Continuing on the first installment examining Zimbabwe’s technology hubs (Starting with Muzinda Umuzi hub), this week we move on to another hub formed under similar circumstances to Muzinda Umuzi hub but one which has been totally different in approach.
Like Muzinda Umuzi hub, Hypercube has non-profit roots as it was formed from the collaborative effort of the US State Department (US Embassy Harare), Indigo Trust and Hivos.
The funders mentioned above wanted a local team able to develop a financially sustainable, socially responsible, and sufficiently inclusive business plan for the purpose of supporting tech entrepreneurs working on both “commercial and social projects“. Despite distancing themselves from the day to day running of Hypercube, the funders are clear on the direction the venture has to run. After all, from six applicants, they selected the best team that could best deliver the plan above.
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Whilst we do not know how much Higher Life Foundation pours into Muzinda Umuzi Hub, Hypercube’s finances (at least the initial funding) are well documented. Indigo trust provided $50,000, the US State Department chipped in with $75,000 and Hivos pledged $55,000 annually for the next three years. Combined, Hypercube has over $210,000 to run it’s programs within the next three years. Something unprecedented in the local tech ecosystem.
But remember, Hypercube’s business plan has to be financially sustainable. Quite a contrast because whenever donor funding is mentioned, people quickly expect freebies but Hypercube hasn’t shown signs of being a “free giver”. Unlike Muzinda Umuzi, Hypercube has made people pay, mostly from the event related programs.
This is totally acceptable. To put it plainly, if an entrepreneur comes to a hackathon just for the pizzas, then they should be willing to pay for their fill. Whatever is learned is free. I suppose that’s the approach from Hypercube.
However, this is not to say Hypercube is ironically a donor funded commercial monster. In fact, they have been involved in a number free efforts and their ongoing “physical space” provides all kinds of entrepreneurs with access to a decent internet connection and power free of charge. Some of their efforts they have been involved in like the Technovation Challenge for young women, The Startup Bus as well workshops aimed at different tech skills have been free as well. So far, they have managed the delicate balance between non-profit and financial sustainability really well.
Hypercube’s Community Manager, Irene Chikumbo, was able to give us some insight into their plans going forward, the idea of being a non-profit entity in a growing ecosystem as well as the challenges they have observed as plaguing the local startup ecosystem.
She identified a significant disconnect between the various stakeholders in the sector as well as a general fatigue from young entrepreneurs and developers as part of the constraints hindering the local ecosystem. Added to this, she also noted a prevailing need for a simultaneous development of markets, to match the increased development of skills capacity.
Another observation they have made is how there has to be involvement of corporates, government, non-governmental organisations and private sector in supporting the ongoing efforts of local solutions. She also referenced a national tilt towards consumption more than production because of a shortage of standardised tech skills as well as an appreciation of what a startup does.
Going forward, Hypercube intends on carrying out a highly collaborative drive to grow the startup ecosystem with plans being hedged around the involvement of public and private sectors as well as the general community. Tied to this will be initiatives to expose young people to digital skills through the engagement of local and international expertise.
Beside providing a physical space, Irene said Hypercube wants to help the ecosystem through creating connections and social development. Given the status of their financial backers, Hypercube definitely has the ability for both local and international linkages. For example, the ladies behind the Techwomen initiative have been able to go to Silicon Valley through their relationship the US embassy in Harare.
In a month or two, 50 young Zimbabweans entrepreneurs and leaders will be heading to the US for the US funded Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and those close to this program will testify that Hypercube has been at the forefront of promoting engagement around this initiative. These are the kinds of circles and consequently doors that Hypercube can unlock for the ecosystem.
Hypercube Hub has covered a lot of ground in terms of creating a collaborative network on the regional and global front. This has resulted in skills development initiatives which will definitely bring participants up to speed with what the global tech startup space is clamoring for.
Their focus on skills development and plans for 360 degree collaboration will be key to ecosystem development in the long run. However the success of plans to rope in other players from the public and private sector is yet to be seen.
There hasn’t been any seed funding or early stage investment from Hypercube Hub and since they are focused more on skills development and collaboration more than profit it does not seem as if that approach will change anytime soon.
In terms of the much needed skills development (provided you can “buy” your own snacks) and networking Hypercube Hub is worth looking up.
One thought on “The DNA of Zim’s technology hubs Part 2 – Hypercube Hub”
Having been to both hubs I like the approaches they are taking. As everyone is still on a learning path its encouraging to note that at the core both Hubs philosophy protects the entrepreneur and this is quite critical. Waiting eagerly for part 3
Aside I think the lack of faith in Hackathons is unwarranted. For me these events are more exploratory than final. By definition the product of Hackathons is a hack and as such cant be expected to end Global Warming of some such major crisis. What it does do is expose the level of talent in the community, possibility of solutions to given problems as well as foster a collaborative approach to problem solving which we desperately need. Long term we need more hackathons and the benefits will be felt in the long run.
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