Buni Hub: Innovation in Tanzania

"Girls Night Out": Participants discuss mobile app ideas at Buni Hub
"Girls Night Out": Participants discuss mobile app ideas at Buni Hub

Jumanne Mtambalike is co-manager at Buni Hub, a collaborative work space designed to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in Tanzania’s tech community. In his own words, here are Jumanne’s thoughts on Buni Hub, its purpose, and on African innovation:

On Buni Hub’s Mission and Vision:

Buni Hub, previously known as Innovation Space, is part of the bilateral project between the Finnish government and Tanzanian government called TANZICT Project. Buni Hub is part of the third component of the programme, which is the Tanzania Innovation Programme. The initial aim of establishing the hub was to help develop an information society, although the hub, among other things, is currently more focused on innovation, technology entrepreneurship, capacity building and skills development programmes. In Tanzania, specifically in Dar es Salaam, there are lot of start-ups, entrepreneurs, tech freelancers, college students and local innovators. These groups are what Buni is targeting to add value to them. The activities at the hub have been changing according to the demands and the needs of the hub users and our partners.

On Managing Buni Hub:

Buni Hub has two managers involved in direct engagement and activities, and who receive guidance from the team of the Chief Technical Advisor (CTA) of the TANZICT Projects. Our main roles as hub managers is to run, supervise, organize, brainstorm and implement new ideas and programmes that keep the hub active and attract the right users from the communities.

“Hub manager” is among those rare jobs that come without a job description; you must always be creative, innovative and eager to learn new ways of doing things so that you can deliver more value. Among other activities we:

  • Run tech events;
  • Mentor ideas and early stage start-ups,
  • Conduct internship programmes with local universities;
  • Communicate via our social media platforms and blogs;
  • Build partnerships with local organizations;
  • Plan for sustainability, investigate new ways of doing things;
  • Manage finances;
  • Mentor new tech communities; and
  • Organize (facilitate) tech events (e.g. boot camps, hackathons and meet-ups) at the hub.

On What Sets Buni Hub Apart:

Although we are not an incubator or accelerator, and our services are free of charge, we work on sustainability plans. We deal mainly with people at early stages of innovation, whether it’s about ideas or businesses. Our core focus includes capacity-building and skills development. We want to create an “entrepreneurship culture” among Tanzania’s youth, specifically in technology, and would like to help local youth through skills development. We also want to build an ecosystem, by creating opportunities through event organisation, partnering with international communities, and working with other stakeholders in the technology industry in Tanzania. We work closely with other tech hubs and living labs in Tanzania, although we don’t have formal partnership agreements with hubs outside Tanzania.

Participants in the Tanzania Super Social Networkers Project show some LOVE for Buni Hub.

Participants in the Tanzania Super Social Networkers Project show some LOVE for Buni Hub.

On Startup Culture in Africa:

Start-ups are there, but frankly speaking, the readiness from the investor to invest in technology start-ups is still very low. I have been in the tech-preneur sector for some time now, and what is missing is people who ready to invest in the sector. There are a few grants, seed funds and sources from challenges and competitions, but they are not enough to build successful and sustainable start-ups.

On Encouraging Local Engagement and Projects:

At the hub, we always pitch to our innovators and tech enthusiasts to invest more time in building solutions to local problems, since these are the only ways for them to tackle the local market. There have been some struggles due to the fact that products take a long time to develop and sell; on the other hand, services are easy. Also, it is hard to find mentors and experts to help develop and build these products.

We have couple of projects from our internship programme, 10 or so; a few of them are doing well: AfyaMap, a health facilities locator web app, Agri-Info (which won the second runners up prize for “Best Agriculture Web App” in Kigali, Rwanda), and Habari Mazao, which gives prices of farm products.

More so, we have a couple of projects that have been launched recently from our internship programme, including: Soka, an Android app which provides information about local football premier leagues. Another application is Kilimo Info, offering farming details of Tanzania, and VipiHuduma, which give opportunity for customers to complain about poor services.  Most of these projects are at early stage. We are in talks with them to introduce them to our mentoring programme after graduating from our internship programme.

On Intellectual Property Rights within the Buni Hub Startup Framework:

We have been in talks with experts from local universities to come and provide talks about IP issues. There recently was a training session that we co-organized with a local business incubator (DTBi), which talked about IP issues with experts from the government agency that deals with copyright issues.

One other reason we want entrepreneurs to embrace team work and sharing in the early stages is because it is crucial for idea-development. Also, we usually advise them to start thinking about patenting their works when they want to work with corporate partners.

So far, there isn’t an agreement between Buni Hub and successful products or start-ups, although this is in consideration, even as we plan for the hub’s sustainability. Participants in the internship and mentoring programmes have complete ownership of their projects, and we allow them to work with other entities and partners.

A community meetup happening at Buni Hub.

A community meetup happening at Buni Hub.

On the Future of Innovation on the African Sub-Continent:

I can say Africa is the present and the future; by 2015, in Tanzania alone, we will likely have more than 36 million mobile subscribers according to the sources, nationwide fibre optic cables, an exponentially increasing number of internet users, with more investment from mobile network operators.

I will say that Africa will be among the largest global technology markets. More innovative products and solutions will emerge, new business models in mobile money and other technologies will emerge, and e-learning and e-health will be among the major sectors in Africa’s tech industry.

On the Future of Buni Hub

In 10 years, I see Buni Hub being at the core of the technology ecosystem in Tanzania, and working to link government agencies, local universities, corporate organizations and tech communities together. I also see more products coming from the hub, more success stories, and more hubs being developed across Tanzania using Buni as a case study. Overall, I see greater investor interest in tech start-ups.

Words of Wisdom for Entrepreneurs:

My personal advice is that when you decide to be an entrepreneur, you should always make sure of these three things:

  1. Visibility: Always be visible and let people admire your work;
  2. Credibility: Deliver and meets client’s needs; and
  3. Profitability: Remember that you’ve got to make money at the end of the day.And, it’s okay to fail, but make sure you fail fast, fail cheap and fail smart (reasonably).

 

Advice for Fellow Innovation Hub Managers:

To my fellow hub and business development managers in African tech hubs, my advice is: tell them the truth. Hub users, community members and entrepreneurs at our hubs need to know the reason for the existence of these tech hubs is not only to try and fail with products, but also to come up with products that will be successful and profitable, so that at some point in time, these hubs can become financially independent, and are able to generate more value to our local communities.

We have to inspire entrepreneurs to build local solutions and dedicate some time to measure the impact of these solutions to the community. Finally, this is the collective effort we need all stakeholders in the African technology ecosystem to play together. It’s okay to compete, but we have to understand what it is that we are competing for. Let’s fight against the market, and not each other; our solutions cover a very small part of Africa, and the demand far exceeds the supply.

Follow Buni Hub’s exciting activities here on Twitter: @COSTECHTanzania and follow Jumanne here: @J4Mtambalike.

Images Source: Buni Hub/TANZICT Flickr Photostream. Reprinted with permission.

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About: Mekhala Chaubal

Mekhala is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, Canada with an interest in all areas of intellectual property (IP) law in a transnational context, privacy rights, and the development of IP in emerging economies. She is currently immersed in learning about innovation, entrepreneurship and the finer points of patent, copyright and trade-mark law as IP Legal Assistant.

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