Two years ago, the Hivos Southern Africa Hub, Indigo Trust and the US Embassy in Harare, granted 280,000 dollars to facilitate the formation of a tech hub aimed at stimulating technology innovation in Zimbabwe.
The idea was to launch a startup community that equips, nurtures and provides co-working space to tech entrepreneurs with an ultimate goal of increasing applications developed in Zimbabwe that contribute towards social change.
But when Hypercube, Zimbabwe’s first co-working technology hub, opened its doors in November 2013, there was very little understanding of the innovation hub concept, co-working or the benefits that it could give to tech entrepreneurs.
Since then, Hypercube has grown and now attracts a coterie of tech aficionados to its Harare hub hoping to design the next great tech product. Approximately 30 tech entrepreneurs use the space on a daily basis.
“We have been offering co-working space to the young entrepreneurs and developers on a pilot basis, allowing them to come in and work on their projects, startups and applications. We have also provided them access to a meeting room where they can meet with clients and conduct small presentations. The co-working space has allowed developers, designers and entrepreneurs to come together and collaborate within the community,” said Rinesh Desai, Hypercube’s Co-Founder and Chairman of Board of Trustees.
Hypercube also conducts workshops and cultural activities, some of which have featured international speakers and global tech companies like Google and Evernote, who extended an invitation to Zimbabwean developers and designers to build apps on their platforms.
A Hypercube event in May 2014 titled “No Limits ZW” attracted 72 people who were put through the process of launching a startup in just 54 hours. Hypercube also collaborates with TechWomen Zimbabwe, an initiative that seeks to develop women’s and girls’ technology skills.
However, much work still needs to be done to enable Hypercube to play an important role in the growth of innovation, digital technology and social entrepreneurship in Zimbabwe. Many of the tech entrepreneurs at Hypercube work in isolation with little access to relevant local data, yet there is a strong need to ensure that the applications developed are rooted in the realities of local circumstance and diversity.
A cross-sectoral collaboration and a multi-stakeholder approach based on open data and open innovation is required to give Hypercube a strong impetus.
More important, Zimbabwe’s techies need to undergo a paradigm shift so that the needs of people in rural areas – where the majority of the people live – are central to the innovations they seriously consider developing.
Although Hypercube has grown to become a space for collaboration, training, applications and content development – thus filling a significant gap in Zimbabwe – it still needs to establish a way to sustain itself into the future, a problem which haunts many tech hub on the continent.