WITH Lesotho still lagging behind many developing countries in terms of information communication technologies, six budding enterprises enrolled at the Vodacom Innovation Park (VIP) business hub are determined to chart a new course.
VIP was launched in 2015 with the intention of mentoring up-and-coming entrepreneurs. It leverages the power of technology and mobile communications to make the entrepreneurs’ businesses more competitive and productive. The entire programme takes a year, with the initial 12 weeks consisting of intensive training sessions of 20 hours per week. The rest of the programme entails one-on-one counselling sessions held on a monthly basis.
This year, six local businesses are being incubated as part of the second cohort which began in March this year.
Spreebie, Wiinc Store, Doorstep Deliveries and Afri-Grid are technology-based enterprises, while Bonono Merchants and Zeeterian Foods are textile and food-based businesses.
In an interview with the Sunday Express this past week, the participants concured the incubation hub has equipped them with skills to run sustainable businesses.
According to Spreebie co-founder Thabo Klass, VIP had enabled them to share ideas with others in the same field to improve their business. Spreebie is trading application on the iPhone platform.
Mr Klass co-founded the start-up with Mohapi Mpoti. He said they conjured up the idea of Spreebie four years ago and only succeeded in initiating it after enrolling in the incubation hub.
“Spreebie came to VIP as an idea and was developed within this programme. So, we have learnt more from these guys than we have learnt in the past four years,” he said.
“It has also been very beneficial to interact with others in the same field since we did not know them.”
Mr Klass said most coders (computer programmers) in Lesotho worked in isolation.
“As a result, we don’t share skills. At Spreebie, we believe in the infinite potential of every human being and we also believe that collaborations bring the best out of us,” he said.
“The VIP programme has afforded us a chance to learn more from other coders and vice versa. How we build or enhance our products henceforth will be a result of the input we garnered here which refines our product.”
Afri-Grid co-founder Bonang Salemane said the programme had enabled them to share ideas and hear the input of other participants to ensure they find a framework that works.
“The programme has many components. The first one includes studying and discussions around developing entrepreneurship skills. The other aspect is to come up with a product and a business plan,” he said.
“We had to consider every aspect of running a business and learnt many things we could not have known on our own.”
Mr Salemane said they never held back in pitching their ideas for fear they may be stolen by other people.
“The reality is that the projects we are working on now are complex and the fact that we are already working on them has given us an advantage to launch them first,” he said.
“We have abandoned everything else to focus on this programme and that gives us the advantage of launching better quality products before anyone else. It would not be easy for anyone out there who may want to steal our ideas to execute them in the manner we would.”
Mr Klass chipped in saying their focus was on maximizing innovation, adding that they would not be hamstrung by any inhibitions like fearing the idea would be stolen.
“We are living in a world where one cannot complain about their ideas being stolen. Even when you look at the operations of big companies, they also borrow from others,” he said.
“All that is needed is to ensure your product satisfies customers and is better than what is already in existence. And VIP has made us shift our focus to execution and nothing else. We have learnt that executing an idea that has unique features is an important step towards achieving a successful business.”
Some of the enterprises said they have also learnt the basics of operating a successful business. Doorstep Deliveries co-founder, Tsietsi Senaoana, said they only narrowed their target market after enrolling for the incubation programme.
“When we first arrived here, some of us were not very sure about our target customers and the strategies we needed to employ to identify and attract them,” he said.
“And now, we are better equipped to run viable businesses.”