African Innovation Ecosystem Roundtables
South Africa has numerous hubs with the one represented in the roundtable assisting and supporting 147 entrepreneurs over the last 2 years focussing on Web and app development and a women’s programwith 12 women owned ventures. The key value for them is their real involvement and interest in the entrepreneurs business as opposed to some corporate programs, which they feel act mainly as a marketing campaign for the corporate stakeholders involved. The recognition of the importance of innovation spaces has only recently come to the forefront and that is regarded as some improvement. The South African National innovation system is however still unorganised and uncoordinated resulting in a fairly broken system in which roles are unclear. In order to fix this, the stakeholders must stop serving their individual interests and consider the bigger picture where the entire ecosystem works collaboratively. Stakeholders also need to automate and finetune processes for example, hubs need to improve the efficiency of their succession planning while governments need to enhance processes to procure from startups and SMEs. From an innovation policy/framework perspective there is much room for improvement. Some governments currently focus on engaging with select few hubs resulting in the uncoordinated and fragmented greater ecosystem. From the entrepreneurial side it has been noted that there is generally a lack of commitment (and even sometimes a level of arrogance) amongst entrepreneurs. Ideas are often not fundable due to some foundational issues that are not addressed. In Botswana there is only 1 innovation hub, which has delivered few successful and scaled solutions because of a lack of technology support structures and the absence of innovation policies. At grassroots level they have developed a co-creative design process with MIT for grassroots entrepreneurs to help them build businesses to mainly sustain their livelihood. In doing so, they have developed 38 prototypes with 16 being ready for the market and another 6 in the process of IP trademarking. Their approach is that they are open to donors (even those with a marketing drive) as long as they can ensure that the money is spent with the entrepreneurs whilst balancing it with the goals of the donors. This can be challenging where goals, expectations and success markers differ between donors and the grassroot entrepreneurs.
Some examples of the grassroots innovations include:
● Popcorn machines that allow them to produce in their area as opposed to having to travel to another area to access. ● A manually powered photocopying machine. ● Watering solution that enables drip irrigation for gardens. Some of the challenges in Botswana include low internet access and restrictions to social bundles allowing access to Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms only. Further to this, the mobile payment space has seen low penetration levels .
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