, make investments, see the mountain gorillas in the Virungas in the Northwest, learn about the country’s extraordinary history, climb Mount Karisimbi, visit the Akagera National Park, or relax on Lake Kivu.

I met Elizabeth in October at the Opportunity Collaboration conference in Ixtapa, Mexico. In November I hosted a fundraiser for Akilah called “A Metropolitan Safari” at the iContact Offices in Raleigh at which Elizabeth and Akilah students Anita and Gisele gave a moving presentation. During the eight-city tour that included Tampa, New York, Providence, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C., and Raleigh, Elizabeth, Anita, and Gisele raised $185,000 for the organization, all going to girls scholarships.

Here are some photos of the beautiful Akilah Institute campus.

Akilah CEO Elizabeth Davis in front of the Akilah classrooms
Akilah CEO Elizabeth Davis out back behind the Akilah Institute classrooms and office
A view of some of the thousand hills of Rwanda
Elizabeth hard at work in the teachers’ office
Elizabeth in the Blue Classroom at Akilah
Ryan in the Blue Classroom at Akilah
Akilah Community Pledge
The Akilah Community Pledge

Expansion Plans for Akilah

Akilah is currently raising funds for girls scholarships to enable them to get through 2011. You can learn more on their web site about their capital campaign.

Akilah plans to expand from 120 students to 800 in the coming years. They have recently received rights to 40 acres of land from the Rwandan government to build their new campus thirty minutes south of Kigali in Bugesera at the site of an old Italian School that shut down in the 1990s.

Here is how the Akilah model works. Central to the model is the expectation and obligation that each young women who attends Akilah will eventually pay for another to go to school in the future, using a portion of the increase in income they now have.

The Akilah Impact Diagram

What is Happening in Rwanda Today

It’s truly amazing what is happening here in Rwanda in 2011 after such a tumultuous history. Kagame has chosen to focus on building Rwanda into the tourism and IT hub of Africa and growing the country through private sector development. He says if Singapore and South Korea did it, why can’t Rwanda. The country is stable, developing rapidly, and extremely welcoming. Akilah is just one example of many of the wonderful things happening here!

More to come from Rwanda in the days ahead…

A Different Picture of Africa

January 3, 2011

Muraho from Kigali, Rwanda!

I think I have a strange obsession with office buildings. Every time I drive by the new Quintiles office building in Raleigh, North Carolina where I live I get excited.

Take a look at these photos I took Thursday of some of the buildings in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s a different picture of East Africa than what one usually sees. Do these pictures surprise you?

The 21st century Africa is about opportunity, technology, and entrepreneurship!

More from Rwanda in the coming days…

Tour of the iHub Tech Incubator in Nairobi Kenya

December 30, 2010

Today I visited the iHub, the “innovation hub” in Nairobi. It’s a tech incubator for developers. I met with Jessica Colaco, the iHub Manager. I got in touch with Jessica through Erik Hersman (@whiteafrican) of Ushahidi and Nathaniel Whittemore of AssetMap.

Take a look at this tour of their space I filmed this afternoon.

What is iHub?

iHub is an “open innovation space” with 2000 members. They have three levels of membership, white, green, and red. “White memberships” include virtual community access and are free. Green memberships are also free and include access to the space and events. Red memberships cost 10,000 Kenyan Shillings per month (about $125) and include a dedicated desk and access to conference rooms.

iHub has one of the fastest internet connections in Nairobi. When I visited at 3pm in the afternoon on the day before New Year’s Eve it was pretty busy with about 20 young developers working away, some in relaxing bean bags and other at open desks. I loved the feel of the place with a coffee stand, Matatu route map, high 20 foot ceilings, DJ-like booth for Jessica, programming book library, comfortable seating, and an outdoor terrace overlooking Nairobi.

Jessica says the purpose of iHub is to be a “encourage collaboration and be a physical nexus point between investors, academia, the tech communities, and tech companies.” iHub has fireside chats with tech entrepreneurs once per month. They recently had the CEO of SafariCom Michael Joseph do a chat. They also hold BarCamps, Designer Meetups, Research Meetups, and Hack-a-thons.

iHub recently hosted “Random Hacks of Kindness” which gave developers 36 hours to develop a software solution to problems that were submitted by the community. They also hosted Apps4Africa in conjunction with the U.S. State Department and Ugandan incubators Appfrica and HiveCoLabs.

iHub operates as a non-profit with the support of Erik Hersman’s Ushahidi and earns revenue from memberships, sponsorships, and event space rentals.

iHub reminded me a lot of LaunchBox, BullCity Forward, and JoystickLabs in Durham.

Happy New Year 2011!

