New tech innovation hub hopes to fire up SA’s ‘Silicon Valley’

TECHNOLOGY hubs can play a pivotal role in fostering the emergence of a new generation of African tech entrepreneurs, Praekelt Foundation founder Gustav Praekelt said on Wednesday at the launch of JoziHub, an innovation hub aimed at incubating start-ups and tech development.

Although the South African government is pushing entrepreneurship as a way of creating jobs and developing the economy, South Africa does not have an equivalent to Silicon Valley to incubate these enterprises. Small to medium-sized enterprises also have a high failure rate.

JoziHub is “a space for collaboration, an environment where innovators, developers and entrepreneurs can interact”, Mr Praekelt said.

Located at 44 Stanley in Milpark, Johannesburg, the hub will be the “facilitator for interaction and collaboration among stakeholders such as research, private sector and public institutions”, the foundation said.

“It is a technology incubator for internet technologies and social media,” Mr Praekelt said, noting that “we want to focus on those areas, as we believe those can have the largest impact and return on investment”.

He added: “We think there is market neglect in these areas.”

Founded and housed by the Praekelt Foundation, the initiative is backed by Google and philanthropic investment firm Omidyar Network. Google South Africa’s Julie Taylor said on Thursday: “We’re committed to helping the tech start-up ecosystem grow across Africa.”

However, Aart Boessenkool, head of technology transfer at the University of Johannesburg, said on Thursday that physical space was not enough to foster entrepreneurship.

“We don’t have a Silicon Valley, an innovation space where people can haggle out things…. You don’t only need a physical space, you need people who can help entrepreneurs,” he said.

This is the strategy behind the JoziHub, Mr Praekelt said. “We provide a space to collaborate and, it is hoped, start spin-off companies. There will be events, usually technology events, workshops and technology days. If you are a member, you have free access to these events.

“In the daytime, there is desk space where entrepreneurs can work and incubate their projects.”

Other services on offer will include mentorship and potentially linking entrepreneurs with funders.

Ms Taylor said Google SA’s goal was to “enable tech hubs by providing them with technical content, business tools and infrastructure upgrades, so that they can support increasing demand from developers and start-ups”.

Other hubs in Africa backed by Google include the Co-Creation Hub in Nigeria and the iHub in Kenya.

Mr Praekelt highlighted the importance of collaboration and said JoziHub was interested in working with other hubs in South Africa and on the continent.

Membership is free, and for the first three to six months, workspace at JoziHub will also be free, to allow the foundation to gauge demand.

“We will create a costing model once we have a community,” Mr Praekelt said, adding that interested parties would have to apply for space.

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