mHub, the first tech incubator in the southern African country of Malawi, believes there is enough entrepreneurial potential in the country to turn it into a force to be reckoned with in the region.
Launched in 2013 by chief executive officer (CEO) Rachel Sibande and co-founders Austin Madinga and Angel Chirwa, mHub is an incubator for technology startups with a special focus on building young technology entrepreneurs through training, skills development and mentorship.
Sibande told Disrupt Africa its goals is to enhance youth development in business and technology by creating a platform through which knowledge is shared and skills are transferred in ICT and business entrepreneurship.
“mHub seeks to enhance the growth of the ICT sector in Malawi by enhancing the culture of entrepreneurship in technology among the youths through training, transfer of skills and mentorship in technology and business,” she said.
“The hub expects to absorb over 5,000 young technology enthusiasts nationwide by 2019. This will have a ripple effect to fellow youths as they create opportunities for others through their enterprises.”
She said in the short time mHub has been active in Malawi, it had seen how interesting the country’s tech scene is, and hoped to play a role in providing young techpreneurs with a central point of focus.
“We have come across interesting applications and business ideas that IT entrepreneurs have. People have been working in isolation in bedrooms and school labs as there was no unifying entity that could provide direction to the upcoming startups,” Sibande said.
“Given proper and enough support, the Malawi tech scene has a potential to grow into a big force to be reckoned with in the region. The industry needs financial, relevant policies, business and technology support to be able to compete with other countries in the region.”
The hub has certainly been active. It has conducted two ‘Tech Fests’ in Lilongwe and Blantyre, offering young ICT entrepreneurs the chance to showcase their innovations to members of the corporate world and the media.
It also has plans to hold Malawi’s first two startup weekends, where entrepreneurs will undergo intensive skills development programmes, while two mobile app development competitions are also on the horizon.
“We are currently in the process of identifying IT entrepreneurs, bringing them to the hub and mentoring them to successful turn their ideas into viable businesses,” Sibande said.
“We are building a tech ecosystem that will have ripple effects in the Malawian IT Industry as we expect these upcoming startups to help in job creation and motivate others to pursue IT related businesses.”
She said mHub was using an “inside-out approach” in encouraging its members to grow startups from within before it starts bringing other startups on board.
“By the end of 2015, five startups will come out of the hub. We will be able to support them in terms of equipment and grants,” Sibande said.
“Currently we are yet to get funding for the startups but we are working on finding the funds to be able to support them.”
Hivos International is providing the financial backing behind the hub at present, but Sibande said mHub was keen to get more funding from other donors. Sustainability is the goal, however.
Hub sustainability has rapidly become a serious issue over the past year, with Tayo Akinyemi, director of AfriLabs, a network of 36 technology innovation hubs in 18 countries across Africa, saying last year African tech hubs were fragile and had no clear path towards long-term sustainability.
Akinyemi further advised last month that African tech hubs must act like startups if they are to be financially sustainable long-term, with a number of hubs adopting different models in the quest to break even or maybe even become profitable. Nairobi’s C4DLab is looking to run on a “lean model”, Cameroon’s ActivSpaces is hunting business sponsorship, and South Africa’s RLabs has launched two Youth Cafes.
“Hubs like mHub can easily be self sustaining. We have designed mHub in a way that we will be able to tap from the vast pool of talent we have. We will offer solutions to the IT challenges that the corporate world has,” Sibande said.
“We plan to set up a research and consulting arm of the hub to make money to sustain the daily operations of the hub. With the expertise we have at our disposal we will also set up a think tank on ICT for development, which will gain ground in Malawi and in the region.”