Technology startups and innovators in Zimbabwe are fast clawing their way up the ladder and some are even already challenging for a market share in the country’s struggling economy which is crying out for solutions. Among organizations and other supporters backing and capacitating tech startups and innovators in Zimbabwe are tech hubs.
iAfrikan caught up with the founder of Impact Hub Harare, Tadzoka Pswarayi for an exclusive one on one interview in which she paints a brighter outlook for the startup ecosystem in Zimbabwe. The Impact Hub Harare is a key incubator and hub for tech innovators in the Southern Afrikan country.
Impact Hub Harare.
iAfrikan: What are some of the most recent and interesting developments about tech startups from your side as Impact Hub Harare and from Zimbabwe?
Tadzoka Pswarayi: There has been a surge in interest in tech, especially focused on applications. Mobile applications are being developed at an increased rate, but also local tech products apart from apps. There is also an increase in financing tech related projects and businesses locally through grants from government and other big companies. Developer communities are popping up. Use of international technology is growing.
How are tech start-ups being funded in Zimbabwe and is there funding at all?
Currently, tech start-ups as all other start-ups are mostly funded by the individuals behind the project--classical bootstrapping. This is due to the lack of venture capital in the country. Furthermore, bank loans are not easily accessible due to the lack of collateral as well as the high interest rates. Pitch competitions have become the de facto grant vehicles for a lot of startups.
How much of an impact has Impact Hub had on the tech startup scene in Zimbabwe?
Impact Hub Harare has had an impact on the tech startup and social entrepreneurship scene. For example, the organization brought and runs the biggest tech pitch event for emerging countries (Seedstars World) to Zimbabwe, has collaborated with Siemens Foundation, Facebook, MIT among others to host meaningful conversations and research while building the capacity of startups. We have connected start-ups with investors and advisors, mentored them and housed them. It is early for an accurate impact measurement but the hub has advocated for the development of our entrepreneurial ecosystem. We consistently hold conversations amongst tech and non tech individuals and businesses on how to collaborate and incorporate tech into all industries from agriculture to education and how to make sure tech products apply to the end user.
We are a network of approximately 90 hubs globally that work together and bringing this community to Harare has helped our local change makers connect with a global community of like-minded individuals working on diverse projects. In addition, Impact Hub Harare has run various workshops that are aimed at women and girls to increase participation and interest in the ICT industry.
Which are some of the most interesting innovators you are working with and also which startups have come through Impact Hub which are doing well?
At Impact Hub Harare we have a wide range of members from all areas of industry. It is difficult to select only a few, for example within the hub we have MyRunner (last year's Seedstars winner) Tiritose Trust (Sustainable Tourism), Tariro Trust (Education for Girls), Natfort Energy (Green energy), Sesu (online publication for women) and the list really goes on.
What is lacking in the Zimbabwean tech startup ecosystem?
Robust support systems and incubation are lacking on the technical, social and financial sides. The startup sector mainly lacks companies or individuals that are willing to invest due to the lack of confidence. The sector needs increased collaboration from curriculum to continued education post-graduation.
How big is the tech startup sector in Zimbabwe and how has been the response from the economy?
The tech startup sector is large, but growth stage companies are few. It is a fairly young scene so this is conjecture, but I think this has created significant economic growth. There are now jobs that did not exist before. As the world continues to move online and to explore improved tools, our local economy benefits from new digital opportunities.
What can the government do to improve the situation for tech start-ups in Zimbabwe?
The government can help start-ups by providing a conducive environment, fresh curricula and investment in the industry. This has started.
Zimbabwean startups also need the current processing of registering and attaining the relevant documentation and licenses to get a business up and running to be smooth.
How many innovators are working from Impact Hub and what kind of support does the hub provide?
Currently we have at least 50 innovators that work from the hub from various industry sectors. Impact Hub provides them with advisors, mentorship, networking, working space with reliable internet access, training and workshops that apply to various elements of the initiatives.
What is unique about Zim innovators and tech start-ups and what is driving them despite the current economic challenges we have in the country?
Zimbabweans are positive and flexible. Zimbabweans for long time have learnt to make a plan with what is available, people have learnt to take one day at a time and deal with the now.
Which areas and sectors are innovators most interested in?
Focus is very mixed but we have a found there are a lot of innovators that are in the green energy sector and agriculture.