Innovation is the buzzword in Zimbabwe at the moment, with innovators, technology startups, and technology solutions developers increasingly being allocated resources, funding opportunities, and up-scaling prospects. However, some techprenuers are bitter with the large telecom companies for swooping on their ventures.

Zimbabwe has joined other regional hubs that are fast developing and tapping into solutions by innovative technology startups. The country’s fixed phone operator and Internet Services Provider, TelOne, this week announced a new partnership with the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) to develop a telecommunications research hub and laboratory.

Supporting startups

TelOne already supports startups through the B2C tech hub in Harare while it also provides co-working spaces and internet for innovators at one of its centers. Managing director for TelOne, Chipo Mtasa, said this week that the telecommunications operator was hopeful that “there will be lots of new value added services” coming from the lab.

"Zimbabwe has joined other regional hubs that are fast developing and tapping into solutions by innovative technology startups."

"People have started opting for other services and it’s good because technology has evolved. This is why TelOne then says in a few years-time, we will be dead if we continue to rely on these landlines,” she said.

Zimbabwean innovators and technology startups in the media and content category also have another opportunity to secure funding for their budding or struggling ventures. This was after the The Transparency, Responsiveness, Accountability and Citizen Engagement fund (TRACE) invited applications for funding for projects aimed “improving citizen access to information” using “new technology” platforms.

“The innovation fund is designed to support new and existing organisations that intend to, or are, using new technology to support increased citizen access to quality independent media, research and information. Focus on the marginalised and voiceless is encouraged as is ensuring that any platforms encourage engagement with potential audiences,” it announced this week.

Grants ranging from $5,000 to $40,000 will be awarded to successful applicants to upscale their projects. Zimbabwean tech startups also have the opportunity to apply for funding under a new facility announced by Ecobank this week.

Not everyone is happy

However, despite all this support for technology startups, not all techprenuers in Zimbabwe are happy, with one innovator this week launching a complaint against Econet Wireless for swooping on his Panic Button idea which integrates security companies response platforms with subscribers through a mobile network.

Ignatius Munengwa of M Comm Africa has already challenged Econet on this and has written to telecom industry regulators in Zimbabwe complaining about intellectual property infringement. This sparked a social media debate throughout the week, with Zimbabwean Twitter users criticizing Econet. The company has also been criticised for data credit vanishing from users’ accounts under controversial circumstances.

More worries

Econet has responded by launching an online self-service portal that enables users to monitor their data usage among other uses.

“We will continue to exploit our digital platforms to improve the customer experience to save time and money for our customers, and drastically simplify things as far as their use of our products and services is concerned,” said an executive with Econet.

As Econet battles growing public criticism, Samsung Electronics also had to re-affirm that it was not closing shop in the country after a flurry of speculation that it was moving out of the country.

Foreign currency shortages have made operating conditions in Zimbabwe difficult, especially for companies that import equipment and other raw materials for manufacture of assembly lines. Gavin Clare, country manager for Samsung Electronics in Zimbabwe was quoted saying the company was undertaking a restructuring exercise and not closing shop from its electronics gadgets assembly operation.

“It was just a restructuring exercise that happened which resulted in Zimbabwe having to report to South Africa. In the past other Sadc countries used to report to us. But that has since changed,” said Clare.