As a kid, Daniel Okalany loved to play games with his friends — card games, board games, all kinds of games.
“That was a good time,” the Kampala resident said, explaining that as he grew older, finding simple games like those played with a deck of cards became tough. Then he and his friends “realized that we could make some of those games come alive again.”
In 2011, Okalany founded Kola Studios to do just that. The Kenyan company uses smartphone applications to provide games based on the Ugandan tradition of matatu and the Kenyan tradition of karata.
People want to “reconnect with games they used to play when they were younger,” said Okalany, who studied computer science at Makerere University in Kampala. The company generates revenue by integrating ads with the games.
“We haven’t looked back for a second,” the company founders state on their website. “We love working in a very relaxed and free environment, participating in the community and interacting with the budding tech community in Kampala.”
In June, Okalany, a member of the YALI Network, spent two weeks in Chicago and Washington learning how innovators and entrepreneurs in the United States tackle their common business challenges. His visit was sponsored by the Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) initiative and included young entrepreneurs from Kenya, Uganda, Jordan, Tunisia, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia.
“The entrepreneurs in Chicago were really good. Their companies are in different stages of growth, with annual revenues ranging from $100,000 to several million dollars. Some had in-depth knowledge of sales, marketing, technology, copyright or trademarks,” he said.
“The most important thing that I learned is that everyone is working really hard. … A lot of the time you think it’s just you having to work hard for these things and everyone else is getting it easy.”
Kola Studios works out of a shared office space for individuals and companies refining their business concepts. At times, he volunteers at the business hub, helping other young entrepreneurs work through their ideas.
Okalany said that upon his return to Kampala he plans to share the business insights he picked up from the U.S. entrepreneurs with members of his Kola team and with the technology and business groups in his community.