By Phillip Chichoni
Speaking at the International Business Conference at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair on 23 April 2014, United States Ambassador Bruce Wharton mentioned that Zimbabwe is far and away the nation in Africa best able to lead and profit from the high growth of information, communications and technology (ICT).
While global growth of ICT has surpassed any other in the last decade, Africa is just waking up and has the greatest growth potential of any continent. With a powerful combination of intellectual property, infrastructure and language capability second to none on the continent, Zimbabwe has the potential to be not only a regional leader but also a global player in ICT.
The ICT industry has great opportunities and is continuing on a high growth path, especially in Africa which has been lagging behind. In Africa, Zimbabwe can take advantage of its unique resources to lead in the following business opportunities:
- Using ICT to support and improve existing industries.
- Creating apps. The global applications economy was worth an estimated US$68 billion in 2013.
- Games. The video and mobile games markets were valued at $65 billion in 2011, and with rapid growth in smart phones, there is great potential.
- Computer generated graphics. These can be sold to movie studios around the world (like what is being done by the 26 year old Kenyan entrepreneur Mike Muthiga, whom we covered in the April issue of this magazine –under the title 30 Young African Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2014).
- Call centres. With a well educated young population fluent in the English language, call centres for global companies present a good business opportunity.
- Data management. Production of analysis and data management for international financial organisations.
All this is value addition of the highest order and definitely something that Zimbabweans can do today.
And herein in comes HyperCube, the technology innovation hub launched in Harare last year. There have been a few tech hubs set up recently, such as Muzinda / Umuzi funded by Dr Strive and Mrs Tsitsi Masiyiwa, but HyperCube was the first and seems well positioned to maintain its leadership. Although also donor funded, it is being run as a self-sustaining business, with users paying to use the facilities. To me this ensures that only genuine entrepreneurs, willing to make investments in developing their products, will use the facilities and the hub will not close when donor funds run-out.
Besides providing a physical space, Hypercube wants to help the ecosystem through creating connections and social development. Given the status of their financial backers, that is the US State Department, HIVOS and Indigo Trust, Hypercube definitely has the ability for both local and international linkages. For example, the ladies behind the Techwomen initiative have been able to go to Silicon Valley through their relationship with the US embassy in Harare.
This year also, the US Embassy is facilitating the opportunity for 30 young Zimbabwean entrepreneurs to participate in the Washington Fellowship experience that offers exposure, internships, training and the chance to access capital for start-up enterprises here in Zimbabwe.
According to the operations manager of the tech hub, Taps Murove, the concept of the hub is to create a space for Zimbabweans to co-learn, co-work, co-innovate and basically be a community of technologists and entrepreneurs contributing to the country’s tech ecosystem. Murove also announced one of the tech hub’s main programs, called SuperHyper, which is targeted at incubating startup companies. Incubation in the accelerator gets the startup the resources and mentorship they need to execute effectively.
Hypercube intends on carrying out a highly collaborative drive to grow the startup ecosystem with plans being hedged around the involvement of public and private sectors as well as the general community. Tied to this will be initiatives to expose young people to digital skills through the engagement of local and international expertise.
Hypercube Hub has covered a lot of ground in terms of creating a collaborative network on the regional and global front. This has resulted in skills development initiatives which will definitely bring participants up to speed with what the global tech startup space is clamoring for.
Kenya’s iHub was started in 2010 with backing from Hivos, Google and Omidyar Network as a meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors. To date it has spawned around 50 new companies. Hypercube’s sponsors want to replicate that success.
Hypercube has already hosted website development, animation, and open source workshops, as well as events aimed at educating entrepreneurs about intellectual property rights, crowd funding, and attracting media attention for their ventures. In the future it aims to be a fully fledged innovation centre, encompassing an incubator, accelerator program, workshop space for hardware development, access to 3-D printers, electronics and tools, as well as an animation and computer gaming studio.
In May 2014 Hypercube is launching a “Startup Weekend Harare”, a 54 hour event where developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups.
American social entrepreneur Fahad Hassan, one of Forbes’ ”most influential young people, will be coming to serve as a mentor for that event.
This is being done because the sponsors believe Zimbabweans can launch new products, build new enterprises, and contribute to the country’s economic development through ICT entrepreneurship.
Surely no-one can afford to ignore the Hypercube project.
Zimbabwe’s thousands of college graduates have a great opportunity to turn their knowledge into lucrative tech businesses. If this opportunity is fully utilized we shall definitely see a new crop of technology entrepreneurs emerging soon from this country.