It was an evening of celebration and merrymaking as innovators and future entrepreneurs convened in Kigali, Rwanda, on Friday, for the Hanga Pitchfest 2023 grand finale which saw the best startups to pitch scalable ideas go home with money to scale their businesses. The highlight of the afternoon was President Paul Kagame sitting down for a fireside chat with Yousouff Ntwali, founder and CEO of BAG Innovation and Startups in Rwanda., to discuss the country’s vision to support innovation and entrepreneurship as well as the Head of State’s personal views on a number of things. President Kagame also participated in the awarding ceremony, together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, Achim Steiner, handing over the grand prize to this year’s winner, Loopa, a local startup leveraging IoT technology to optimize the transformation of food waste and other agricultural byproducts into nutrients-rich organic fertilizer, with an end goal to help farmers transition from inorganic to organic fertilizers. Loopa, which seeks to reduce Rwanda’s dependence on imported fertilizers, took home a cash prize of Rwf50m while runner’s up HOVA AI, a Rwandan startup dedicated to helping African SMEs to make informed decisions with innovative Retail Analytics solutions, won a cash prize of Rwf20m. During the fireside chat, President Kagame highlighted that the Government of Rwanda values supporting the development and growth of entrepreneurship skills, innovations and through initiatives like Hanga Pitchfest, the country is able to bring on board other partners, such as those backing the program, to achieve more together. “For us entrepreneurship and trying to work with the young people, the talent and people trying all the best they can to come out and express themselves and do whatever they can do to, is a responsibility, first of all, we have as a government, as Leaders,” President Kagame said. He pointed out that there is so much talent locked in the young people with the young and sometimes all they need is an opportunity and means to discover and scale that talent and when people come together and work together, as different partners have done with Hanga, the resources and means needed are available. “In Rwanda therefore we have identified this as a major way of developing our country, our people and beyond our country more so, the continent,” he said of the partnership, adding that the African continent needs such kinds of initiatives to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship. Asked what he would have done as an entrepreneur, had he opted for that path, not his current one, President Kagame said that he was often mesmerised by planes, and whatever he would have done, had he not opted for the political career, it would be around aviation or aerospace science. “Growing up, I was fascinated by planes. Even way before I even had an opportunity to step on a plane, I used to see them and be fascinated by that. In fact, from that, I thought if I had had the opportunity, I would become a pilot or an engineer. That didn’t happen,” President Kagame said. “I ended up in completely different places but I am trying to do my best in that as well. I think in a way the train left the station, but I know there are many young entrepreneurs and a lot of talent in this room. I am just encouraging you. This is the time for you to do what some of us were not able to do and change things. This is your time,” he told young people. Third place winner, Dope Initiatives, a which created a solution to offer sexual and reproductive health content through a game, took home a Rwf15m cash prize while the other top 5 members Umurava, a tech startup in the talent management and Ed-tech spaces with a mission to build Africa’s largest workforce specialized in digital economy and MEDIXR_Global, a startup looking to reshape the healthcare education using virtual reality technology, took home a cash prize of Rwf12.5m each. Among other prizes, Carnegie Mellon University Africa will offer $3,600 in technology development support to each of the top five companies which participated in the Hanga Pitchfest through the CMU-Africa Tech Skills Marketplace Program and also provide business incubation support within the CMU Africa industry Innovation lab amounting to $40,000 for the First and Second place winners of the Hanga PitchFest Finale, for a 12-month period. Irembo will provide the top 5 startups access to their exclusive “Startup Governance Fellowship” program, a comprehensive initiative designed to equip the winners with essential skills to build world-class teams and operations, fostering sustainable growth and success It should also be noted that the top 45 Hanga Pitchfest 2023 will join the Aguka Program that provides business mentorship.