#MondayBlues: Disappointed With Innovation Drive Fund.

When former ICT minister Supa Mandiwanzira announced his vision to unveil funding for the youth in technology three years ago, As TechnoMag we were excited about the move and celebrated the whole concept of this fund. We welcomed this development as we had no doubt that it was the correct piece to complete the whole innovation ecosystem.

Toneo T Rutsito

2 years ago, President Emmerson Mnagagwa officially launched this program in Zimbabwe, and according to the actual plan and vision, Potraz was to unveil USD $25 million to young technology players.

When the President launched this program, there were six young players who were already beneficiaries of the program, and to date, Potraz says they have funded a total of only nine people.

They have their reasons, they strongly defended them, some made a lot of sense which I shall mention them. But for a whole nation that once has US$ $25 million, or the next revision to $7 million set aside to stimulate the sector, our first problem was that the money is no longer worth the paper it’s written on, this was a wasted opportunity that could have helped hundreds if not thousands of innovators to date.

Of course, that money by now must have been used for other projects otherwise it would not make sense as it was only an allocation.

Those 9 that are already benefitting also had issues with the turnaround and disbursement of the funds as they cleared their milestones, bearing in mind this is a loan that has and must be returned, loss of value and opportunities was also realized at the helm of the committee.

We could not ascertain the actual total amount that had been disbursed by the time of publishing, yet still, these players are not yet paid in full mainly because they are paid on completing their agreed milestones

Disclaimer, we were also part of the applicants that went through the application, I personally attended an interview with this panel a year ago. I cannot remember how many there were, but I know there were much more than the number of projects they have actually approved.

Though some of the panelists called themselves entrepreneurs, you could see an obvious disconnection with reality, citing weird analogies, and rigidness that proved otherwise, which to me points out to a good vision undertaken by wrong people who deserve a well air-conditioned office and free lunch and must be distanced from our entrepreneurs.

It was an emotional matter, so i separated my emotions from this and dared not to write about my experience with them soon after being denied access to funds, its now more than a year, this story must be based on facts, not emotion, and today I still believe it was a group of people who have no clue on how entrepreneurship works, if their enterprises are at all thriving then, lady luck remembered them.

One of the main reasons why I’m so disappointed with the committee is that they kept throwing around a word like innovation, a word which they proved not to be in sync with.

They kept saying you are not the first person in the world to have done this neither is this idea new.

No doubt our sister company TechMag.Tv is Zimbabwe’s most formidable online television company, it has become an alternative to many as a source of information and entertainment and employees a decent number, going strong towards our 7th year, we are told we are not enabling ICT. It’s not innovation and these tech bubbles are not financially stable and won’t last.

You can understand how as an entrepreneur one would detest such an environment when people speak against everything you believe in. Then i imagined how many more people went through.

While it seems like I’m worried about just 9 people benefiting, some would argue its not an issue of just numbers, yes it’s not just about quantity but quality, I certainly agree,

I have traveled across all continents to witness how other countries have developed their tech ecosystem worldwide.

I had the privilege to visit great “innovation and invention” in the United States of America and also in China. For example, Silicon Valley is bursting with talent while China continues to dominate whilst creating their virtual Silicon valley.

In the region, Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa are amongst the top countries in producing young technopreneurs who are designing solutions that have greatly impacted their nations, they have hundreds of these and contributing towards economic growth.

Yes, not many are successful, some have failed, infact many are still failing, but their success story is not based on the flying projects along, they also allowed other projects to fail, As they say, failure is the greatest teacher which often gives us a strong bounce back as entrepreneurs.

In Zimbabwe, most guys who applied were told their projects were not invention, therefore, could not be funded.

I challenged the narrative, I asked them to research the biggest tech company worth billions of dollars. but was it the first-ever search engine. Facebook today is the biggest social media but were there the first? Today, WhatsApp holds billions of conversations but was it the first-ever?

What is an invention?

The same Committee did some tours around cities, cant factually state how many, but for sure we attended one in Harare and they might have proceeded to have another one in Mutare the following week. Where they explained to applicants how to apply, and the types of projects they wanted.

This was a first attempt to acknowledge something was wrong, I was happy to see this move from them, they had to reach out and they did. Unfortunately, still after whole the exercise, no one qualified.

In short the problem was never eliminated!

As TechnoMag, we have showcased more than 100 creative ideas and true innovations that could sell anywhere in the world. We have competent tech players and something is purely wrong with the whole selection process.

Luckily I managed to have a conversation with Potraz Director-General Dr Gift Machengete who actually explained that he was fully aware of the challenges and are particularly looking into the terms of reference they were using since innovation was only defined and limited by something new.

He also said that they are reviewing the fact that a project is purely original but if we replicate it here in Zimbabwe and it changes lives, we must accept such an application

“We had a narrow definition of the word innovation, we want to include those applications that are touching on humanity and changing lives as they solve problem, there were other applications which were good but we could not fund them because of the nature of the model we were using “

As a going concern, Dr Machengete said that they will soon be tabling their new strategy with their board and parent ministry while they have also come up with a direction towards hackathons.

“We have now decided to go the hackathon way, we will be engaging ICT hubs, Universities, and colleges where will come up with certain problems and calling out for ICT solutions, players will brainstorm and come up with possible solutions,”

Well, with that said, I guess there must a reason for Zimbabweans to dream again, the point is not about us to also benefit from the program so we sanctify it , Noo, not at all, we have many more technopreneurs who are desperately need funding out there and they are not accessing it yet they have brilliant ideas.

TechMag.TV is now a self-sustaining project, its already attracting investors and broadcasting to more 200 000 viewership, the reach is already rich and we could have been way better had we been jumpstarted with world-class equipment back then.

We have many more other players that are living with great ideas which if we must simply take them to other East African countries their government will be too quick to provide all the necessary environment to help them establish.

To date, millions have been spent on Kenya , Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa. Its an East Africa craze of local and international players believing in African solutions to solve our daily problems.

To date, millions have been spent on Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. It’s an East Africa craze of local and international players believing in African solutions to solve our daily problems.

Today, we have many private players doing hackathons and identifying talent, last week, UNICEF had a hackathon on health and sanitation, NetOne had another whilst TelOne held theirs during ZITF in April. All these are meant to stimulate the ecosystem, but there are not long term solutions when all one gets is walking away with a cash price.

Having fixed hubs and actual project monitors especially financial ones would instill discipline to make sure that the money is only used for the intended purpose, while they drive their visions.

The biggest challenge, however, is most youths are hungry and for a long time they have been developing good projects on borrowed time, money and resources and the next minute they get money, they have many people they are already owing before they start focusing on moving forward

If the playing field was fair in Africa, Zimbabweans today would be driving many solutions across industry and business because I have personally seen many of their solutions, that unfortunately die as ideas, or vultures with funds easily snap them off away from them.

We hope one day someone too will also believe in Zimbabwe and get the same attention as other countries.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *