Tshimologong Precinct: Working to Boost Digital and Entrepreneurship Skills in SA
To help usher in an exciting New Year, a number of startup founders, accelerator heads and ecosystem stakeholders will be sharing with us their plans for the new year and their biggest wish for the local entrepreneurship ecosystem in 2019.
A key focus for the team at Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct (Tshimologong Precinct) this year will be shining the spotlight on an often ignored aspect of South Africa’s entrepreneurship ecosystem – entrepreneur health, says Kendal Makgamathe, events and marketing manager at Tshimologong Precinct.
Tshimologong Precinct is also working on exposing more women and girls to opportunities in the ICT sector through existing partnerships, he says.
Tshimologong, which means ‘a place of new beginnings’ in SeTswana, is a startup incubator and business accelerator, is based in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
The hub is a partnership between the University of the Witwatersrand’s Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE), the City of Johannesburg and the business sector. Corporates including Telkom, Microsoft, MMI, Cisco and IBM have invested in the precinct.
In a previous interview, Professor Barry Dwolatzky, director of the JCSE and the primary driver of the project, said their focus is on digital hardware, software and content. “We are creating a hub space where people can get together, brainstorm and work on creative projects.”
Last year’s partnerships included the Tshimologong Precinct and JP Morgan hosting the Africa Rising 4.0, a startup 12-week incubation programme aimed at powering digital entrepreneurship and early-stage startup growth.
They partnered with the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) to launch a security access management hackathon.
The Tshimologong Precinct also launched a travel innovation award in 2018 together with K-based Sita Air Transport Community Foundation, highlighting innovative solutions that provide information, tools, or technology for first-time air travellers in Africa to make their journeys easier, more successful and enjoyable.
We are currently in the final months of a 2-year programme for JP Morgan where we incubated 30 startups
Makgamathe explained what their plans are to enhance South Africa’s entrepreneurship ecosystem this year.
How do you see the Tshimologong Precinct continuing to help entrepreneurs in the coming year?
We exist to grow digital skills for the South African economy. So, entrepreneurs who operate in this sphere, coming up with digital and technology solutions for African problems are the ones we look for.
To this end, we have several business units that support this.
Starting with our Enterprise Development Unit, we incubate startups using the Lean Startup Methodology. We design programmes that are in line with what the sponsoring corporate, be it IBM, ACSA or JP Morgan, is looking for. Variables such as the demographics and makeup of the startup, stage of growth of the startup, the vertical that the business operates in, are all taken into consideration in our curriculum design.
Most recently, we completed a four-week IBM Startup Bootcamp which ran towards the end of 2018. We are currently in the final months of a 2-year programme for JP Morgan where we incubated 30 startups.
Our award-winning Digital Skills Academy has made strides at offering underprivileged matriculants the opportunity to further their education in software development. Through our partners, we are able to offer basic coding skills covering an array of programming languages including CompTIA A+; Oracle JAVA; Microsoft C#; Cisco CCNA; Database design and Capstone project.
Forming part of the national Maker Collective, our Makerspace aims to create hardware solutions to everyday problems through access to innovation and collaborative upskilling. The practical engagements offered at the Makerspace include digital fabrication; augmented reality & virtual reality; 3D printing with prototyping and customisation capabilities; electronics & robotics as well as IoT.
The work that has been done by the makers has attracted interest from key creators and investors in the tech space, with the likes of Red Bull hosting their Basement residency at the Makerspace.
We launched a Digital Content Hub with French funding last year. We have been busy for the last 6 months or so, building out the curriculum, renovating classroom space and recruiting the interns for the first year of animation training.
What are some of your plans for 2019 in this regard?
We ran a short-film scriptwriters’ competition for over November and December and we will be using the winning script to teach storyboarding from February. The internship programme for the animation students also kicks off in February.
We look forward to setting up and solidifying a way for talented artists and animators to bridge the skills and experience gap, (because we) often have found that graduates struggle and that they need time to find their feet once they enter the market. We are also making sure that talented animators do not miss out on achieving their dreams because of a lack of funds.
Besides digital and tech businesses, we also have an incubator for the digital arts. The widely known Digital Lab Africa is now in its third year and once again we are looking to incubate 10 startups in five different categories, Web-series; Music; Animation; VR and Gaming.
Our enterprise development team is about to start a programme for CONLOG, a Durban based, smart metre specialists whose clients include municipalities across four continents and more than 80 cities.
Outside of the targeted incubation programmes, we will also be hosting a Masterclass series that is available to the public to attend. From traditional topics such ‘how to raise finance for your startup’ and ‘how to cost a pilot’, to the less popular but just as important wellness aspect of being an entrepreneur, we will be making available tools to enable entrepreneurs to build sustainable businesses.
Through Fak’ugesi, our flagship electronic arts digital festival we have created a sweet spot between technology and the arts. The exposition of some of Africa’s, and the world’s, best examples of art meeting technology are found here. Look out for this towards the beginning of September.
All startups need access to market. Corporates can create that either by getting startups to solve directly for ‘pain points’ they have in their organisations
What are some of the developments you are hoping for in the year, with regard to the ecosystem, the entrepreneurs themselves and support mechanisms available?
We have been working hard to help corporates that fund startups and hub programming recognise that the days of the check-box exercise are long gone. Dropping off a lump of money with an incubator to pay for programming for 20 entrepreneurs is not going to cut it if we are going to build this sector.
All startups need access to market. Corporates can create that either by getting the startups to solve directly for ‘pain points’ they have in their organisations, or by committing to incorporating the solutions built by the incubated startups in their value chain. It is not always that simple, but it is doable.
We are also looking forward to successful entrepreneurs who have been in the game for longer, ‘leaning back’ to give younger entrepreneurs support; either by mentoring them or buying from them.
What can we look forward to from the incubator in 2019?
In 2019, Tshimologong is going to continue building out solutions that are entrepreneur-based. In fact, for 2019 there will be a strong focus on the wellness of the entrepreneur, especially the mental wellness.
The focus has too often been on the health of the business, forgetting about the engine – the person or people running it. We aim to turn that around this year, bringing the focus squarely on the people in the business and their health – physical, emotional and psychological.
We will have more of the same awesome events covering coding, designing, creation of new devices and refurbishing with old ones for young minds, families and young professionals.
There will also be a greater focus on exposing women and girls to the possibilities that exist within technology through existing partnerships. We have also found that the demystification of tech is something that is as necessary now as it was at the dawn of the century.
What is your wish for SA entrepreneurs for 2019?
I look forward to entrepreneurs working in an environment that is unfettered by regulation. I hope that entrepreneurs get the kind of financial and emotional support they need to be able to try something, have it not work and still be able to pick up the pieces again and try again.
I am looking forward to more responsive solutions – solutions that are a response to localised, African problems. Lastly, I am hoping for more sustainable business, and who knows, maybe a Unicorn can come out of it all!