Startups are kind of synonymous with innovation, aren’t they? It’s supposed to be the big companies, enterprises that can’t figure out innovation. Aren’t startups just “naturally” great at coming up with solutions?
According to POTRAZ, Zimbabwean startups are telling a different story, they are simply not innovative. And that lack of innovativeness is making it hard for the supposed startups to get funding through the POTRAZ Innovation Drive fund. In light of that, POTRAZ decided to do workshops that help the emerging and aspiring startups to come up with innovative ideas. Speaking about the lack of innovation, POTRAZ director general, Gift Machengete said;
Most applications are failing to make it during evaluation due to several reasons, including the failure of the applications to bring out innovativeness in the proposals. Only a handful of applicants have been able to access funding under the (ICT Innovation) Drive. This has resulted in the ICT Innovation Drive failing to achieve its intended objective of motivating our youths to innovate to their fullest potential
In many ways I agree with POTRAZ. Many startups that are emerging in Zimbabwe are not really innovative. Being innovative means coming up with an idea that solves a problem and that will eventually derive economic value to investors. At one end if they have innovative ideas, the idea will lack a business case. Or if an idea has a business case, it won’t be an innovative one, but just an already existing solution being done poorly by someone.
Maybe the problem is not startups
We can talk about the failure of the startups to come up with innovative ideas but maybe the problem is with POTRAZ. Maybe the requirements of winning funding were not really clearly expressed by the telecoms regulator. Did POTRAZ clearly express that the Innovation Drive is open for established startups (those already having operational ideas) or emerging startups (those still developing their idea)? No, it’s not clear. On who can apply for funding from the Drive, POTRAZ says;
Any ICT Innovators or start-ups that have brilliant innovations or solutions that have the potential to revolutionize its target market and/or drastically change the lives of Zimbabweans and the economy as a whole.
So, there is a need to for POTRAZ to be clear on who is really needed. Is it the idea or the startup? If the funding is open for every startup then I’m sure there are established startups that are in dire need of funding and who are deserving of such funding.
Probably adjudicators (for the Innovation Fund) are not open-minded enough to accept radical ideas. At the end of the day, startups with radical ideas are not funded. (you can take a look at the startups that got funding, there didn’t really present “WOW!” ideas).
Well, in the startup world good startup ideas initially sound like bad ideas. It’s the good ideas that look like long shots that become successes. Good ideas that look like good ideas are already being worked on by big companies or others.
Startups are in the business of coming up the unthinkable leftovers (ideas). Facebook, which started as startup initially looked like a site for college students to waste time is now the world’s largest media company. Is POTRAZ giving such startups or people with radical innovations a chance?
It’s also important to know how POTRAZ defines startups so that startups know what’s really needed of them. Some people think that having an idea is equal to having a startup. One can present a splendid idea, but it may not be financially rewarding, which is not appealing to POTRAZ as I understand.
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