2020 has proved to be quite an intense year for startups in Zimbabwe. Armed with business plans, a dream, passion and very little else, Zimbabwean based start-up founders have continued to face many challenges. From high inflation, an unstable exchange rate, no collateral to access loans, disruption in the working environment to lack of financial resources, they faced them all. While these challenges have sharpened their resolve and made them more resilient, isolated from the rest of the world many start-up founders still make rookie mistakes and fail to profit from their business ventures as a result. A number have certainly benefited from the coronavirus challenges. Yet many are striving unsure of what steps to take to get to the promised land. Taking advantage of the changed landscape under covid-19 appears simple enough as consumers are warming up to the adoption of digital technology as people opt for less risky ways of living, however its still a rocky journey for many.
Take for example the many grocery and food delivery startups that have mushroomed overnight, they are making it easier for consumers to order food and groceries from the comfort of their homes. Payment systems remain a challenge still but herein lies the opportunity to innovate even more. Regulators are playing catch-up with technology leaving the door wide open for startups that can introduce technology in regulatory enforcement. Such opportunities remain open as local entrepreneurs often wait for regulatory reforms in fear of the long arm of the law. Without much support from incubators or mentors, startups have found it hard to take off in a big impact-full way. What is more perplexing is that as they do this they have had to face stiff competition from companies who are launching their own delivery services or innovations to compete with them.
From meat delivery to vegetable or beverage delivery we have seen it all. We have not witnessed any pooling of resources by hamstrung startups nor have we seen any acquisition of promising startups by investors. Is this how it should be? In other markets not a day passes without reading a story about a startup in the logistics business raising money or signing up a grocery chain as their customer. What could be wrong in Zimbabwe? Why are startups with innovative ideas failing to attract investors even from local suitors such as supermarket chains or banks? For me it has been an exciting journey seeing everything unravel. As a hub owner I have tried many things, picking up important lessons along the journey to building our own startup incubator programs and working with startups at different stages.
We could spend the whole day listing reasons on what is wrong or speculate about who is right or wrong in our local startup system. One thing is clear to me and I have decided to do something about it. The bridge between startups and corporates in Zimbabwe is broken and needs to be built on a strong foundation. That foundation is startup incubation. Startup and corporate cultures in Zimbabwe are clearly misaligned and coupled with mistrust are a toxic cocktail that often leads to heartbreaks. Many founders have blamed corporates for openly stealing ideas or shutting doors they need opened to connect to payment platforms or gateways. While this may be true, it’s seldomly the reason startups fail in other markets. These things happen all over but are clearly more common in Zimbabwe, where most corporates often decide to go it alone in starting their own startup ventures ignoring the work being done already in the same areas. Could it be that when local startups decide to tackle a problem they are not tackling it hard enough with enough ammunition and resolve so much that local corporates or investors see no value in what is being done.
In a survey we carried out on startups recently over 85% of Zimbabwean startup founders who participated in the survey have never worked in a formal job before and have no corporate culture experience. More importantly startups are being run by single founders something that Venture capital or even angel investors frown on. If you get hit by a bus as a single founder your business goes with you and investors lose out. It’s cruel but true.
In an effort to address the many challenges faced by startups in Zimbabwe, Tech Hub decided to launch an incubation program aimed at addressing the challenges being faced in the local startup ecosystem. The 26 week long program will lead founders with ideas through an intensive process of living through the startup journey and building a strong team and work ethic that will meet the strict standards that are set by investors looking for solid startups with growth opportunities.
Zimbabwe has many educated and innovative startup founders who have been marginalised for too long as a result of the current economic crisis, whose effects have been exacerbated by the current coronavirus pandemic. Many startups cannot afford offices and have no access to mentorship or training. 10 innovative startups will be enrolled in our incubation program this July. Want to find out more click here.
I have no doubt that we have started an exciting journey that will see more startups being born in Zimbabwe and as we expand beyond it. The journey won’t be an easy one but we will write our own rules and stories as we go. Armed with our understanding of what needs to be solved, knowledge, networks and relationships we are all going to play our part in changing the world together.