Microfinance startup, Ensibuuko, brings modern banking to customers throughout Uganda
How mentorship and support from Outbox, a Google for Startups partner, helped this founder gain confidence and scale their startup.
The above video was filmed in 2019.
Accessing financial services can be tough in rural communities. Growing up in Uganda, Gerald Otim witnessed many of the challenges that financially underserved populations can face. He saw farmers who had access to land, but lacked the financing needed to serve existing markets or tap new ones. The result was that many of the farmers earned only enough to meet their own household needs. Gerald wanted to give these farmers and all Ugandans a secure banking experience that they could access from anywhere.
So in 2012, Gerald founded Ensibuuko, a company that helps small banking entities automate data, processes, and payments, even in rural areas with poor telecom infrastructures. The company began by partnering with cooperatives that introduced farmers to potential buyers for their goods. Now, Ensibuuko empowers customers who have even the most basic cell phones to save, borrow, and manage their money on a mobile wallet. The best part? The price of Ensibuuko’s platform is 80 percent lower than the cost of traditional banking software. That makes it easier for local savings cooperatives (SACCOs) to serve a market that formal financial institutions often ignore. Today, Ensibuuko processes USD $1 million in transactions every month, has more than 10 employees, and includes an extended network of 400 field volunteers to help support and spread the word about their services.
Before he started Ensibuuko, though, Gerald needed to find tech talent that could bring his idea to life. He connected with Richard Zulu and Outbox, a Google for Startups partner tech hub in Kampala, Uganda. Outbox’s co-working space, business incubation, and technical training programs support aspiring African tech entrepreneurs as they build high-growth companies. It also works with students, developers, researchers, and organizations to create inclusive communities that entrepreneurs can tap into for talent and collaboration. Participation in a six-month Outbox incubation program helped the Ensibuuko team enhance their technical savvy, build strong relationships that helped with fundraising, and work through their business model. Perhaps most importantly, they gained the confidence needed to recommit to their goals. “Google assured us that we are on the right track, and that we are pursuing a cause worth fighting for,” recalls Gerald.
That reassurance was critical as the COVID-19 pandemic spread. While many companies were going out of business, Ensibuuko swiftly transitioned its team to work remotely. “We started using YouTube video as a learning program to help our employees ensure their time out of the office is well-spent,” shares Gerald. Some aspects of the pandemic may even be helping Ensibuuko grow. “With more people embracing digital platforms and payments, we’ve experienced an increased demand for our products, and especially our mobile banking solution,” says Gerald. “Business is looking up.”