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mSME Garage: Driving Technology innovations in Legal Services

mSME Garage is an innovation of Barefoot Lawyers (PHOTO: HiiL) mSME Garage is an innovation of Barefoot Lawyers (PHOTO: HiiL)

 

Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) play a vital role in the development of the Ugandan economy. MSMEs collectively constitute about 90% of private sector production and employ over 2,5 million people. The results of a recent survey carried out with over 1800 MSMEs in Uganda highlighted that one fifth of MSMEs have not registered, and three quarters do not have a tax identification number (NATHAN, FSD & TNS, 2015 ‘National Small Business Survey of Uganda’). Around a quarter say they do not know how to register, or that it is too complicated to do so. But registration is required in order to trade, expand and receive licenses. Hence, there is a huge opportunity to sensitize and provide these businesses with legal guidance in making their business sustainable. 

The mSMEGarage is a spin off lead by Barefoot Lawyers that provides legal services – in various stages of their development – to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Uganda. Founded by Gerald Abila and Michael Kwizera, the mSMEGarage is aiming to reach over 1000 SMEs in its first 6 months. One thing that makes them innovative, is that they leverage on Africa’s growing social media penetration and use those channels to provide legal support.

Timothy Kakuru is the Garage’s project manager, heading the operations and providing virtual assistance to its registered members through Facebook, WhatAapp and via their website. The website content is constantly being updated with new legal information on business registration, contracting, patenting, licensing, taxation or legal procedures. Users have to register in order to download template legal documents or book an appointment for a face-to-face consultation with a lawyer. In addition, four field executives - business analysts – work full time to approach small business owners at various locations in Kampala to ask about their legal needs and interest in registering for the mSMEGarage. 

One of mSMEGarage’s clients is Tambula. Tambula is a boda-boda-tracking company that launched in 2014 to increase safety and security for Kampala’s thousands of motorcycles – many of which end up in accidents or are violently mugged at night. The founders developed a new software that can track the location of their member-boda’s via geo-tagging and automatically generates reports when accidents occur through a smartphone application. 

It turns out the MSMEGarage was indispensable in making their business grow to a success. As its founder Ivan explains: “The mSMEGarage walked with us all the way through incorporation and the development of designs that could stand patent protection worldwide. With this we have been able to get a Microsoft grant of 25,000 USD and have now reached thousands more bodaboda riders in the country." Apparently, newly developed companies are in particular need of affordable legal advice which seems to be simply missing in Uganda. "A team as intelligent and versatile as at the SME garage is quite difficult to find this side of Africa, that is rooted to the ground and particularly understands the hurdles of new businesses in Uganda.” 

The mSMEGarage won second place during the Innovating Justice Awards 2015, organized by HiiL, with an investment of 20.000USD and access to HiiL’s networks and expert advice. Almost halfway down its validation phase, the Garage managed to set up its online platform, adopt materials to facilitate 295 SMEGarage-registrations in its first weeks, conduct 2 legal seminars to a big audience and provide customized legal information to dozens of its clients. “All the advice, workshops and insights from the HiiL team have been incredibly valuable, and it opened new a new world of opportunities to us” said Michael, Lead Strategy and Product Development, following a week of intensive workshops with HiiL in their office.

 

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 mSME Garage Flyer

 

Published: May 21, 2016