StartHub Africa – Final Pitch Event

StartHub Africa – Final Pitch Event

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, some of our UCU students participated in the StartHub Africa program for the last semester. The culmination of the program was the final pitch event in Kampala at International University of East Africa.

Our day began at 6 am when we left UCU campus in a 14 person van (a taxi) to get to Kampala by 7:30. Our early departure time was to avoid the “jam” (or traffic) that is a fact of life here on the main roads. Dressed for success with their prototypes in hand, our students were excited for the final day to have arrived, each hopeful that they would be winners of some prize money to further their businesses.

We were the first university to arrive, allowing each of our 5 groups to have prime locations for their “booths” for the fair. Location, location, location! The agenda for the day is shown here… although we operated on African time so it was not exactly as planned!

After the judges had visited each of the approximately 35 groups during the fair, the judges announced the 11 finalists, 2 groups from each of 5 industries and 1 voter selected finalist. UCU brought 5 groups, and 3 of our 5 were finalists and were able to make their 5-minute pitch on stage to the judges and all in attendance and answer 3 minutes of questions afterwards. We were so proud of each of our students who put their all into their businesses and also of the groups who presented very well.

When final results were in, one of our groups won! The business is a mobile app called “MyCents” which is intended to keep track of simple bookkeeping targeted at mini-business owners up to small business owners. The interface is user friendly for non-financial managers or owners and then has graphical depictions of sales, expenses, etc. There are many mini-businesses in Uganda, people selling chapati (similar to a pancake) on the side of the road, small retail storefronts selling food or bags, and others. Often people go out of business due to poor cash flow management. This group’s solution to that problem was to provide a way to easily monitor the progress of the business in order to make better strategic decisions. In an environment where personal computers may not be accessible to everyone but mobile phones are very common, this mobile app could have a great opportunity to make an impact. It will be exciting to see how far they can take their business!

StartHub Africa

StartHub Africa

One of the projects that the Entrepreneurship Faculty at UCU has been facilitating for interested students in all courses of study is StartHub Africa (

The StartHub course involved approximately 11 lecture sessions presenting material to help student entrepreneurs develop business plans and create businesses using tools like the “Business Model Canvas” shown below. The UCU students have been meeting Saturday nights from 7 pm – 10 pm. Now, that’s dedication!

The StartHub course ends with a final competition for $5,000,000 UGshillings (about $1,400 USD) called the StartHub Africa Pitch Event. It will be held this Friday May 18th at International University of East Africa (IUEA) in Kampala. Guests will include students from all universities around Kampala, entrepreneurs, companies, investors, and the general public, and will come to see groups presenting new businesses from seven universities including International University of East Africa, Kampala International University, Kyambogo University, Ugandan Christian University, Ugandan Martyr’s University, Ndejje University, and Bugema University.

The event will begin with a business fair where the public and the judges can visit the booths of each team to learn about their business and ask questions. After lunch, the judges will select 9 teams, plus 1 selected by the public as a favorite, to present on stage a 3-minute pitch on their business to compete for the award money.

Last Friday, the faculty members helping with StartHub gathered with the students for an “Internal Pitch” to help them prepare for the final Pitch Event this Friday. Teams brought prototypes of their products and powerpoint presentations to explain their business and entice investors or the Pitch Event judges. Our students have come up with a variety of products including mixed fruit trays, a bakery business, a backpack manufacturing company (which has already made sales to some schools!), a mobile app for small business owners in all industries, and affordable home décor. I look forward to seeing how the students refine their businesses and presentations as we help them to prepare for the event on Friday. We will hope for a great outcome!

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Welcome to the Neighborhood

On Saturday afternoon, Mary and I arrived home to UCU campus in Mukono after spending 2 nights near the airport in Entebbe. We were greeted by smiling faces and hugs from our neighbors and friends who came by to greet us.

I have enjoyed getting to familiarize myself with the campus and had the opportunity to meet several of the faculty and staff the last few days. Warm and welcoming are the trademark characteristics of the people here in Uganda.

We also have some four-legged neighbors who like to avail themselves of the fruits in our garden and also the fruit in the nearby trees (mangos are everywhere right now). While more exotic (to me), people talk about the monkeys like we do the squirrels in Texas, a little perturbed that they are eating our fruit or in the squirrels’ case, hiding nuts in our flower pots. At a barbeque with the Entrepreneurship faculty last night, my favorite quote of the evening was “We can’t sit outside because the monkeys may throw mangos at us.” These monkey friends like to pick mangos, take a bite, and if they are not yet ripe, throw them down to the ground below.

This is a picture borrowed from Wikipedia because I haven’t gotten a close-up photo of one of these guys yet! They’re always on the move!

Yesterday, I woke up to a rooster crowing on our neighbor’s patio. A few hours later, this neighbor kindly brought over some homemade chicken in a tasty broth and matoke (a traditional Ugandan dish of steamed bananas that tastes a little like mashed potatoes) to share.

Our back patio is one of my favorite places at this new home. It’s surrounded by a garden full of herbs and fruit (thyme, basil, parsley, strawberries, gooseberries, leeks, eggplant, cucumber, green onions, and more). It will be fun to cook with such a fresh assortment just outside the kitchen. It’s also a lovely location for quiet time with the Lord and for our group prayer and bible study each morning.

