The Southern African Innovation Support Programme is building the entrepreneurial system in the SADC region through collaboration, training and pitching events
The excitement in the room was palpable. Dazzling lights and rhythmic music only heightened the buzz generated by the ten startups sitting nervously in the corner, awaiting their chance to pitch and win the opportunity to represent Namibia at Europe’s premier startup festival, Slush, in Helsinki Finland.
Organised by Dololo – a recently launched Namibian startup business incubation and co-working space – in collaboration with the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) through its Namibia Business Innovation Institute (NBII), the BOOST UP hosted on 15 August in Windhoek was part of a series of 20 events targeting over 700 aspiring entrepreneurs and startups in Namibia as well as Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia. Over the last few months, entrepreneurs have gathered across the SADC region to receive coaching and prep for pitching competitions like the one hosted by Dololo and NBII. Two lucky finalists from each country will make their way – all expenses paid – to Slush in November.
The Dololo team (from left): Elizabeth John, Disney Andreas, Chantal Claassen, and Tim Wucher. Photo by Kevin Perestrelo
BOOST UP is an initiative of the Southern Africa Innovation Support Programme (SAIS), a NIRAS-implemented regional project supporting the growth of new businesses through strengthened innovation ecosystems and cross-border collaboration among innovation role-players in the SADC region. Funded by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, SAIS is rolling out many strategies to boost the nascent private sector, including an Innovation Fund. One of these is Connected Hubs, a network of innovation-support organisations with members like Namibia’s National Commission on Research, Science and Technology (NCRST), Dololo, and NUST’s NBII.
“Connected Hubs brings the private sector together with government to support innovators and collaborate to share best practises,” Flora Ismail, Director of SAIS, explains. “In this platform, they do different things to build the capacity of the hubs. For example last year, they focussed on event management and produced a resources toolkit on how to plan and market events, and this year they are busy with how to raise the profile of startups, which involves a lot of training and mentorship.”
BOOST UP is part of Connected Hub’s efforts. A 3-part series (Set Up, Stand Up, and Scale Up), the initiative gives entrepreneurs practical tools to package their business idea and develop and deliver a pitch, which – if good enough – will unlock online training, designed specifically to make early-stage startups more investable, and an on-site bootcamp in Finland, followed by attendance at Slush. The BoostUp! In Windhoek would not have been possible without collaboration between Dololo and NBII and the support of NCRST.
“SAIS has been a great connector. I’ve been for training in Pretoria at mLab and my colleague is headed to the Botswana Innovation Hub as part of the Connected Hubs peer-learning platform,” Dololo Operations Manager, Chantal Claassen said. “And of course they powered the BoostUp! here in Namibia but also in the other countries. They are creating entrepreneurial activity and building the ecosystem all over the region.”
Dololo's Operation manager, Chantal Claassen, outside the co-working space in Windhoek
Support for innovation hubs like Dololo, BongoHive in Zambia, and Buni in Tanzania are key to growing the startup culture as they enable collaboration and sharing of new ideas.
“In Namibia there’s a big disconnect between young people who can create value and make an impact and companies or organisations with expertise and seeking growth. At Dololo, we bring these two sides together to collaborate and create something extraordinary to solve some of the biggest problems facing our country,” Chantal says.
The two winners of Dololo’s BOOST UP – Yambeka Children’s Media and AMR Radar – will have a chance to do just that. The startups, respectively in the education sector and resource management, will join eight others selected from BoostUps! across the region at Slush in Finland, where they will have a chance to network and get access to investment or other opportunities. Last year, a SAIS-supported startup AgriPredict from Zambia was a winner of the Slush Global Impact Accelerator so the sky’s the limit.
“Dololo's doors are wide open to support the two startups selected to attend Slush 2019. Through our pitching coaching sessions, we are confident that they will ready to present their business to an international audience," says Disney Andreas Dololo's Communications Manager.
Find out more about the SAIS programme on their website.
To learn more about Dololo, watch the video: