Creating a Pipeline of Value | Knowing Your Role in The Innovation Ecosystem.

It has been great so far with Tanzanian Innovation Ecosystem. While some other components of the ecosystem are growing slowly, the pace of growth of the number of hubs is growing relatively faster. The number of hubs and Innovation (entrepreneurship) programs have increased tremendously in the past two years. There are more hubs now than post revenue startups that have managed to attract later stage investment in the past two years. There is nothing wrong with that, it is either people love the lifestyle of the hubs (open office approach) or are really looking to create value to the ecosystem.

When we were working to design the four programs of Buni Innovation Hub five years ago, the core question we asked ourselves was, where do we place ourselves in the ecosystem. By that time there was Kinu Innovation Hub, Dar Teknohama Business Incubator (DTBI) and Mara Space as the only three other hubs operating in Dar. We knew what the other three hubs were doing in terms of adding value to the ecosystem and we didn’t want to replicate that instead, we wanted to complement the effort.

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Three things were very clear to us;

  1. DTBi focus was mainly pre-incubation and incubation and they were so good at that hence we didn’t need to replicate that.
  2. Mara Space was good on industry linkages, designing mentoring programs and linking entrepreneurs to successful business people. They had a strong network and people with years of industry experience.
  3. Kinu was a co-creation space, they had an amazing small community of people passionate about entrepreneurship and innovation. They had many events and less program. Their target audience was mainly between ideas and proof of concept.

We knew we had to do something different. We had to come up with service packages that would add the missing component of the puzzle. Sooner we realized no one was focusing on youths with completely early stage ideas. The kind of people who; don’t have a clue about being an entrepreneur, they knew nothing about the business model, they don’t have a team. The only thing they had was passion and drive to become entrepreneurs.

Soon after we understood the market, this is what pushed us to start the four Buni Hub programs targeting completely early stage entrepreneurs; Buni Internship Program, targeting university students and graduates equipping them with skills, Buni Mentoring Program, targeting individuals with ideas looking to scale them into MVP, Buni Maker Space, targeting makers with engineers and the Buni Community Outreach, aiming at building community of innovators at local Universities.

It was easy to measure our success and progress since everything we did had a program with clear KPIs and goals. Each of our programs was designed to allow us to work with other partners in the ecosystem. We knew if we had good startups with MVPs they would end up in DTBI for further incubation and support. If the startups needed mentoring and technical support we can knock doors to Mara Space and if they needed a vibrant community of talents and people with industry experience Kinu is there to support them.

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This is what is missing with our current ecosystem. It is not very clear who is doing what and how to create this pipeline of value that will allow us to offer support to entrepreneurs from bottom up. From helping them to attain relevant skills up to receiving growth fund for scaling. There is a lot of duplication of effort. There is a lot of Bunis and Kinus but very few DTBIs. We need more programs for later stage support in order to bring our startups to the mezzanine stage to attract investment. Currently, there very few investable startups because of that. Most of the startups are still at the idea stage with unproven business models and without market traction.

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The Imaginary Pipeline of Value.

FYI, I’m not saying we all have to take part in this pipeline of value but at least we should complement each other’s efforts. If hub X works on skills, hub Y can work on early-stage ideas, hub Z can run incubation programs, hub W links the startups to the corporate world, hub S can focus on attracting later stage investments and investors matchmaking and University hubs can focus on research and development as well as skills development of the students. Sector-specific hubs e.g data, health, fintechs etc can focus on what they do best.

I have a lot to share but the article is already lengthy and goes against my principle of short informative articles. If you want to have a further conversation around this. Just put a comment.

Appreciation

  • Brian Paul, we worked together for months, developing on these concepts for Buni.
  • Kristiina Lahde and Dr Hassan Mshinda for allowing us to test these approaches while working with Buni Innovation Hub.

Written by

Entrepreneur, TZ Patriot, Loves Tech, Founder saharaventures.com, Project Management Consulting firm, Co-Founded saharasparks.com and Sahara Accelerator.

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