Making matooke

Making matooke

Over the last couple years, my discipleship group has become accustomed to an end of semester party. When we were studying the 39 Articles, we dubbed it the 40th Article. This semester, we studied spiritual disciplines, so we called it the Discipline of Fellowship.

Brian and Saul wanted to make matooke, the staple food for the Baganda, and fish. All I had to do was provide the kitchen and tea after. Sounds like a win! I had no idea how matooke was made, and was very interested to learn.

Brian brought over the matooke, fish, and spices (vegetables to make the sauce: tomatoes, onions, and green pepper). Then he started peeling the matooke. My knives have never had such a workout. Saul came and joined in the work, and soon enough, they were done.


Brian moved to the kitchen and began to work on the fish and sauce, while Saul continued with the matooke. He had retrieved some banana leaves and banana bark, and he placed the latter in a bowl crosswise, then a few banana leaves. Then he added the matooke. I was convinced it would never fit, but he proved me wrong. He then added more leaves, then tied it all tightly with the bark.

Saul then cut the spines of the banana leaves and some of the trunk so that the matooke wouldn’t touch the bottom of the pan. He added water, and voila! A matooke steam bath was born.

Now the matooke (in the pan we borrowed from the guest house because I don’t have a pan large enough) went in the stove to steam away. It eventually received another bowl as topper to trap the steam.

Brian continued to work on the fish and sauce, kicking me out of my own kitchen when I tried to help. Twice.

When the matooke had steamed enough (they kept pressing the leaves to see how soft it was), they removed it from the sauce pan, then took other leaves and mashed (though I think the proper term is “pressed”) it, working quickly because it was hot. Then it got re-wrapped for more steaming.

When it was finished, Saul then used a plate to scoop and serve, and we all enjoyed tremendously.

And out of that huge bunch of matooke (which fed 18 people) only this remained, which I gave to Saul.

Thanks be to God!

When you say “Yes” to God…..Buckle up!

When you say “Yes” to God…..Buckle up!

When you say “Yes” to God…Buckle up!

An A&M grad and CPA, I started my career in public accounting in Fort Worth out of college. Picking a challenging major with good job security was typical of me, and I enjoyed the mix of people and numbers, as well as being back in Fort Worth close to family. About 6 and a half years later, I felt the need for a job change and to find a better work/life balance. I landed in the accounting group at a manufacturing company that allowed me a change of pace and also some new and interesting work.

While I had never thought of myself as a missionary or ever planned to go on a mission trip, my church began planning a trip to Northern Malawi, Africa in early 2017. As the announcements persisted, I felt God saying “and why not you?”. Being practical, I thought through all the reasons that it wasn’t ME that was supposed to go, but I really couldn’t think of many! It seemed actually a perfect time in my life to go as a single adult, no kids, and a job that would allow me to go for 2 weeks. So then, it was the moment of truth. “Jessica, do you trust me enough to go to Malawi to see what I will show you even if you don’t know what that is?”

Having decided to go on the trip, I felt a peace about going and as we prepared for the trip, repeatedly saw confirmations that I had made the right decision to take the leap! Our 2 weeks in Malawi were wonderful and also filled with a whole mixture of emotions – joy, anxiety, excitement, frustration, exhaustion, peace, fellowship, laughter and others! On our return, I couldn’t tell immediately how the trip had changed me. Though I had had an amazing life experience and saw God in new ways, I came back still feeling like this time in my life of freedom to GO surely had a purpose beyond my “safe” life plan.

Through months of prayer, conversations with friends and new contacts, I cast a wide net and asked God to show me the next steps, whatever they would be.  In those months, my type A, planner, goal-setter self was really challenged to let go of the control that I naturally want but don’t have! Finally, following advice from a friend to “rest in the uncertainty”, I threw in the towel and said “Ok, God, I don’t need to know. I’ll wait on you.”

Just two weeks later, I learned about this opportunity in Uganda to serve with SAMS. New to missions, I was surprised to find an opportunity as a missionary that would use my business skills and background! I had been interested in working with college students, was feeling a call to be more involved in ministry in some way, have always had an interest in starting a small business coming from a family of entrepreneurs, and had been interested in exploring a passion for teaching. Understanding that I could never have dreamed this up on my own, I came to see God’s hand all over it and heard again in my heart the question, “Will you trust me enough to GO?”

At Uganda Christian University, I will be serving with SAMS missionary Mary Chowenhill who teaches economics and practical entrepreneurship at UCU. I’ll be working with students in the entrepreneurship degree program to further develop their small business plans and assisting the other Entrepreneurship faculty, as needed. With one of the youngest and most rapidly growing populations in the world, creating jobs through entrepreneurship in Uganda could hopefully lead to a reduction in poverty and empower young people to use their talents and resources to improve the future for themselves and their communities.

In the months of preparation to go, God has continued to “make the way” at every turn, reaffirming often that He is leading. Looking back at this journey so far, I’ve seen the Lord’s faithfulness and hold on to the certainty that He is leading me step by step as I go to Uganda in early May!

“When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.

…The Lord will fulfill his purpose in me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands.” Psalm 138:3,8

Thank you for reading and following my ministry!