-Ryan

The Entrepreneurs I Met in Uganda and Kenya

December 30, 2010

(If you haven’t yet read my last post on investing in Africa you can read it here)

The Journey to East Africa

I left my parents’ home in Bradenton, Florida on Sunday afternoon and after a 30 hour journey through Tampa, snowy-D.C. and Istanbul, Turkey I arrived at 2:15am Tuesday at Entebbe International Airport in Uganda. I was so happy to be back in Africa for the third time.

I got through immigration and customs and by 3am came out of the arrivals area at Entebbe to meet Roey Rosenblith and Abu Musuzza, two solar lighting entrepreneurs in Uganda who run VillageEnergy. They very graciously picked me up at such an early hour in the morning.

Roey and Abu have been working for a year and a half now on bringing affordable solar lighting to the 80% of homes without electricity in Uganda. They began their sales back in September 2010 after a year of R&D and production and are now rapidly building out their distribution model for their $60 home solar lighting systems.

I had invested in VillageEnergy back in January 2010 through a personal investment fund the Humanity Fund. There was much to discuss!

We jumped in Abu’s Corolla at the airport carpark and began the hour drive back to their apartment in Kampala. On the way I got an update on Village Energy’s operations. We arrived a little after four back at their place. After a quick demonstration of the VillageEnergy solar lighting system and a heated cinnamon bun (definitely not the first thing I expected to eat in Uganda), I crawled under the malaria net and fell asleep by 5am. We had a busy day ahead!

Tuesday – Kampala, Uganda

I rose at 9am and after a shower and some fresh chapatti and Kenyan tea the three of us went to the Kabira Club for a buffet breakfast.

There at the Kabira Club I met with tech entrepreneurs in a series of meetings Roey had set up.

Here’s are the entrepreneurs I met with  in Uganda.

  1. Roey Rosenblith and Abu Musuza from VillageEnergy
  2. Charles from Wifi Cloud who is starting a wimax phone routers business in Kampala
  3. Saidi Bakenya from One2Net is setting up a digital internet connection service over the TV spectrum
  4. Peter Kimuli from Carnelian who is building a micro hydro power plan in west Uganda
  5. Peter Benhur Nyeko from Benconolly Pess Ltd, who is in the bus and generator business
  6. Charles Kalema, who run a garbage and disposal business with 24 employees
  7. Dennis from Dmark Mobile, a mobile apps company with 23 employees
  8. Revence Kalibwani, a mobile app developer

Around 4:30pm we went to the Village Energy sales center to meet with their employees Aggie, Alex, Alex, and Charles. We then went to dinner at a local hotel to get feedback from the team on how to improve Village Energy.

At eight we visited Olga, a VillageEnergy customer who lives in area without electricity and has 3 VE units installed.

We capped off the night with drinks at 9:30pm at Cayenne in Kampala with Roey and Abu and their friends Simon, Jennifer, and Dennis. Dennis runs Dmark Mobile, a mobile apps company with 23 employees.

Wedneday & Thursday – Nairobi, Kenya

On Wednesday I woke up at 8am. Roey, Abu, and I drove to Entebbe to have breakfast with Revence Kalibwani, a mobile app developer. Then we went to the airport and I was off to Nairobi on Air Uganda.

Yesterday and today In Nairobi I met with:

  1. David Kuria from Iko Toilet, has 50 environmentally friendly pay toilets throughout Kenya. Has raised funds from the Acumen Fund and works with my friend Amon Anderson at Acumen.
  2. Elizabeth Myyuiyi from EcoBank Kenya to discuss SME loans and credit. Secured loans are going here for 14% per year and group guaranteed microfinance loans are at 25-30%. (Though the annual inflation here is about 9% so the real interest rates on these loans are lower).
  3. Gaita Waimuchii of NetBlue Africa, a web marketing agency, and AfricaPoint.com a 21 employee travel booking company in Nairobi
  4. Ben Lyon and Dylan Higgins of KopoKopo, mobile money backend integrator, API connector between MFIs and multiple platform mobile money solutions. Ben is from FrontlineSMS and Dylan is from Savetogether.org. They’re received investment from FirstLight Ventures and Presumed Abundance to date.
  5. Jessica Colaco from iHub Nairobi, tech incubator
  6. Wiclif Otieno from Kito International, non-profit that employs street-youth in Kenya
  7. Morgan Simon, founder of Toniic Impact Investors Network

During these discussions a number of other Kenyan and East African tech firms were mentioned that I’ll have to check out.

I’ll be posting next a report and video from my time this afternoon at the iHub, the tech incubator and innovation hub here in Nairobi.

Asante Sana,
Ryan

Tuesday – Kampala, UgandaIf

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