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Township Soweto

‘Shortage of township startups with innovative, unique ideas’

Too many township startups are pursuing “me-too ideas” over innovative ideas, says Innovation Hub CEO McLean Sibanda.

Speaking to Ventureburn, Sibanda says the organisation, which is funded by the Gauteng provincial government, battles to find innovative entrepreneurs to back in the townships.

“Most young people in townships don’t have a degree, but the entrepreneurial flare is there and that’s why we’ve decided to invest there,” he said.

The Innovation Hub is currently assisting 150 township startups through seven centres in its eKasiLabs programme.

These include among others a startup involved in manufacturing environmentally-friendly paint, another making audio equipment, a business offering household cleaning services and an app that provides feedback to municipalities on public protests.

Sibanda said about two thirds of those startups The Innovation Hub assists are involved in developed IT solutions or apps.

The Innovation Hub runs regular Startup Weekend and Startupbootcamp events through which it aims to identify and enrol startups into the eKasiLabs programme.

‘Most don’t have a degree, but the entrepreneurial flare is there’

Sibanda says there are usually between 30 and 50 participants on average that attend each event. The focus is on entrepreneurs with innovative ideas with potential economic impact preferably in sectors such as web technologies, green and agriculture, biotech and creative industries.

Through each event, The Innovation Hub aims to identify three entrepreneurs with innovative solutions or technologies. The top three ideas get cash prizes of R1,500 and can qualify for incubation through the eKasiLabs programme

For those selected, The Innovation Hub offers both 12 months of pre-revenue support to startups as well as a three-year incubation programme.

Sibanda says most of the feedback that they provide to participants has been to help them to assess what problem they are trying to solve, what makes their business offering unique and who their customer is.

Leonard Moliki, who runs Eco-Clean Cycle with Sifiso Magatho, says he attended a Startup Weekend held in Mohlakeng in August last year where he was able to get tips on pitching techniques and help to improve his business model.

The two, who have designed a smart way to grow seeds using biodegradable paper, won a place at the eKasiLab in Mohlakeng, where they have access to a hotdesk and business support from hub mentors.

He and Magatho are now looking for a R50,000 grant to help fund the purchase of seeds that they can prepare for clients, who are mainly smallholder farmers and co-operatives.

The organisation held several Startup Weekend and Startupbootcamp events last year and usually runs one once or twice every quarter. However Sibanda could not say when the next such event will be held.