Innovators have appealed to government to support their technology projects pointing among their major challenges lack of support and lack of finance to harness technology innovation. Speaking during the tour of Botswana Innovation Hub’s First Steps Venture Centre by Minister of Infrastructure, Science and Technology Nonofo Molefhi, one of the innovators housed at the centre, Thatayaone Dichaba said they have good innovative products but they are losing contracts because of lack of support from government.
“The government should support us. They should create partnerships with us,” he said. Dichaba said he was forced to lie during a business idea pitch in Kenya when he was asked if the government is involved in his project. “I had no choice but to lie because I was competing with the big mobile manufacturer, Samsung who came to pitch their project accompanied by government officials from South Korea, but I was alone,” he said. Dichaba manufactures mobile phones called ‘Ditec mobile’. He has already exported about 4000 cell phones to Uganda and is currently negotiating with local shops to start selling his products.
“Our devices are already in the market. We have signed a contract with beMOBILE and we are still negotiating with other local retailers so that we can supply them with cell phones,” he said. Dichaba complained that they are unable to make consistent production especially for big contracts due to lack of funds. He said he was supposed to supply 1000 gadgets to Zimbabwe but could not do so because he could not manufacture them. “I lost a contract in Zimbabwe because I did not have enough finances to manufacture these gadgets. The contract was worth $100 000,” he said. Justice William, who is developing World Queues application, also said they are unable to get contracts from big companies due to lack of support from government. “People like our products but they do not trust our consistency of supply. We need government support and involvement in innovation technology,” said William.
The World Queues application allows users to book for services online without having to go and wait in the queue. William said this service could save the economy by reducing queueing times. He said almost 20 companies have been enrolled and the hospitals would start using it very soon. First Steps Venture Centre Programme Coordinator, Tshepo Tsheko said although innovators are coming up with good products, they do not have platforms to test their products. He said that the ministry should come up with ways to create platforms for these start-ups. “These people are coming up with good products but there are no platforms to allow them to test their products. We need to find ways in which Public Telecommunication Operators and big companies can test their products,” said Tsheko.
In response, Minister Molefhi said innovators should try to find alternatives such as partnerships with Public Telecommunication Operators and other big companies who can be shareholders in their projects so that they would have financial support and sustainable businesses. “Small and Medium Enterprises should try to approach big companies who can be shareholders because it is not easy for them as individuals. Partnerships would make the businesses sustainable,” he said. Molefhi explained to BG Business that the ministry would find ways to assist these young innovators. “Right now I cannot say we have solutions to all these concerns but I will have to meet with other government departments to see how we can assist them,” said Molefhi. An Innovation Fund from which innovators can tap into has already been mooted.