With open MoMo API & 1bn startup fund, MTN looks to boost innovation in Uganda

With open MoMo API & 1bn startup fund, MTN looks to boost innovation in Uganda

Some of the guests who attended the launch of the open MTN Mobile Money API (Image via The Innovation Village/Twitter)

Telecommunications company MTN Uganda on Wednesday officially rolled out the MTN Mobile Money API to Ugandan developers, showing its interest in supporting the Ugandan startup ecosystem by enhancing the payment space.

By giving Ugandan developers access to the MTN Mobile Money API, the telecom giant eyes getting more partnerships from startups and SMEs in the financial services sector, Christopher Ssali, a senior manager MTN Mobile Money Products revealed at the launch which took place at The Innovation Village in Ntinda.

Uganda is one of the leading mobile money markets in Africa and MTN Uganda shares the highest percentage of mobile money subscribers in the country.

With an open API, MTN has made it easier for Ugandan developers to leverage that huge subscriber base the telco has amassed over the last nine years.

“This is an exciting development for the Ugandan start-ups ecosystem. Innovators will now be able to develop applications that ease the customer experience in terms of mobile money payments,” said Elsa Muzzolini, the General Manager, Mobile Financial Services MTN Uganda.

“We do hope that this move will spur innovation in the developer community around the country because this is the first time this is being done here.”

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In January 2018, MTN Uganda and Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) entered a partnership intended to drive customer growth and activity by facilitating a wider range of mobile wallet applications for all customers through open APIs.

According to CGAP, open APIs have the potential to further drive financial inclusion, which is already being accelerated by the usage of mobile money.

“Our expectations are that this decision will enable innovators to monetize their products, ensure that there is a fast turnaround of innovations to get to market and improve the value created for innovators and entrepreneurs, why not a Ugandan eBay or Amazon in the next few months,” Muzzolini added.

Speaking at the same event, Michael Niyitegeka, the country manager ICDL Africa, called on innovators to do enough research and understand their markets before going to work such that they can optimize such opportunities.

According to Niyitegeka, the MTN Mobile Money API could be available but if the people in the innovation space don’t come up with ideas that will be embraced by the market, the project will not be fully exploited.

Gerald Otim, the founder and CEO of Ensibuuko, a startup that is helping multiple savings and loan cooperatives to digitize their transactions, welcomed the launch of the API, saying it has come at the right time since more and more people are adopting cashless transactions.

“Cash certainly is going away, there’s no doubt about that,” he said during a panel discussion that was moderated by Ssali.

The MTN Mobile Money API will be accessed by developers online.

This takes away the process previously where developers had to submit paperwork physically to MTN Uganda and to proceed to a lengthy standard integration.

The online system provides an option where before developer’s product goes live, they can test it using a sandbox available at no cost on the website.

In a recorded video, Richard Zulu, the founder of the Outbox Hub speaking about the opening of the MTN Mobile Money API said it will “allow a multitude of innovators that we (innovation hubs) are supporting to use mobile money and reduce the time it takes to go to market.”

MTN Shs1bn startup fund

On the same evening, MTN also announced the launch of a Shs1bn Startup Fund, another commitment to the startup ecosystem on top of other projects that have been held before like the MTN Innovation Awards.

The fund will be accessed by local technology start-ups in Uganda.

The fund is expected to provide a financial boost to startups that participate in the MTN innovation challenge series.

The first of these is the MTN Open API Challenge starts on 3 December 2018.

“The Shs1bn commitment we have made towards the MTN Startup Fund also forms part of that ambition to continue supporting local innovators. I encourage as many startups as possible to participate in the several innovation challenges we shall be hosting in order to access funding from the MTN Startup Fund,” said Wim Vanhelleputte, the MTN Uganda CEO.

“Ugandan developers now have the opportunity to build products that will enhance financial inclusion, improved customer experience when making payments and improve the movement of virtual money.”

At the same function, the MTN Uganda CEO unveiled a Sh310 million internet connectivity package to The Innovation Village, courtesy of the MTN Foundation.

The package includes free internet connectivity for use by young developers and innovators as part of its youth empowerment drive.

There has been a tremendous success in countries like Kenya where some telecom companies have opened up their Mobile Money APIs.

MTN Uganda in partnership with several technology and innovation hubs around the country is facilitating the training of developers on how to use the platform. A free training program is available for registration on MTN website.

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