The Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH), which is funded by the country’s government, is taking a multi-pronged approach to develop the country’s tech startup ecosystem.
The hub was a product of the Botswana Excellence Strategy of 2008, which set economic diversification, job creation, and moving the country towards a knowledge-based economy as key goals.
BIH was established to play a key part in creating a prosperous, productive and innovative Botswana, developing and operating Botswana’s first Science and Technology Park. It is mandated with supporting new ventures and existing companies in key focus sectors such as ICT, Biotechnology and mining and clean technologies.
Disrupt Africa reported last week BIH is in the process of implementing an Innovation Fund to provide seed and early-stage growth funding to qualifying businesses, ideas and concepts, but this is only the latest strategy undertaken by the hub to support entrepreneurs in the country.
The hub also runs the First Steps Venture Centre (FSVC), a technology entrepreneurship development scheme developed as a hybrid business incubation and acceleration venture programme. It currently has 15 startups under incubation.
“FSVC seeks to support technology-oriented startups within the Botswana Innovation Hub priority areas, that have the potential to grow into both the local and international markets as well as a knowledge sharing platform in which contribution to the broader development of technology entrepreneurship in Botswana can be made,” FSVC programme manager Tshepo Tsheko told Disrupt Africa.
BIH also runs the Cyber City Kgotla Developer Community, an open community workspace “where innovation, technology, entrepreneurship and investment meet”.
The community aims to facilitate the development and growth of innovative technology ideas to benefit Botswana economically and socially.
“We are building a platform for all those in the technology space in Botswana to actively engage, from the researcher, developer, tech entrepreneur, ICT corporate to investor,” said Tsheko.
Not content with these two interventions, BIH has also partnered Microsoft, with the tech giant underpinning the hub’s entrepreneurship development initiative with state-of-the-art technology facilities, while the Southern African Innovation Support (SIAS) programme seeks to promote collaboration within the innovation systems of nearby African countries in order to provide greater impact on economic and social development.
“To unlock innovative potential, it is important to establish and sustain a holistic and interconnected environment, which has a foundation, built on both knowledge and practice. SAIS contributes to developing this environment by bringing together the elements of the systems of innovation in each country, and strengthening the capacity of platforms that enable product, service and social innovations,” said Tsheko.
He said the various schemes – designed to mentor and coach entrepreneurs – would serve to boost the Botswana technology space, which he said had started to bloom in the last 5 five years.
“Botswanan entrepreneurs have seen the potential in the innovation space here for many years. With not only Botswanans taking note, international corporates as well as expats have noticed the growing space,” Tsheko said.
“Today Botswana has very diverse culture in different spaces of technology, whether it is ICT or clean technology. With the youth being the biggest demographic of baby boomers in the tech space, the market anxiously welcomes innovation product development.”
However, he said like every good technology, until its relevance is explained the market will not welcome it.
“Thus initiatives like ours assist in building awareness of the need for entrepreneurship and technology development,” Tsheko said.
Hub sustainability has been the subject of ongoing debate and interest in recent months, with Tsheko saying BIH’s sustainability strategy was premised on strategic commercial projects with both government and private sector partners.
These range from the leasing of land for development, turnkey development for companies locating in the park, and development of turnkey data centres.
“This will enable BIH to continue to invest in supporting and nurturing technology innovation and entrepreneurship in Botswana,” he said, adding BIH’s programmes were initiated to to boost different sectors of entrepreneurship and development.
“These result in new businesses, new markets and job creation, with those factors being some of the key focuses of our country’s development Sustainability comes from empowerment, relevance, being beneficial, these come from the seed of result.”