Beth Plant is the co-founder of SafeBangle Ltd, alongside Ambrose Kamya, Saul Kabali and Messach Luminsa. The company makes and sells rape alarms, in the form of a bracelet, with in-built GPS and SMS functions. The bracelet allows individuals at the point of attack to issue an alert to 5 emergency contacts, and the company operates out of Uganda. Beth began working on this project in the summer of her first year at university, spending three months in Kampala.
What is your background? What made you decide to be an entrepreneur?
I have always wanted to work in international development, and knew that this was something I wanted to develop after my degree, hence I am now completing my Masters in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies. I spent three months in Kampala in the summer of my first year at university, completing an internship for United Social Ventures. They are a consultancy business for social enterprises in Uganda, driving a real focus on localising development and encouraging entrepreneurship to solve community issues. On this internship, I met my three co-founders [Ambrose Kamya, Saul Kabali and Messach Luminsa] who had the technology-based knowledge to develop SafeBangle, and I brought the entrepreneurial side.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
For me, entrepreneurship is about seeing a problem and trying to fix it. Especially for social entrepreneurship, I think this is about recognising an everyday problem in your community and working to find a solution.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
I had belief in the project early on, as did my co-founders. We had a fantastic idea which meant we all really wanted to make it work. We see ourselves more as a social enterprise than directly being focused on our product – we regularly partner with charities and beneficiaries in Uganda who get our product for free. I always thought it was something that could make a big and lasting difference.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
I think adaptability is key. Being able to change parts of your vision whilst still remaining true to your original idea is important and having the ability to adapt to needs that you didn’t previously know or recognise is also crucial. You have to be passionate about the problem that you are solving. Of course, you need to be passionate about your product too, but passion for the problem has to come first: you should change the product to fit the problem and not the other way round. Another top skill is communication – being a co-founder means I’m always a part of a team, so working and collaborating with others is significant too.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
My favourite part is knowing that we are actively making a difference and changing the way things are. We are still quite small but hearing back from beneficiaries who have received our product is really great. Another favourite part for me is working in Uganda, I really love the international collaboration.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
There are loads of organisations in Uganda that inspire me – CEDOVIP, Not Your Body and Raising Voices are some. They gave us a lot of advice at the beginning. Gender-based violence is at the core of what they do, and so I think our product complements the work that they are doing. The rape alarm doesn’t look at the root cause of the problem, like they do, but is about protection at the point of attack. They’re focused on the longer term problem which is fantastic.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A couple of months ago we won the Digital Human Rights Innovation Award 2021. It was a great confidence boost, and it really affirmed to us that we are doing something worthwhile and creating something people are excited about. We are also hoping to sell our product in other East African countries soon, so that is very exciting.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
In the early days, when we were conducting market research, I learnt a lot more than I thought I would. I was going into an entirely different environment and didn’t know the situation on the ground as much as my colleagues did. I went in with a pre-conceived idea of what our product would look like, and didn’t realise how much we needed feedback from the people we hoped would buy our product. It showed me that you can’t be closed off and have a one-track mind. You need to be constantly open and listen to the people you’re aiming your product at.
How have you funded your ideas?
Initially, we partnered with UN Women Uganda who started the ball rolling with funding. It was great to partner with them – there is a real focus on development in the sphere of localisation and entrepreneurship, moving away from the paternalistic or white saviour ideas attached to charity in the past. Because of this movement in the sector there are now quite a few funding opportunities open.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
The award we recently won [Digital Human Rights Innovation Award 2021] came complete with prize money, but we soon hope to be self-sufficient in terms of finances.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
There are so many opportunities, particularly with the university and the Foundry. It’s also a place where lots of innovation is happening, and there are several chances to talk to others and grow connections.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
United Social Ventures is a student-led society in Oxford, who partner with the Makerere University in Kampala. I would also direct them to the Oxford Foundry, where lots of resources are available.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
I don’t think I have – working in a female-oriented space, focusing on gender-based violence and the empowerment of women, this fortunately hasn’t been the case. One thing that is important, though, is that working in Uganda I am in a place of privilege as a white woman. I’m always checking this privilege and am mindful too that my identity as a woman here is less relevant when it is my race that puts me in a position of privilege.
Any last words of advice?
I think it’s important to really think about the problems you are seeing every day in your community, and if you have an idea on how to make these problems better, give it a go! If you’re coming from a place where you are facing a problem, other people will want to find a solution too and so will be interested to hear what you have to say.