A new regional lab for mobile technology entrepreneurs, application developers, and innovators (mLab) has been launched in Pretoria.
mLab Southern Africa’s activities are aimed at making the region a global hub for mobile innovations that will boost job-led growth and tackle economic and social needs. This strategically located facility will draw upon South Africa’s high bandwidth environment and talented pool of expertise with strong connections to the rest of Africa.
The first mLab, supporting the East Africa region, opened in Kenya in June 2011 and provides mentoring resources, on-site technical expertise and access to finance. Drawing on the successful blueprint of the first facility, mLab Southern Africa’s key objective is to scale-up mobile entrepreneurship into sustainable businesses that create jobs and boost local economies. Three more mLabs will open by the end of the year in Armenia, Pakistan and Vietnam and be linked for cross-fertilisation of ideas and innovations.
‚We believe that mLab can help us as a start-up mobile developing company to reach heights that we otherwise would not have attained,‚ says project manager Obakeng Matlhoko of Sowertech, a mobile web developer and one of the companies that will be using mLab’s facilities. ‚We are excited about the international linkages of the mLab,‚ Matlhoko adds.
The mLab Southern Africa fills a void. Although the region offers an enormous business opportunity in the mobile sector given that mobile penetration is over 100% in South Africa, there are still challenges to creating a sustainable business in this sector. Competition is stiff, and mobile developers are scarce and expensive. The mLab provides networking and training opportunities, support for the development of a viable business model, mentoring, subsidised office space, and technical and financial support. These services are aimed at helping the mobile entrepreneur navigate the vulnerable start-up phase, which is when most fledgling efforts flounder.
Thabo Mofolo of Bamboo Computing Services will be using the mLab for the development of BusBuddy, a mobile application that allows users to consult bus schedules for specific routes. ‚The assistance of the mLab to entrepreneurs in the development of their business model and also the experience themLab team brings in successfully implementing reputable projects, is of great added value,‚ says Mofolo.
While the region’s mLab hub is in Pretoria, a number of satellite offices are planned throughout the region, including in Cape Town. In the months leading up to the official launch, mLab Southern Africa has already run training events in Pretoria and in Cape Town, servicing over 80 mLab members.
mLab Southern Africa is co-hosted by CSIR Meraka Institute, The Innovation Hub, InnovationLab and Ungana-Afrika. Financial support is provided by the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) and infoDev, a World Bank Group global program focusing on supporting technology-driven small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
mLabs are a result of the private ‚ public partnership entitled Creating Sustainable Businesses in the Knowledge Economy between the government of Finland, Nokia, and infoDev / World Bank. The aim of the program is to encourage innovation and competitiveness among SMEs in the information and communication technologies and agribusiness sectors in particular.