IDEA Center Student Intern Stories: Fr. Arthur Ssembajja is Building a Company in Uganda

Author: Danielle Koterbay

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Fr. Arthur Sembajja is an Insights Analyst and Team Lead on the de-risking team managed by Ryan Biggs and directed by Ben Hoggan. He started in June 2020 when he began as an MBA intern. His main project that summer was de-risking an educational support tool focused on helping students prepare better for AP Statistics Exams. His process included understanding the problem/solution fit, conducting qualitative market research, and discovering the true value of the technology. Arthur was able to create a deck of his findings and present a full risk assessment of the technology to the commercialization engine of the IDEA Center. Throughout this process, Arthur was able to help the company grow and evolve into a high potential startup. Since that summer and throughout the academic year (Fall 2020-Spring 2021), Arthur has continued to perform market research and de-risk ideas, focusing on four projects: 1) a smell test medical device, 2) a healthcare biocidal filter technology (COVID-focused), 3) a technology that indicates what chemicals are in water/food/medicine, and 4) a financial tool. 

A few main takeaways for Arthur are: 1) The value of a great team. Arthur has experienced working with a wonderful group of people that have greatly advanced his quality of work. Coming in, he says, "I did not have any business background, and the IDEA Center internship role allowed me to blend well into the business sphere and learn tremendously in an encouraging environment." 2) His time at the IDEA Center showed him the potential to foster an entrepreneurial mindset, where through his de-risking work, he fosters and determines value and impact. Ideas he has de-risked come from faculty/alumni/students of Notre Dame as well from the larger community of South Bend, but they all share something in common: they are ideas not focused around solely making a profit, but instead focus on how they can make a lasting impact. This resonates very well with Arthur’s mission as a Catholic priest who desires to empower people through entrepreneurship to have Integral Human Development (spiritual, cultural, economic, material & emotional growth for human flourishing).

Arthur is currently a dual-degree student here at Notre Dame. He is pursuing his Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Global Affairs (MGA) degrees. He is currently in his second year of this three year program. His engagement with the IDEA Center has helped him develop an entrepreneurial mindset to the point where he serves as the co-founder and director of a company that supplies building hardware materials in Uganda. This company currently employs 3 people (looking to expand to 5) and has generated $7,500+ so far in revenue. The values he instills in his employees is being socially-driven and providing fair compensations/meal allowances. By 2022, Arthur hopes to have 10-15 employees. After Arthur graduates from Notre Dame, he will serve a transition role for two years as an Associate Pastor in the Diocese of Fort Wayne while also working in the financial department. Longer term, he aims to return to Uganda to serve a role in both Catholic Relief Services as well as a Project Manager Consultant.

While an IDEA Center intern, every Friday morning, Arthur had the ability to check-in with his team in a meaningful way, talking about taxes, healthcare, family, real life problems, food, music, and clothing… basically anything other than the projects for work. This weekly "chat hour" gives interns a chance to bond with their team. Arthur also loved the IDEA Center space, especially the 3rd floor outdoor patio.Throughout his time at ND, he has had wonderful meals, great conversations and networking opportunities on the patio. Indoors, Arthus says he loves his cozy desk space on the third floor where he works near Ben Hoggan and Kunci Szentes. He says his work space is the perfect spot, open enough to quickly engage with those passing by, but secluded enough for focused work.

According to Arthur, all Notre Dame students should pay a visit to the IDEA Center during their time in South Bend. "The IDEA Center is a huge resource to Notre Dame, where there is a lot of opportunity for students to learn vital skills, collaborate on projects internally, or take entrepreneurial immersion courses through the University… all students should highly consider getting involved," he says. "Notre Dame students are young, dynamic, and impact-driven, with a desire to do good in the world…this matches perfectly with the IDEA Center’s mission!"