Dec 04, 2014 Old News

Botswana Innovation Hub: Reflections of 2014

The end of one year and the beginning of a new one is a period of reflection and introspection. Financial Philosopher and ardent blogger Kent Thune says this period presents an opportunity to reflect on the performance of the previous year as well as set new targets for the ensuing year. Thune says, “Reflection is not just a ‘looking’ back, it is giving mindful attention to lessons learned from experience and applying them to future growth and well-being. It is a reinforcement, a looking inward, an introspective inquiry with oneself.” 

As the curtain closes on 2014, it is important that we reflect on the accomplishments and challenges faced by one of the country’s economic game changing ensemble, Botswana Innovation Hub. Botswana Innovation Hub was incorporated as a company under the laws of Botswana to establish and manage the country’s first Science and Technology Park through which the country will nurture creativity and innovation in technological developments as well as build capacity for economic diversification through technology transfer and adaptation.

That the company was conceptualised in 2008 at the height of the global economic recession when many government projects and programmes were either scrapped or deferred demonstrates the country’s strategic intent and the high prominence with which this initiative is held. Botswana Innovation Hub carries the national hopes and aspirations of transformation from a factor-driven economy to a technologically-driven and knowledge-based one.   

The company is currently implementing its initial 2013 – 2016 strategy having developed an effective governance framework and operational processes and policies that reached sufficient levels of physical, institutional and human capital operations in 2012.

Construction of the Botswana Innovation Hub Science and Technology Park commenced on 1st August, 2014 and is scheduled to be completed on 30th June, 2016 in line to be commissioned as part of the country’s 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations on 30th September, 2016. The parks construction is a major national project that represents a significant investment in the country’s infrastructure development. Its central buildings are a world class, iconic masterpiece of architecture whose designs won the 2013 Auto Desk Design Awards. 

Speaking at the construction contract signing ceremony, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Infrastructure, Science and Technology, Dikagiso Mokotedi said given the blight of recent failed national projects, the Botswana Innovation Hub project will test the country’s resolve to bounce back and complete projects of this magnitude on time and within budget. “Let me emphasise that this project will be subjected to stringent critical path analysis and management to ensure that project scheduling and resource planning do not in any way jeopardise the set cost, quality and completion date,” he said.

Botswana Innovation Hub CEO Alan Boshwaen acknowledges the importance of delivering quality infrastructure on time. He goes further and takes a long term view, never missing the opportunity to emphasise that, Botswana Innovation Hub is not just about construction of a world class science and technology park but more about the key initiatives, projects and programmes that build capacity for economic diversification through technology transfer and adaptation. “In addition to developing superior, world class science and technology park buildings, Botswana Innovation Hub is involved in networking, advocacy and capacity building activities that support innovation,” he says.

Boshwaen says Botswana Innovation Hub, which has hitherto been an Affiliate Member of the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation (IASP) pending construction of the park was bestowed Full Membership status at the 31st IASP World Conference held in Doha, Qatar on 21st October, 2014. The upgrade came in recognition of commencement of construction of the park and the projects and programmes Botswana Innovation Hub is currently running.  

IASP is the worldwide network of science parks and areas of innovation. It connects professionals managing science, technology and research parks and other areas of innovation and provides services that drive growth and effectiveness for its members. Its members enhance the competitiveness and entrepreneurship of their cities and regions, and contribute to global economic development through innovation, entrepreneurship and the transfer of knowledge and technology. IASP is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is a founding member of the World Alliance for Innovation (WAINOVA).

Among the initiatives, projects and programmes that foster entrepreneurship and technology transfer as well as build innovation capacity that are currently running at Botswana Innovation Hub is, First Steps Venture Centre (FSVC). FSVC is a technology entrepreneurship development programme that offers early-stage enterprise support through pre-incubation, incubation and acceleration services.

FSVC currently has 15 registered clients who receive coaching and mentoring services with many more walk in clients seeking advice on different entrepreneurial development schemes. The programmes client companies have created 25 jobs since enrolling into the programme in January, 2014 and over 200 technology start-ups have received mentoring and advisory guidelines on their technology business ventures through enquires and pitch sessions. 

One of the FSVC resident companies, Modisar Net (Pty) Ltd has recently won the grand prize of €25,000.00 for their submission of a software solution for livestock farm management called Modisar at the Orange Social Venture Prize 2014. The application enables farmers to manage their livestock, finances and have access to a community of farmers and expertise in the livestock management field.

Botswana Innovation Hub established the Clean-Tech Centre in November, 2013 to support business development and research in the clean technologies sector of the economy. The Centre is currently testing a prototype for a housing unit in Khudumelapye in the Kweneng District. The objective of the project is to benefit local housing developments and adoption of technologies towards sustainable housing. This project is also linked to the Botswana Innovation Hub Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative as the prototype housing unit was donated to an economically challenged resident of Khudumelapye who was identified through the assistance of the Tribal Administration and Social Workers.

Still in the Clean-Tech Centre, Botswana Innovation Hub has collaborated with BCL mine in Selibe Phikwe to develop key components of the mining technology supply chain incubator model. The partnership seeks to create a platform to leverage existing mining skills and expertise into new knowledge based entrepreneurial ventures. The business incubator is scheduled for implementation before end of the year.

In an effort to bridge the digital divide, boost the country’s digital economy and arrest and reverse the tide of youth unemployment, Botswana Innovation Hub has partnered with Microsoft Corporation and the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture to launch the KitsoWorks initiatives. KitsoWorks is an initiative which provides a platform with a job search function, youth mentoring and social and professional networking features. The initiative connects young people around the world with opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship. The programme helps unemployed graduates gain the necessary skills for seamless integration into the emerging digital economy. To date more than 300 beneficiaries have been registered on the portal and more than 4000 have been reached though social media and online campaign. 

Botswana Innovation Hub is also running a pilot project of the TV White Space broadband access at Athlone Hospital and Tsopeng Clinic in Lobatse. The programme is due to be rolled out at Letsholathebe Hospital in Mau and Nyangagwe Hospital in Francistown before the end of the year. TV White Space is technology that uses free Dynamic TV Spectrum for access to broadband internet. Telemedicine services will be rolled out through this project. The project is expected to deliver specialised Telemedicine applications in partnership with local software developers and integrators to identified rural sites in the country. Botswana Innovation Hub is working with BOCRA to assist with regulating the technology.

Other initiatives, projects and programmes that took off this year include the establishment of the National Technology Transfer Office and the Local ICT Developer Community Office. The Southern Africa Innovation Support Programme (SAiS) continues to build capacity and promote collaboration between the innovation systems of Southern African countries. One of the major initiatives that have emerged from this programme is Spachee mobile money for banking the unbanked. Further work on the Clean-Tech renewable energy initiative includes the Solar Testing and Demonstration facility and the local biodisel production initiative.