BIH: The journey so far

SHARE   |   Monday, 11 July 2016   |   By Tigele Mokobi
BIH CEO, Alan Boshwaen BIH CEO, Alan Boshwaen

TIGELE MOKOBI takes you inside the efforts made by Botswana Innovation Hub to transform the economy by promoting cutting edge technological innovative interventions

History records four prominent transition stages of the developed world. It all began with the hunter-gatherer societies and progressed to the agrarian economy and later the industrial economy leading up to the latest stage of development in global economic restructuring, the emerging knowledge economy. The trajectory of this development spans thousands of years with the move from hunter-gathering to the age of farming and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution 12,000 years later marking the seminal transitions of human history, lifestyle and wellbeing. As a distinction from the agrarian, resource-based or traditional industrial economies, a knowledge economy is considered to be an economy that is essentially driven by the creation, distribution and utilisation of knowledge and information. In this respect, the knowledge economy or weightless economy reflects the latest stage of development in the evolution of modern economies, often characterised by an increased use of ICT, globalization, active networking and various forms of innovation.

In a fiercely competitive global economic market, many countries have made structural and strategic shifts that will allow them to leapfrog their economic development to the knowledge economy. The knowledge economy is seen as the way forward to achieve sustainable rapid economic growth and to remain globally competitive and Botswana is among the countries that have placed innovation at the centre of their development strategies. Following the fairytale economic success since the discovery of diamonds in the post-Independence era, uncertainty in global markets and the bleak prospects for commodity producers prompted the country to seek alternative economic drivers. Botswana Innovation Hub was established as part of the economic game changing ensemble that will nurture creativity and innovation; create new scientific, technological and indigenous-knowledge based business opportunities that generate knowledge-based job opportunities and contribute to the country’s economic development and competitiveness. Barely five years since its incorporation, Botswana Innovation Hub has made bold and audacious strides that assert it as a major a major destination for innovation on the African continent. The company has positioned itself as an innovative and networked organization that promotes technology, entrepreneurship and commercialisation on a purpose built Science and Technology Park.

Development of the country’s first Science and Technology Park with state-of-the-art facilities and high caliber end-to-end services is ongoing and construction of the central Icon Building is underway including private sector led development lease agreements and local and international partnerships to build other technical facilities that support innovation activities. Even before the Science and Technology Park is complete, Botswana Innovation Hub has commenced with the development of advanced science and technology innovation capital and activities that attract innovators, channeling the requisite support services and conditioning the investment climate. The company is building opportunities in tenancy, membership, a globally-connected innovation ecosystem and world-class client services. One of the important pre-condition of the development of a knowledge-based economy is local, regional and international cooperation. Botswana Innovation Hub is a full member of the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation (IASP) which accords the company the opportunity to network with likeminded organisations across the world. In recognition of the strides the company has made thus far in implementation of the innovation agenda, the company’s CEO Alan Boshwaen was recently unanimously elected President of the Africa Division of the IASP.  

Botswana Innovation Hub has commenced with its core business of providing innovation support programmes essential for nurturing the early stages of start-ups and central for creating a conducive environment that attracts innovative companies and institutions to its Science and Technology Park. The company established the National Technology Transfer Office (TTO) in partnership with the University of Botswana to address the gap of Intellectual Property (IP) advisory support.  The TTO is responsible for the identification and commercialization of intellectual property arising from research, innovations, indigenous knowledge and technology development. TTO has partnered with National Food Research Technology Centre (NFRTC) on commercialization of indigenous food products. In creating an environment that allows ideas to take flight, Botswana Innovation Hub established a technology entrepreneurship development programme named, First Steps Venture Centre (FSVC). FSVC has partnered with the private sector to provide start-up companies with business mentorship and market access opportunities. The company has been instrumental in assisting start-ups to commercialize their innovations and this has seen some of them win Africa-wide competitions and also gain global attention. 

FSVC has 18 start-up companies enrolled at its Gaborone campus and the innovation capacity building programme has engaged with over 1000 entrepreneurs and innovators. This year FSVC will see its first cohort of companies graduate from the programme. Still on technology entrepreneurship development, Botswana Innovation Hub extended its FSVC programme to Selebi Phikwe and partnered with BCL mine to set up the Mining Technology Entrepreneurship Centre (MTEC) to support local supplier development for innovative solution through demand-driven procurement. Currently 9 start-up companies are enrolled at MTEC and have been supported to secure contracts with BCL. In response to a World Bank study that revealed that there was need to develop a conducive environment for ICT developers to work on their ideas to turn them into viable products and services before they can be enrolled into a programme such as FSVC for business development support, Botswana Innovation Hub established an ICT Developer Community Programme called, Cyber City Kgotla.  Cyber City Kgotla offers developers technical and entrepreneurial training opportunities and provides them access to developer toolkits through Botswana Innovation Hub partnerships. The programme has enrolled more than 252 members. 

To support new business development in clean environmentally friendly technologies, Botswana Innovation Hub established The Clean-Tech Centre. The Centre is working with partners on various projects including setting up a Solar Test Bed testing and demonstration facility, and a rapid deployment sustainable housing unit based on alternative housing technologies. The company recently donated one of the sustainable housing units to a beneficiary in Khekhenye village in the Kweneng District as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative. Other Clean-Tech projects include water purification and harvesting technologies and capacity building initiatives. Botswana Innovation Hub partnered with Microsoft Corporation to establish The Microsoft Innovation Centre (MIC). MIC supports capacity building and innovation projects in ICT. MIC in partnership with Microsoft Corporation, University of Pennsylvania, BoFiNet, Global Broadband Solutions, Vista Life Sciences, USAID-NetHope and Ministry of Health has implemented the TV White Space (TVWS) pilot project to pilot affordable last mile connectivity and mHealth. The technology helps deliver telemedicine health programmes through low cost and long range broadband over TVWS.

In working with the right partners around opportunities for impact, Botswana Innovation Hub joined The Southern Africa Support (SAIS) programme which supports a regional innovation system in Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). SAIS builds capacity and stimulates operational elements of the National Systems of Innovation (NSI) within and across the four pilot countries, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Mozambique. The programme aims to positively contribute to the drive for sustainable economic growth, aid in poverty reduction and support the countries in the development of a knowledge society. As an innovative and networked organisation that supports the establishment of a vibrant National System of Innovation, Botswana Innovation Hub collaborated with the Ministry of Infrastructure, Science and Technology and the Africa Innovation Foundation (AIF) to host the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) 2016 in Gaborone last month. IPA is a landmark program of the AIF, whose purpose is to increase the prosperity of Africans by catalysing the innovation spirit in Africa. AIF offers several avenues of opportunity for local, national, regional and international growth and exposure to Africa’s next cadre of innovators.

Still on activities that foster strong linkages between government, industry and academia in the promotion of a national innovation ecosystem that form the building blocks of a knowledge-based economy Botswana Innovation Hub continues to participate in national and global activities such as the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD), Girls and Women in ICT and the International Development Design Summit (IDDS). The company continues to recruit more members, enter into more strategic partnerships and collaborations, business venture matchmaking and foster commercialisation of innovations and technology transfer as it strives to establish a unique platform for a robust national innovation ecosystem.