Zimbabwe’s technology sector has seen unprecedented growth over the last 3 years but it is my belief that this falls short of the full potential that Zimbabwe’s technology sector can realize.
Zimbabwe has one of the highest literacy rates in the world which makes Zimbabwe best placed to take the crown of the leading technology innovator in Africa.
The reasoning is that the technology sector is a knowledge intensive industry, so countries like Zimbabwe with a high literacy rate and a good education system should be leaders in the technology sector.
Its obvious that this is not the case in Zimbabwe, the problem is that the high literacy rate in Zimbabwe is not translating into tangible economic growth leading to a scenario where we have one of the worlds highest unemployment rates.
Its almost impossible to talk about technology innovation & not talk about HP, Apple, Google & Intel which are all Silicon Valley companies. How can Zimbabwe replicate Silicon Valley’s success in technology innovation.
I believe that for Zimbabwe’s technology sector to realize its full potential there needs to be strong linkages between
1. Entrepreneurs using the Lean Start-up model
- Investors (individual & institutional)
- Education institutions (universities, colleges & schools)
- Technology Journalists
- Start-up events
- Networking & coordination
Entrepreneurs using the Lean Start-up model
We need entrepreneurs who are prepared to boot-strap their business until they have produced a product which they continuously iterate with feedback from their early customers using the resources that they have.
The lean start-up model was used by Google, Facebook & HP which are all billion dollar companies. The lesson is you need to develop a product before looking for funding.
The role of external funding is not to get market validation but to fund the expansion of a product that has already been validated by customers to reach more customers.
It is also important for entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe to realize that business failure is invaluable experience and not an mark of incompetence. So fail fast & fail cheap that is to say. Learn from your past mistakes & move on with the hindsight of the experience gained for your future endeavors.
We need successful entrepreneurs to be mentors to the younger generation of entrepreneurs. The work being done by Strive Masiyiwa through his Facebook page deserves special mention as a good example of how successful entrepreneurs can mentor the younger generation to start their own businesses.
What we now need is for coordinated effort among successful entrepreneurs through technology hubs, professional societies, education institutions & various other forums to interact with the younger generation to encourage them and guide them in their journey as entrepreneurs.
Banks, high net individuals & private equity companies need to realize that there are many opportunities in the Zimbabwe technology sector. All they need to do is to understand how the technology sector works so that they fund the right opportunities in the Zimbabwe technology sector.
Technology journalist will play an important role in highlighting the opportunities & also acting as a critical link between investors & entrepreneurs. This model is already showing signs of success as shown by the central role that Techzim (Zimbabwean technology blog) has played in the growth of Zimbabwe’s technology sector.
Education institutions (universities, colleges, schools)
Zimbabwe has more than enough universities, but what is lacking is a culture of innovation & entrepreneurship among Zimbabwean students & graduates.
Our universities need to be centers of technology innovation by creating partnerships between the growing number of technology hubs, boot-camps, hackerthons start-up competitions. We need these technology events to target college & university graduates. It is also critical that universities partner with the private sector to fund technology research & innovation.
The high unemployment amongst Zimbabwean graduates means that entrepreneurship is most likely the only option that college & university graduates have.
So it is important that the Zimbabwean education system teaches & encourages entrepreneurship from primary school to university & partners with the government & private sector in having start-up competitions & creating university based technology hubs to create a steady stream of entrepreneurs.
We need colleges & universities to be at the center of the technology ecosystem since it is evident from the likes of Bill Gates, Michael Dell,
Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg & Dave Packard that students make great entrepreneurs.
The best people to critic & also publicize technology entrepreneurship to the world are technology blogs & technology journalists. Technology journalists also help in validating the technology profession as a critical business function to the operations of businesses.
Technology journalists are also a critical link between investors & entrepreneurs as they both play the role of educating investors on the opportunities in the technology sector & also highlighting good technology start-ups. This is done through their articles & the events that most technology blogs have from time to time.
We need monthly, quarterly, bi-annual or yearly conferences, boot-camps, hackethons & various other technology events to keep the technology ecosystem alive & running.
So far Zimbabwe has two technology hubs (Hypercube & Muzinda Umuzi Hub), the yearly start-up competition & technology events (Broadband Forum e.t.c) by Techzim.
Limitations of funds is the obvious reason why most of these events are limited to Harare, but effort should be made to decentralized these events to to other parts of Zimbabwe & also potentially have locally initiated technology events in schools, colleges & universities.
Networking & Coordination
To round it off we need technology professionals to be better coordinated & networked amongst themselves & with the other actors in the technology ecosystem from the education institutions, venture capital firms & technology journalist.
The efforts happening at the Facebook group ICT PROFESSIONALS IN ZIMBABWE are part of that processing of having technology professionals in Zimbabwe better organized & coordinated towards having Zimbabwe’s technology sector realizing its full potential.
This article is a guest post authored by Greg Kawere. Kawere is the CEO of WebID a technology research company based in Pretoria, South Africa www.webidgroup.com