With a modest population of twelve million, bordered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west and Uganda to the north, Rwanda today is renowned for its green highlands, active volcanoes and rare silverback gorillas.
In the 1990s, the narrative of the Rwandan people revolved around stories of political strife, genocide and war, but today it is one of the safest places in Africa for volunteers, tourists and entrepreneurs alike.
Relative to its sub-Saharan neighbours, Rwanda is a small, landlocked country lacking valuable natural resources with a population that does not fit the criteria needed to support a labour-based economy.
As a result, the country developed a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, often teaching its students not to “find a job, but to create a job.”
At the geographical heart of Rwanda lies its capital Kigali, which has put its start-up scene at the centre of its initiative to rebrand itself as a city of tech and creativity.
Now two Israeli entrepreneurs, Hezi Bezalel and Guy Cherni, have tagged along for the ride. Their goal? To use all their hometown resources to help support the small African city on its journey to become the African Start-up Nation.
“In a lot of aspects, they [Rwanda] are pretty similar to Israel; there is a great commonality that the two countries share,” explains Cherni, who has an MA in global community development from the Hebrew University and in 2012 was one of the first proponents of the Jerusalem start-up ecosystem.
“Both grew out of a tragedy; Israel, in Europe, and Rwanda, with its genocide 21 years ago. This has created a link between us.”
The programme will operate on two core agendas.
The first is a communal aspect that attempts to act as a connector between all the different islands of innovation that already exist in Kigali. This includes weekly mentorship sessions from Israeli and Rwandan experts and monthly meet-ups for the Kigali entrepreneurial community.
The second agenda is to provide capital by investing in more mature, established companies. In Rwanda, there are no venture capital funds, and only a few angel investors, who invest at most $25,000. This translates into a minimal amount of capital available for start-ups in the region.