From 21–23 November, Startup Weekend Harare took place at tech venue, Hypercube Hub in Belgravia. This was the second time the platform for start-ups had taken place in the city, fresh off a successful run earlier in May. Startup Weekend Harare is one of several new platforms in Zimbabwe to encourage start-ups and budding entrepreneurs (see also ZOL Startup Challenge). In a country with over 80% unemployment, this is not only a good idea, but a more than welcome solution for under-employed graduates. That said, the event does not only target young university students or graduates, but is open to anyone with a business idea.
Startup Weekend is a global brand out of the USA, sponsored in part by Google for Entrepreneurs. It takes place in cities all over the world. The three-day event is billed as 54-hour marathon that invites entrepreneurs, developers and designers to come and share ideas, build products and launch a start-up in one weekend. Participants buy a ticket, which gives them the right to come through and pitch their idea in front of the crowd who have also bought tickets. The top 10 ideas are chosen, around which teams are formed and each team is assigned a mentor – someone experienced in business design, conception, failure, and success.
The mentors included: Nigel Mugamu (263 Chat), Tommy Deuschle (Emerging Ideas), Bongai Zamchiya (Pariah State), Walter Wanyanya (Tech Tools Avondale), Shamiso Ruzvidzo (Fashion Weekend), Michele Scanlon (UMax Internet) and Takunda Chingonzoh (Sai Sai) among others. The teams then spend the whole weekend coming up with a business idea that in theory should launch by the end of the weekend.
It was hard to know whether to take it seriously. Last May’s Startup Weekend Harare winner, K’Tamba Toys soon disbanded due to the school commitments of its young team members. The second place team, Money Game, have also not launched their product. Only May’s third place team, Combi Code, now rebranded as QOR (Quick Online Reference) have pushed their start-up, rebranding it and in fact responsible for the registration and monitoring of the participants’ meals and drinks over the November Startup Weekend. When asked about it, organizers said they were aware that there was a need to provide continuing support to the teams after the event, including continually meeting with their mentors.
The event brought through participants from all walks of life. However, it was clear that the organizers had planned for a larger crowd. This might have been partly because of what was a steep entry fee with tickets going for $60 and $30 for students. All in all, 17 people pitched their ideas onstage and five ideas were chosen around which teams were formed with two mentors assigned to each.
The five teams each had very interesting ideas. The first, Getsi.Co, developed an app that would send you an SMS when the power goes from your house and lets you know when it comes back, surely a valuable product in Zimbabwe. Ingage was a website that matched employers with University graduates who were looking for real-world experience. Rezident was another app that allowed residents to be able to communicate via email with the City Council failed service delivery, such as potholes that need fixing, refuse that needed collection, crime, in your neighbourhood and more. A fourth platform, MhuriYethu, was a website that allowed you to crowdsource funding for cancer treatment. Food Matters matched supermarkets and food producers who had food they were going to throw away with buyers who would use it right away at a discount price.
The judges, who were a mix of business leaders and tech experts had a tough job. In the end the more than $40,000 worth of prizes went to Food Match. Only time will tell if they are able to build on this good start and actually sustain a viable business.
Startup Weekend Harare plans to host its next event in Bulawayo in May next year.
Photo: Winning team, Food Match, with their mentors Michele Scanlon and Nigel Mugamu