RIM is doing something really interesting in the education sector. While the Canadian headquartered BlackBerry manufacturer is preparing to launch its make-or-break Blackberry 10 platform, its efforts to grow its BlackBerry developer ecosystem in South Africa is continuing to cultivate entrepreneurs.
RIM has established two BlackBerry apps labs in the country with which it hopes to both accelerate mobile apps development for its own platform, and to create new job opportunities in the mobile space. Recently, its apps lab at the University of Pretoria hosted a competition that uncovered young entrepreneurial talent from nine Gauteng high schools.
More than 50 talented learners competed in the Mobile Application Development (MAD) challenge as part of a PhD research study on e-Skills development. The aim of the MAD Challenge was to encourage grade 10 and 11 learners to embrace the career choices and entrepreneurial potential of the ICT industry.
The learners were selected based on their individual application forms and academic performance, and represented schools such as as Pretoria Boys High, Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool, Hoërskool Die Wilgers, Hoërskool Gerrit Maritz, The Glen High School, Hoërskool Silverton, Hoërskool Eersterust, Pretoria Secondary School, and Bokgoni High School.
The young finalists were guided through the basics of BlackBerry Java application development during six two-hour tutorials on Friday afternoons. After another four weeks of applying their new knowledge, 29 learners completed the 2012 MAD Challenge and submitted 16 applications — 13 as pairs, and three as individuals.
Applications were judged on the creativity and entrepreneurial content of the idea behind the app, usability, functionality, completeness, business value motivation, and programming skill. Winning apps included apps with a strong education focus and apps that allow users to view and share socially relevant content on a geographic (GPS/map view) platform. The winners were awarded BlackBerry PlayBook tablets for their work.
The first prize went to Brennan Buitendag from Hoërskool Gerrit Maritz for his Learners Test app, which prepares students to successfully pass their learner drivers tests. The second prize went to Tyler Hoffman and Unathi Chonco from Pretoria Boys High who developed the Live Music Guide app, which lets you find music gigs you are interested in and even helps to find your way to the event.
“It was very exciting to take part in the MAD Challenge,” said winner Brennan Buitendag. “It was a great opportunity and I learned a lot. I am hoping that I’ll be able to upload my app to BlackBerry App World soon and even make some money from it.”
The BlackBerry apps labs are incubators of sorts and provide local developers, including students, startups and entrepreneurs with development, marketing, sales and training resources to help them make their apps commercially successful.
RIM’s ground-roots efforts with its apps labs aim to create local and regionally relevant applications for not only the current range of BlackBerry products, but for devices running the upcoming BlackBerry 10 platform.
In an effort to stock its app arsenal prior to launching BlackBerry 10, RIM has gone to extreme lengths to evangelise its platform through initiatives such as the BlackBerry Jam World Tour, portathons and a new Tech Center.