Meeting the startup ecosystem support organizations in Southern Africa 

The thought of organizing the Empowering Startup Community workshop popped into our heads when we first started to put together the #euafricathejourney program. We realized how important it is to understand the role of startup ecosystem support organizations in different regions before organizing a hackathon or acceleration program detached from the reality of what’s already happening on the ground.

The first event of the series took place in Nairobi, Kenya, in August 2021 and focused on East Africa. The second event in the Empowering Startup Community series took us to Namibia. It brought together participants from all over Southern Africa- Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, and Mozambique.

The idea of the workshop remained the same- to create new connections, to strengthen the already existing bonds between the startup ecosystem support organizations (from there on also SEO’s) in the region, and to understand where both the startups and the organizations that support them would need the most help.

The workshop took place in a gorgeous but gloomy Swakopmund- a small foggy coastal town in Namibia. Let’s just say that the city did not match our mental image of the African seaside:) Here’s a glimpse of how the weather really was like during our time there on the Skeleton Coast (but hey, bad weather is a great productivity booster!)

Whale-sighting & welcoming cruise, the night before the workshop kicked off.

The first day of the workshop focused on understanding the startup lifecycle and where the startups struggle the most. The exercise also helped to understand better which specific phases the ecosystem support organizations help and where they fail to support the startups in the region. Even though there are some countries in the region where the startups go through their lifecycle in a very traditional way, the exercise highlighted the following:

  • There is a little specialization happening. Every startup ecosystem support organization seems to be taking care of the startups in all their life phases. It's usually a sign of a young startup ecosystem, implying that there are not enough startups in different stages to allow the ecosystem support organizations to focus on one area in more detail.

  • Startups need financial support very early. Quite a few organizations pointed out that it's common to involve investment already in the ideation phase, even before the MVP phase. Entrepreneurs need funds very early to keep working with their startup and still manage their everyday responsibilities (providing for a family, proceeding with the higher education, etc.)

  • Startups rely a lot on the support of foreign donor organizations support, and there's little private investment action going on.

  • There are not that many startups in the region (with the exception of South Africa and some other examples here and there) who have made it to the exit phase; therefore, the concept of working towards the exit seems to be relatively new and unknown in the region.

  • a lot of the problems appeared already in the ideation phase like

  • lack of skills (the most problematic)

  • lack of access to data and funding

  • corruption and lack of transparency

  • socioeconomic factors(like black-tax; other stereotypes, historical aspects)

The other most burning problems the participants highlighted and that got the most votes and also dedicated brainstorming sessions solving them later in the afternoon were:

  • lack of understanding about the importance of the validation

  • poor infrastructure (digital + hardware ) in the product development and growth phase

  • lack of collaboration and scarcity mentality in the growth/scaling phase

  • founders burnout

  • corruption

The startup lifecycle in the region, ecosystem support organizations active in different phases and the most common problems startups face in each of the different phases.

The second day of the workshop focused entirely on the startup ecosystem organizations experience in the region.  Through brainstorming sessions and mapping, we identified the following problems:

  • How to measure the impact and credibility of the startup ecosystem support organizations? Lack of regional startup database and a lack of the common narrative for the ecosystem in the region (like a joined schedule for different events and programs that the startup ecosystem support organizations carry out).

  • Financial support for the hubs (regional support model?) and a sustainable business model for the hubs. Creating efficient operational processes and systems for multiple activities that the hubs run, e.g. project management, coworking and workshops.

  • Lack of cross-border collaboration (both national and regional) and lack of a community within coworking spaces

  • Capacity building and skills teaching for startup ecosystem key players. Fast staff rotation (retention). How to find staff that's motivated and who is in it for the long run- who wants to evolve together with the organization.

  • Attracting solid startups, building a quality pipeline for the organization

Teams were formed around the problems mentioned above and the solutions, and that the teams came up with along with the next steps to implement the solutions were following:

 1. A digital platform to unite the innovation hubs in Southern Africa to promote and stimulate knowledge sharing, capacity-building, exposure, and cross-border collaboration. The deadline that the team set for the implementation of the idea is January 2022.


