Zimbabwe jumps onto the Startup wagon

By Ngonidzashe Katsamba

Banner of the Startup Weekend

Banner of the Startup Weekend

A new form of youth empowerment is visibly growing in Zimbabwe. A lot of techpreneurship challenges and competitions have sprouted all over the country, some of which have managed to capture the attention of organizations as big as the United States of America Embassy. Of note is an organisation called the Hypercube which through the help of different organizations including Google for Entrepreneurs has managed to host a series of collaborative efforts where youths of all ages use emerging technologies to develop solutions for the day to day problems Zimbabweans face.

Recent events include the Startup Bus challenge which was held on the 17th of November 2013. In this five-day entrepreneurial journey, a diverse group of developers (50%), designers (25%) and business developers (25%) from across Africa and across the globe were put on a bus departing from Harare heading for Cape Town, South Africa. Participants on the bus formed interdisciplinary teams that would  conceive, build and launch a Start-up during the 2514 km drive from Harare to Cape town. The bus made 3 main stops in Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and lastly Cape Town. Each of the stops included a visit to some of the Startup Bus Location partners including the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, Seed Engine, eKasi Entrepreneurs, 88mph and Bandwidth Barn. From these interactions the participants got the opportunity to interact and learn from some of the location’s prominent entrepreneurs. Upon reaching Cape Town, the participants pitched their prototypes in front of a jury comprising of tech CEO’s and venture capitalists. 

Another big event which is helping incubate Zimbabwe's local talent is the Technovation Challenge. In this, challenge teams of 4-5 middle and high school girls identify a problem, invent an App to solve the challenge, code the app, create a company to launch the app in the market, and finally pitch their plan to experts for funding—all in 12 weeks. Through this experience, girls are meant to learn that computer programming gives an individual, regardless of gender or age, the ability to make a difference in the lives of others. In this challenge, girls from all walks of life are taught how to create an App, write a business plan, effective presentation, pitching a business idea, business models and revenue generation schemes. All of this is done in bid to teach Zimbabwe's young ladies that anyone can be a successful techpreneur despite gender.

On the 16th of May 2014 the Hypercube hosted the country’s biggest tech startup event ever, the Startup Weekend. This event was sponsored by a lot of local industry players plus a number of big international players such as Amazon, Google for Entrepreneurs, Coca-Cola and the US embassy. In the global context this was the 60th event of its nature worldwide but to Zimbabwe this was a first. Founders and Co-founders like Fahad Hassan CEO and founder of Always Prepped Education, Nqobizitha Mlilo founder of Nafuna TV, Asa Jogi founder of The Jogi, Tommy Deuschle founder of Emerging Ideas and many others from world over were invited to come in as mentors and help guide the young developers. In 54hrs participants were expected to develop innovative sustainable business ideas and pitch them in front of panel of judges. A first prize of USD78 000 worth of prize money and business services was at stake and out of 28 initial pitch’s only 10 got enough votes to move to the development phase. A lot of amazing ideas came out of this challenge but I will only share the highlights. 

Kwese music won the inaugural Start-Up Weekend

Kwese music won the inaugural Start-Up Weekend

The first prize of USD $78 000 went to Kwese music for their Ktamba toys idea.  Through the use of a Raspberry Pi computer these young men and women created a device that turned any surface into a musical instrument. By connecting this small device into a computer running the Ktamba software you can program a surface of your choice to sound like any instrument when you touch it. A simple object like an apple can become a violin, flute, guitar or even piano. They even made music out of a Banana!

The second prize of USD$ 4610 went to Money game which is a win-win sports betting website that allows anyone to place bets in the comfort of their home without having to queue in the dark, dirty betting bars. This product has worked in other parts of the world and has the potential to open up betting to a lot of Zimbabwean’s who despise the current betting system. The team went on to do a survey and 100% of the sample group said they would rather bet from home than stand in line at a betting bar. The best feature about this website is that you can even live chat with friends whilst you bet, allowing collaborative betting. 

For no prize, third place went to combicode which is a mobile phone app aimed at making public transport use safer. With combicode each taxi (combi) gets a QR code stuck on the door and by scanning this QR code you get a full history of the taxi, its driver’s reputation, service history and even police records. The assumption behind this product is that; by openly providing all this information passengers will make more informed decisions when choosing a taxi to board.

Other ideas which did not make it into the top 3 but are worth mentioning include:

  1. Pitch2pitch, which is a rapid idea validation platform helping start up founders build confidence hence turning rejected ideas into viable businesses. 
  2. AgroBiz, which is a robust virtual agriculture market place linking buyers, suppliers and service providers through a comprehensive website and mobile App. 
  3. ValidAID, which is an online platform allowing medical aid clients to check the validity of their medical aid insurance from any internet enabled device.
  4. Q4u; a mobile app that saves you time by reserving a place in a queue of a selected service provider be it tax clearance office, doctors’ offices or government office for you whilst you attend to other things. This app will then notify you when your turn is about to arrive allowing you to dash to the specified office in time to get served.  
  5. Students online which is a student collaboration platform allowing students all over the country to meet in one place, share study material, ask questions and share ideas.

Not all of the ideas that come out of such events make it into the business world but it is very exciting to know that technology is shaping Zimbabwe’s youths into progressive entrepreneurs who are proactive in getting solutions to everyday problems.


Ngonidzashe Katsamba

Ngonidzashe Katsamba

Ngonidzashe Katsamba is a passionate Telecoms marketer who holds Honours in Business studies from the University of Zimbabwe, an Advanced Diploma in Telecommunications and Digital networks engineering from City SND Guilds UK, a Professional Diploma in Marketing from CIM (UK) and is currently work towards Chartered Marketer status. Ngoni has been working in Zimbabwe’s Telecoms industry for the past 5 years and he has seen Zimbabwe’s Telecoms industry consumption from purely voice to a mixture of voice and data with data on the growth trend.