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If you want to go fast go alone – if you want to go far go together – African Proverb
This quote is no truer than for an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur can be very lonely and the importance of stakeholder support cannot be over-emphasized in ensuring the success of any venture that is undertaken. Having a collaborative and supportive environment in which to develop your product or service is key to its success.
Economic growth is underpinned by job creation and we have a vast untapped market in our townships. The significant participation and meaningful inclusion of the people of the township into mainstream economy of Gauteng through their own township enterprises that are supported by the government and big business will be one of the key game changers. The townships must be self-sufficient and vibrant economic centres” Premier David Makhura State of the Province Address (June 2014)
eKasiLabs, part The Innovation Hub, was first established in 2014 as a pilot project in Garankuwa, Tshwane to see if the community would embrace the concept and to test whether it responded to the needs of the township community. At the time The Innovation Hub was the only government agency that responded to our Premier’s call.
The core of what we do at The Innovation Hub Science and Technology Park of the Gauteng Province situated in Tshwane, is to create a conducive environment for the development of innovation to enhance economic growth and competitiveness of the Gauteng Province.
In order to meet the Premier’s call for the economic development of the township economy focused on job creation, it was important that we to took The Innovation Hub services to the people who did not have the means to access these facilities. The concept has proven itself to be a huge success in growing entrepreneurship in the townships and has been embraced by the communities in which we currently operate. Crucial to the success of the project is local buy-in, firstly from local Ward Councilors, followed by community support - and eKasiLabs has that with communities embracing what we are offering them.
With no other incubators then in the townships – eKasiLabs was the only fully-fledged business incubator supporting the development of township entrepreneurs and what started as a pilot project has soon expanded into the other 5 economic development corridors with the development of 1 to 2 township incubation centres per year. Currently eKasiLabs is operational in 10 sites situated across the 5 economic corridors of the Gauteng Province and there are plans to expand in line with Gauteng’s expansion of these corridors.
Offering a full business incubation programme at eKasiLabs we are proud to provide entrepreneurs with infrastructure, co-creation, free WIFI as well as both technology and business mentorship. This includes access to markets as well as access to funding. In addition, eKasiLabs provide Skills Development and a Schools Programme. With our CodeTribe, coding academy situated in both Soweto and Tembisa, we work with
students studying IT IT graduates in a 6 month to 1 year programme, for the development of projects such as mobile Apps, during this period these students are provided with a small travel stipend and at the end of the period have to produce a project in order to graduate from the programme.
Our Schools Programme is run across all eKasiLabs with the aim of cultivating a culture of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at a young age. Although primary school students can participate in the programme, the best results have been from high school students. FabLabs are also present, where space is available and currently we have in both Garankuwa and Soweto.
The value of stakeholders cannot be underestimated in ensuring the success of eKasiLabs and we are reliant on support from both Public and Private Stakeholders. From a public perspective eKasiLabs leverage on entities such as municipalities for the provision of free rental space and government departments for testing and R&D of prototypes. Universities and FET Colleges also provide premises free of charge within their institutions. Support from private institutions comes in the form of free training and support programmes as well as the space to pilot projects and most importantly funding opportunities.
Although The Innovation Hub has a small fund available to assist entrepreneurs to build prototypes or pilots there is a strong need for seed funding and there is strong collaboration with the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA); The Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), (NYDA) and GEPropellor.
The only area is that requires some attention is Government’s Supply Chain Management (SCM) processes that require some adaptation and streamlining of policies to incorporate the offering provided by Innovators and Entrepreneurs.
Since 2014 eKasiLabs has created 410 jobs by entrepreneurs that have been in the programme. The programme currently supports 303 entrepreneurs who are both in the pre-incubation or pre-commercialization stage where they are not yet income generating as well as those who have progressed to the commercialization stage where they are generating income as well as employing people in their businesses.
The success of eKasiLabs is undeniable with government responding to the needs of communities underpinned by the importance of job creation being the very reason that they exist. This success depends on strong stakeholder support and collaboration – we cannot do this alone!