Techie Lwanjo’s passion for computers turns in profits

Simon Lwanjo’s fascination for computers started in Primary Five when he watched the headmaster’s secretary type away at a computer. That was enough to trigger his interest in the world of information technology. He soon gleaned a few tips from her.
Two years later, he became the head of the computer laboratory when the school bought its student community the first desktop computer.
“Very few primary schools had computers at the time. We had one computer and I was the only one allowed to use it. That was way back in 1993. When I was in Senior Four at St. Mary’s College Kisubi, I was already doing commercial graphic design with some colleagues at a place in town,” he recollects.
He would make business cards and posters at a cafe and the money he earned from this would supplement his pocket money. By the time he sat for Aanced Level (A’ level) exams, he was dreaming of owning his first business since he had saved some money to realise this dream. With his cousin, they started a company called Eddiekom Café which had premises in Kawempe, a Kampala suburb.
He provided Internet and trained locals on how to use it. He soon joined Makerere University where he made friends who soon became customers.
“It was pretty interesting and fun we were installing Linux servers by that time and using a dial-up connection to proxy Internet to seven computers. Places like Kawempe just did not have connectivity and for most people it was a miracle to see an email replied,” the graduate of Computer Science from Makerere University and Diploma holder in Information Technology (IT) at Kyambogo University recounts.
On realising how serious he was, one of his uncles gave him a push of Shs200,000 as a loan. Lwanjo, with his cousin worked tireless to pay back this financial aance given that they were paying rent of the same amount. He had made up his mind that this was not a trial but a serious venture. Along the way, he picked up lessons of running business.
New innovation
At the Ministry of Internal affairs, he has installed a Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device. He learnt the technical installation skills while in the US two years ago. He partnered with a US technology firm to deliver digital forensics equipment to East Africa.
The idea is to introduce digital forensic skills to enable various government and private organisations investigate digital and cyber-crime.
Digital forensic technology is used to investigate crime committed by using digital gadgets computers, phones, cameras and pretty much anything that can save on a digital device.
He has trained the personnel at the ministry facility in Wandegeya on how to get the best out of the equipment.
Growing business
He is now looking at growing his company. Although he is not yet getting a comfortable salary, he is glad Preg-Tech can pay some of his bills.
“It pays the car bills, which is quite some money because I travel a lot. I have a fuel allowance for my car for Shs250,000 a week. Then we pay office rent of Shs1 million,” he explains.
He does most of the technical work but is giving chance to IT graduates to do some of the work especially students on internship. He pays them per project accomplished
Lwanjo is still a big dreamer, and one of his big dreams is to build capacity as one way innovators can significantly participate in the country’s economy.
“We want to be part of the development partners of the country and we want to serve our clients better to a point where we can employ more Ugandans,” he says.

Aice
“I subscribe to the norm that young people should be very creative, grounded and they should not copy anyone. They should come up with something they love and pursue it.”
He says young people today do not like working hard. They are impatient and take a lot of time looking for easy ways out.
“I think if you have an idea then you need to put in a lot of time. If you compare yourself to the rest of the world you realise you are not the best out there so you need to put in more time. You have an opportunity to learn from successful people who have done it before, even if it is outside your own world, so with that and a lot of information on the Internet, you can learn a lot more,” he aises.
Lwanjo says local innovators have an opportunity to look at local projects in their communities.
“Even small scale agriculture feeds in to this line of thought – the fact that a Ugandan knows the conditions better, gives them an edge over someone coming from abroad,” he adds.

Who is Simon Lwanjo?
He is a graduate of computer science from Makerere University and a diploma holder in Information Technology (IT) at Kyambogo University. He has trained at RF (Radio Frequency)ommunications in Shan Telecom in India.
He is fascinated by the rewards of persistence and determination. His expertise spreads in areas of network security, equipment supply and maintenance of ICT systems.

Lwanjo’s clients

He registered his company while abroad in 2007 at a cost of Shs750,000. When he did some work for Victoria Group of companies, more clients started trusting him with their graphics design and IT. Soon, the Ministry of Internal Affairs requested for his services.
Then came more companies such as Victoria Pumps, Multi–Lines, Multi-Konsults, Sentoogo and Partners, Ernst and Young, The Daily Monitor for which his company designed the ‘fantasy football’ game.
One of his biggest deals was the work he did for Ernst and Young from which he earned $15,000 (about Shs34 million). He had designed a human resource and payroll management system for the company.

How Lwanjo centralises databases

In 2009, Preg-Tech Communications in partnership with Lotus Technologies was contracted to design a Claims System for Marie Stopes Uganda. The NGO was running a voucher based project to take Maternal Health, STD treatment and Family Planning services to the poorest people in Western Uganda. The system was intended to enable them manage all aspects of the project.
He explains, “The project works in a way that vouchers are generated and sold out to communities. The communities then go out to access maternal health services and Sexually Transmitted Infections services from accredited service providers. The service providers claim the full amount for the service from the NGO.”
As a result, the NGO expanded these services to other regions to the North in Gulu, to the East in Tororo, to the west in Fort Portal and now Central Uganda.
With this innovation, Marie Stopes Uganda has centralised database management and is capable of managing their activities all over the country from their central office based in Kampala.

Lessons about business
“Capital in form of equity is never there.” Lwanjo has learnt to use the available- knowledge which anyone can acquire through school. His has been a journey of getting more skills about Information Technology to make that his capital base.
“People find it hard to trust others with money.” Lwanjo learnt that no one could trust him with their money to build on that. So he spent nights trying to get things done.
“Experience and passion can take you places.” When Lwanjo got a job at IT Trends in 2001, his first salary was Shs350,000. Because he proved himself to his superiors, they raised his salary to Shs400,000 two months later. Since he enjoyed his work, money was a bonus. After a while, he decided to go abroad, to India, to sharpen his IT skills.

Challenges
Operating this kind of business has not been without its own hurdles and frustrations. Making losses has been part of the journey. “We have designed projects for big clients who do not pay. I have recently incurred losses of up to $30,000 (about Shs78 million). In such insistences, you hear something similar on the market coming up which means they have stolen your idea and are running it differently,” the technology entrepreneur further explains.
However, such losses do not slow Lwanjo down. “I just suck it in within my operational costs and focus on the next project. It is inevitable,” he says.
Simon Lwanjo shares some of the challenges he has experienced.

rbatte@ug.nationmedia.com

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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