In just ten months, the Southern Africa Innovation Support Programme has piloted collaboration between innovation hubs in Namibia and Botswana and boosted five young enterprises all the way to the global start-up event Slush in Finland.
The Southern Africa Innovation Support Programme (SAIS), Phase 2, kicked off in June 2017. The Programme covers Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia and focuses on practical innovation activities operationalized through innovation grants and business acceleration.
SAIS is a four-year-programme funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, with matching funding from leading innovation institutions from each partner country. It is managed by NIRAS Finland and has a team of two senior and three junior experts/officers working full-time from Windhoek, Namibia.
So far, SAIS has promoted activities to understand the innovation gaps in the region. The programme has also piloted regional collaboration between hubs in a SAIS subproject called Connected Hubs.
For instance, SAIS joined forces with the World Bank and the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra to train 21 hubs in gender inclusivity, impact measurement, regional collaboration, circular economy business models and start-up ecosystems.
Last but not least, SAIS has meant very real opportunities for five young enterprises in Southern Africa.
They were coached in pitching, business and product development by the SAIS team, the hubs as well as regional and international experts. This hands-on approach allowed for vast growth in only two months.
In November 2017, the start-ups arrived in Helsinki fully prepared to meet with potential partners and investors at the global start-up event Slush. They gained exposure to a competitive networking conference with 20,000 participants and one of the start-ups, Ecohub from Botswana, got a chance to pitch in the Slush100 pitching competition.
In March 2018 SAIS launched its first Call for Proposals for the Innovation Fund seeking projects under three thematic areas: stronger ecosystems, scaling enterprises and inclusive innovations. There will be two more calls during the course of SAIS which runs to 2021.