 2. A standardized regional evaluation framework for impact assessment, which focuses on the key metrics. Team plans to draft a whitepaper to present the framework to the ecosystem, facilitate a workshop, and a survey to streamline the process and make the data accessible to everyone.

 3. A series of masterclasses designed to define the roles and responsibilities within an ESO through standardized templates. The next steps for the team include putting together the concept of the masterclass, securing funding for the workshops, and drawing up a detailed implementation plan.

 4. Building a high-quality program that will attract partners. The program would help with skills transfer, increase the clients base and help the ESO's build a reputable portfolio of startups. The next steps include connecting the potential hubs with reputable organizations and leveraging on the existing Connected Hubs (SADC) by the Finnish government and governments of 5 countries in Southern Africa.

 5. Corporate solutions + challenges. Working with corporates on internal problem solving and in-house solutions with startups. This solution helps to move faster in showcasing the success stories and helps to create a market for the startups. Next up is a visit to the exclusive workshop with corporates held in early February 2022.

 6. Develop an online hub of SEO's that would assist with cross-border collaboration and funding. Hubs would be able to see the projects of the other hubs and can decide if they would like to fund or collaborate as a partner. The solution would help to strengthen the ties between hubs in the region, give hubs access to more funding and unique ideas to different projects.

The workshop ended with the most magical dinner/ bonfire/ dance under the stars in the middle of the desert, making it officially the most memorable and romantic ending in Garage48's 12-year-old event history! We sincerely thank StartUp Namibia's team for being such a welcoming host and paying close attention to the details - Kirstin Wiedow, Gerold Dreyer, Trevor Charles, Michaela Filipovic, Maria Namukwambi, Ananias Iipinge, and Efraim Vilho - much love!

We also thank Estonian Development Cooperation for being a continuous supporter of building stronger and more sustainable startup communities. And the biggest thank you goes to the participants who took the time off their everyday busy schedules and to attend the workshop! 

Pearl Maphumulo (The Business Development Agency (Pty) Ltd, South Africa)

Chene Mostert (The Loudhailer, South Africa)

Rebi Odirile (Botswana Innovation Hub, Botswana)

Tebogo 'Tebby' Modisagape (Nest Hubs, Botswana)

Joel Epalanga (KiandaHub,Angola)

José Carlos F. dos Santos (Acelera Hub, Angola)

Lukonga Lindunda (BongoHive, Zambia)

Milicah Shonga (BongoHive, Zambia)

Chris Nyasha Dhinembira ( iZone Hub, Zimbabwe)

Wangiwe Joanna Kambuzi (Mzuzu E-Hub, Malawi)

Elijah Mkandawire (mHub Malawi)

Walter Simbine (Ideialab, Mozambique)

Jéssica Manhiça (IDEÁRIO HUB, Mozambique)

Tom Shilongo (Launch Namibia, Namibia)

Niita Shikongo (Launch Namibia, Namibia)

Nanyemba Katamba (Home of the Arts (HOTA), Namibia)

Josephat Mwatotele (Namibia Business Angel Network (NABAN), Namibia)

Elzine Mushambi (Impact Tank, Namibia)

Donovan Majiedt (Goethe-Institut, Namibia)

Chantal Claassen (Dololo, Namibia)

Anna Vambe (StartUp Namibia, Namibia)

Kirstin Wiedow (StartUp Namibia, Namibia)

Trevor Charles (StartUp Namibia, Namibia)

Michaela Filipovic (StartUp Namibia, Namibia)

Maria Namukwambi (StartUp Namibia, Namibia)

Geoffroy Berson (StartUp Namibia, Namibia)

Ananias Iipinge (StartUp Namibia, Namibia)

Efraim Vilho (StartUp Namibia, Namibia)

Gerold Dreyer (StartUp Namibia,Namibia)

We couldn’t have done it without you! Hope to see you all shortly & all the best in bringing your ideas to life!

Check out the full photo gallery HERE
All the pictures by  Adam Smaruj

A magical ending to the workshop- dinner under the stars, in the middle of the desert.

About the author

mari hanikat

Mari is the CEO at Garage48. She is a very strong and mission-driven leader not afraid to go places no one has been before and help people. 🚀

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