About Zimbabwe’s fledgling tech startup economy – a view from outside

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Harare StreetsZimbabwe’s tech startup ecosystem is young. Counting the startups that look like they’re onto something on the fingers of your hand is a sure way to realise that the human hands have too many fingers! Off the top of my head, if anyone ever asks, I keep going back to the same ones I see and interact with sometimes. Just a few. I realise as well that being inside, and on the ground, our view is often worm’s eye and not the bird’s.

Going through the findings of someone that’s looking at Harare from outside is therefore quite interesting. Nicolas Friederici, an academic from Oxford Institute spent some time in Harare at the end of last year, studying  “the Inner Workings of African Tech Innovation Networks”. His findings are on their blog here.

Here are some takeaways I noted, for those too lazy to read through:

  • Not too many startup enterprises exist in Harare. No surprises there really
  • One huge constraint in Harare is the lack of skills (both technical and business) and mindset. Skill, yes. Mindset, not so sure.
  • Hubs suddenly, hubs everywhere! Undeniably so, there was literally an explosion of the hub concept in Zimbabwe around the end of 2013. Almost a rush to be first at one point! Hub is ofcourse a very loose term but that includes Muzinda, Hypercube, Pitch Nights, Area46 (where Techzim is based – we’ve never thought of ourselves as being at a hub – more co-working space) and Skyhub.
  • Despite the initial rush, most realise there’s bigger benefit by the ecosystem as a whole if everyone works together, and that there’s no competition actually. The more the merrier. No, seriously, the more people learning what works and what doesn’t the faster everyone moves to helping build viable internet/mobile businesses and build founders.
  • No “hub” has figured it out and time will tell what model is most effective.

This is ofcourse very condensed, click through to this post and this one (& a third coming) for his full findings.

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8 Comments

  1. Anonymous 2 says:

    Totally off topic but just how brave do you have to be to whip out a camera on that road?!!! Back on topic, it’s always interesting to see new perspectives, it forces us to widen our focus. I’ll check out the links when I get the time

    1. lol! from a car, a smartphone camera is hardly noticeable. Not even an offence (i think 😉 )

  2. TheKing says:

    Do we really have a start up scene in Harare? I totally disagree, but that’s just my opinion, the way I see it, there is no start up scene to be talked about in Harare. This of course depends on your definition of start up. Check this link here: http://techcrunch.com/2014/12/30/what-the-hell-is-a-startup-anyway/ The issue of talent, well I agree with you. There are a lot of people with potential to be trained. If they could find just the right mentorship, they would be brilliant

    1. Maybe its the use of the term startup that get us all focused on discussing terms. At the end of the day its about building business and those dependent on the internet and mobile (because of the reduced barriers to entry,more people can access etc…)

      Maybe we can just call it an “internet business scene” then?

  3. angiecentra says:

    I think the research was overrated. Again it depends on how you define a start-up. There are several successful start ups generating revenues and employment in Harare. Ofcourse they are not featured in the media because they are not sexy enough( read uber, airbnb). I would like to think that E-solutions is a startup, Gikko, ZSS( spun off Zimswitch services)…. and several other mobile and digital players in the industry. perhaps ZOL is the most successful Start-up having successfully pivoted into an Econet acquisition…..

    I’d say his research is grounded on the western premise of the “Silicon Savannah”, glitz, glamour and lots of PR, but none looking at the fundamentals of getting a business of the ground in Zimbabwe.
    Coming from the Kenyan tech-scene i tip my hat to anyone who even has a $ 500 venture in Zimbabwe, because the deck is stacked against you from the minute you rise out of your bed, let alone get a business plan together.

    1. I don’t think it was overrated at all. it was just a research and the guy is sharing his findings. too few people take the time to do this. On several tech business being there that generate revenue and employment right now… very true indeed. Maybe he was looking for a certain type of startup – probably internet startups more because the unique power of the internet for access (don’t need permission & other reason causing low barrier of entry) I don’t know actually but he did have a focus on Hubs and how they were helping/not helping etc… so it may be a scope issue.

      Totally with you on the struggles of being a young business in Zimbabwe!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I think there is some technical skill out there(there is always room for more learning), but what is missing is the business mind set. I believe there are people with good ideas out there but the missing link is synergy with businesses in terms of developing tech solutions or products. Most business both big and small tend to look out side our borders for solutions and secondly consumers or the general population i think they are not as tech survey i as one would expect. So you notice that a product or service is made available but a very small pool of users makes use of the product. So there is alot of work to be done

  5. Anonymous says:

    The problem with zim will always be lack of target audience being minute in our economy, due to the fact we are ruled by dinosaurs in this beautiful and potentially powerful country, who have brain washed the whole nation that anything new is dangerous( just watch the animation movie ‘the croods’). All we must do is worship them

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