Thursday, March 4, 2021

Batswana innovators create waves at Africa expo

Two local innovators were among the technology entrepreneurs who showcased their products at the just ended Demo Africa showpiece in Nairobi, Kenya.

Justice William went to show his groundbreaking queue management application, while Thatayaone Dichaba presented the version of affordable smartphones that are developed by his company Ditec.

After a week in the Kenyan capital meeting different people from government organisations, business and the academia to explore possible synergies, the duo caught the attention of entities such as Kenya Postal Corporation, Jomo Kenyatta University Innovation Hub, as well as representatives of Microsoft Kenya. The Botswana innovators’ products made such a huge impact, and the two men have been invited to make a presence in Nairobi.
After one presentation of William’s queue management application, known
as World Queues, Kenya Postal Corporation immediately commissioned a pilot to be set up in the Nairobi City Square post office branch, which is the busiest in the country. The pilot has now been extended to cover two more sites. Kenya Posta will pilot World Queues for a three-month period. The organisation has also expressed interest in having the Ditec devices sold through them as well as having them manufactured in Kenya.

World Queues is a system that manages customer flow by allowing customers to digitally queue through the platform and then calling them as their queue spots reach the customer service. It permits queuing online, or via sms, after which the customer receives an acknowledgement that informs them of their reference number and the time they can expect to be served. The system is ideal for service providers that are prone to long queues such as hospitals, post offices, and banking halls.

William says they have opened doors for incubation of their products into the Kenyan market through Jomo Kenyatta University Innovation Hub, which will provide access to skilled graduates and possible funders.

Dichaba stated that he had met some developers with applications that can run on his phones, and thus creating useful and mutually beneficial synergies. He described Demo Africa as an interesting event, which afforded him an opportunity to network with other African innovators.

William said after a week in Kenya, he realised that the country is many years ahead of Botswana, and even South Africa, in ICT development.

“This is not because they spend more money on ICT innovations or that they have much more skilled people than we have here, but because they believe in their people’s abilities to innovate and foster the environment necessary to do so,” William said. “In Botswana, on the other hand, we shun products made in Botswana and therefore innovators from Botswana will always find it hard to make it internationally. Before Kenyans look at international markets they already have a base at home. We can’t catch them until we have a major attitude change, especially where local products are ignored in favour of foreign ones.”

He said during the presentations, he noticed the Botswana products (Ditec’s smartphones and World Queues) could easily compete with the best in Africa, and were possibly among the top five products at the show.

The products that were showcased and launched at Demo Africa ranged from new social media platforms, event organizing applications and many new ways to make purchases online. The event’s coordinator Harry Hare said the organizers had to select the best products from more than 300 applications received from across Africa.

“So what we do is we curate them from different countries, then we take them through a whole process of adjudication and preparation, and find the best 40 out of those and we bring them to launch in Nairobi,” said Hare.

Known as the launch pad for emerging technology and trends, Demo Africa brings together innovators and entrepreneurs to pitch their innovations to potential investors and partners.

The two innovators’ participation at Demo Africa was facilitated by The Southern African Innovation Support programme (SAiS), a multilateral regional agreement between the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and four southern African countries; Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique and Zambia, to develop regional innovation systems support.

The programme was launched locally last year by the Botswana Innovation Hub in line with the national science, technology and innovation policy framework.

“The two innovations are in line with SAiS mandate, and certainly qualify for our support,” said SAiS Country Coordinator, Ambrose Makgonatsotlhe.

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