Tech start-up companies in Zimbabwe are starting to break through, with government funding and assistance from tech hubs and incubators starting to trickle in, although players in the sector say current economic difficulties are holding back innovators from attaining their full potential.
Funding has previously been a significant constraint for tech start-ups in Zimbabwe, with support mainly coming from incubators, tech hubs and embassy programs. This had muzzled innovators as they could not fully develop their innovations.
The situation is now starting to change, with the government recently announcing six winners for the Innovation Drive Fund for the 2017 program. The fund is administered by the Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe which provides part of the funding while telecom companies also to contribute 1% of their earnings to the fund.
Potraz has announced calls for innovators and tech start-ups from around Zimbabwe to apply for financial support under the 2018 edition of the innovation fund. Within a week of the announcement earlier this month, more than 25 applications have already been received by Potraz, officials say.
“We have opened our second cycle, it opened last week and already we have about 26 that have applied. The idea is to create an environment that promotes the youth to be innovative. The purpose is to identify, support and capacitate ICT innovators,” Tichafara Mujuru, the head of ICT at Potraz said.
The Zimbabwean tech start-ups that will receive funding assistance under the Zimbabwe Innovation Drive Fund include online music streaming, OyosMusic, Purple Signs, Shift Organic Technologies, Nativ Project, Red Pen and Afrimoms. Other tech start-ups in the country have had to finance themselves and these include mobile chat application, Wangu.
Farai Mundangepfupfu, who founded the Wangu chat application says there are opportunities for Zimbabwean tech start-ups to feed into gaps in the economy concerning solutions and apps. However, he says he had to work from home in developing the application and adds that he has not received funding from the government.
“I self-funded the project and we are seeing growing usage of the platform and visits daily. There are opportunities for applications on the market,” he said.
Although the government has stepped in to offer support and funding, other private companies have also stepped in. This has made life easy for the Zimbabwean innovators who are looking forward to kick-start their innovations.
First Source Technology, a Zimbabwean company organised a hackathon, the Emisha City Hack early in April in partnership with the City of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe to come up with tech solutions to some problems the second largest city in the country is facing. The hackathon organised innovators into groups which then developed solutions and applications to compete for funding assistance and incubation.
RayWeb, a medical Records solution, Indawo – a venue booking online system and Faulty, which is a fault reporting system are the three applications that qualified for incubation. During the incubation process for the three tech solutions, First Source Technology “will assist in refining these business models while the TechVillage (which hosted the hackathon) will provide an enabling environment for the start-ups,” said Tami Mudzingwa, one of the organisers of the event.
Tech hubs have become integral in Zimbabwe’s tech start-up ecosystem and they have been providing a conducive environment for budding entrepreneurs to showcase their skills and innovations while also linking them up with the few funders that are keen to provide financing.
However, experts believe tech start-ups in the country have to refine their applications and model them along sustainable lines regarding revenue generation if they are to make it into the commercial sector. Start-ups that are bearing breakthrough in the commercial sector include Road Rules and Plan My Wedding among others.
“Before funding can be considered, one of the greatest challenges is, in developing and articulating a sustainable revenue model. This is key if the solutions will develop into a viable business,” Mudzingwa added.
Other tech hubs in Zimbabwe include Impact Hub, B2C and Harare Tech Hub which have been vital in providing working space and related support to innovators. Start-up funding events and functions are not too frequent in Zimbabwe and there is always high interest in such rare occasions.
In February, Cape Town-based Startupbootcamp organised a fast-track event in Harare. The program has previously benefited Khoyn, a Zimbabwean e-commerce that allows people to sell goods and services through a chatbot on messenger.
“This is a good opportunity for local start-ups. Making connections is a vital part of start-up growth and events such as the SBC FastTrack offer a platform for start-ups to learn from one another whilst also gaining guidance from gurus in the field,” said Farai Mudzingwa, a tech blogger in Zimbabwe.
Tech experts say the areas of fintech, cryptocurrencies, e-commerce, mobile chat and agritech are among the most promising areas for start-ups. The Golix.com cryptocurrencies start-up has been growing and is now entering a commercial phase.
It allows for the purchase and selling of bitcoin and etherium through its online exchange platform. It has also just introduced a bitcoin ATM that provides for the purchase and withdrawal of cash from bitcoin wallets in US Dollars. It is the only ATM that gives access to US Dollars in Zimbabwe, which is facing foreign currency and cash shortages that have disabled local operators.
As hopes run high that Zimbabwe’s economy will start to pick up following the exit in November last year of Robert Mugabe who is blamed for the country’s economic meltdown, there are also rising hopes that tech start-ups and innovators in Zimbabwe will start to attain their full potential. Funding opportunities have already begun to filter in and some players have pledged to organise more hackathons and fast-tracks in a bid to capacitate innovations further.
“As First Source, we’re in talks with a few entities with a view to optimising their business processes. We also look forward to organising more hackathons in the future tackling various subject matter,” explained Mudzingwa.