From walking over 10 miles to and from his undergraduate studies at Makerere University in Uganda to having a startup fail during Notre Dame’s Race to Revenue summer startup accelerator last July, Ambrose Kamya continues to be resilient. His newest endeavor, Kinga, a widget aimed at preventing sexual violence, raised $76,000 in only six months.
Journey to South Bend
Ambrose majored in animal science, got his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, and worked within his community in Uganda to connect local farmers to the global organic food market and to combat sexual violence. In 2019, Ambrose was awarded the Mandela Washington Fellowship, funded by the U.S. Department of State, to continue his entrepreneurial journey at the University of Notre Dame. During his time at Notre Dame, Ambrose was trained in entrepreneurship at the Mendoza School of Business and worked with individuals both from there and the IDEA Center on his startup, SafeBangle, a wearable device designed to combat sexual violence. Ambrose fell in love with the University during this 6-week fellowship and had a burning desire to return once back in Uganda.
Navigating the Pandemic
While back home, Ambrose applied to the ESTEEM graduate program at Notre Dame, which he thought would be a good fit due to its scientific and entrepreneurial focuses. When Ambrose was accepted, he was fortunate that the borders had not closed due to COVID, meaning he could return to South Bend safely. Unfortunately, Ambrose didn’t have any money, his wife was pregnant, and there was a pandemic going on. He started reaching out and asking people for loans. Edward Jurkovic, with the Pulte Institute for Global Development at Notre Dame, explained that a loan would only serve to worsen the situation, and kindly set up a GoFundMe for the journey back to South Bend. Although everything seemed to be falling into place, Ambrose was hesitant to leave. Leaving would mean that his pregnant wife would have to be alone for an unknown amount of time, and that he would miss the birth of his first child. In the face of this, his wife still encouraged him to go.
Ambrose said, “Without her, I don’t know where I would be or what I would be doing. She keeps me going and I can’t thank her enough for all of the sacrifices she has made.”
ESTEEM and Beyond
After this whirlwind, finally, Ambrose was able to start his journey in the ESTEEM program. During his time in ESTEEM, Ambrose helped Dr. Michael Morris run his South Bend Entrepreneurship and Adversity Program and kept working on SafeBangle. He was able to win $10,000 at the McCloskey pitch competition in April of 2022 and was the ESTEEM program representative. He was excited about where SafeBangle was going, and accepted a fellowship at enFocus, as they were willing to support his entrepreneurial journey and gave him the opportunity to give back to the community. At enFocus, Ambrose has been engaging the mayor’s office and was influential in the recent announcement about the new immigration fund for South Bend employers.
Ambrose was selected for the Race to Revenue, where he realized his startup needed a completely different solution than what he had been devoting his time to. Ambrose was trying to solve a problem he’s passionate about and became emotionally attached. He felt extremely demoralized and like he let his mother down, his inspiration, having seen her go through a traumatized life as a sexual assault victim.
“The room became cold and big when my idea died,” he said. “My mother is my inspiration to solve this problem, and I failed.”
However, he quickly viewed the situation through the lens of being handed a blank check. He realized that his mistake with SafeBangle was in validating his idea.
“Speaking with your intended customers before you run with an idea is the best thing you can do, and I didn’t do that with SafeBangle when trying to introduce it to higher education institutions,” he said.
After coming to this realization, Ambrose literally took out a drawing pad and started engaging hundreds of students and Title IX coordinators to better understand the sexual assault problems facing academic institutions. From his conversations, he was able to quickly mockup an interactive widget which loosely mimicked his idea, and Kinga was born. Kinga is a widget that allows people in uncomfortable or unsafe situations to send notifications to their friends and initiate fake text or phone conversations, a proven method in preventing sexual violence. Kinga is a word in Swahili, which is best interpreted as “the community coming together to protect something or someone that is valuable.” Ambrose believes the environment that exists in college campuses and throughout the world, where women constantly have to worry about sexual violence is unacceptable, and as extremely valuable individuals in our society, it is necessary for everyone to come together as a community and protect them.
Since July, Ambrose has been able to raise $76,000 for his new idea. The first dollar he received was through the Proof of Concept Fund from Startup South Bend – Elkhart.
“I was actually denied at first,” Ambrose said, “but the committee that denied me gave me some great feedback and I was able to come back and get it the next time.”
Additionally, Ambrose has received $20,000 from the Community Ideation Fund through Elevate Ventures, $24,000 from the IDEA Center, $20,000 from the Elevate Nexus Pitch Competition, and $10,000 from a friend.
“Being in a developed entrepreneurial ecosystem makes a huge difference,” he said. “I have been able to get hands-on assistance from the ESTEEM program, Startup South Bend – Elkhart, Elevate Ventures, enFocus, and many more partners and friends. Without them, Kinga would not exist.”
Ambrose is getting ready to pilot his widget at Ivy Tech and is in conversations with 15 other higher education institutions. Additionally, due to the rapid success Kinga has had in just over six months, the Kinga team has been expanding. Ambrose has hired a CTO, Kassandra Ortega, and most recently hired a CEO, Molly Brown Schugel, former Senior Vice President for Bank of America.
“When you’re creating a team, leave space for someone on your team that knows the way,” Ambrose said. “Because of my recent hires, in a couple of months, I’ve been able to achieve something I’ve been trying to do since 2017.”
For more information on Kinga, visit www.kingasafety.com.