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Southern Africa has immense potential for growth in the mobile business sector. The region has one of the world’s highest mobile phone infiltration rates, after all. It also faces a number of challeneges though. In a bid to help guide mobile entrepreneurs through these challenges, mLab Southern Africa, a hub for technology entrepreneurs, application developers, and innovators has officially opened its doors in Pretoria.
In an official press release, the mobile innovation hub stated that its “activities are aimed at making the region a global hub for mobile innovations that will boost job-led growth and tackle economic and social needs”.
mLab Southern Africa is the continent’s second mobile innovation hub. The first mLab, which was built to support the East Africa region opened in Kenya in June, and claims to provide “mentoring resources, on-site technical expertise and access to finance”.
mLab aims to build on this success and “scale up mobile entrepreneurship into sustainable businesses that create jobs and boost local economies”.
“We believe that mLab can help us as a start-up mobile developing company to reach heights that we otherwise would not have attained,” says project manager Obakeng Matlhoko of Sowertech, a mobile web developer and one of the companies that will be using mLab’s facilities. “We are excited about the international linkages of the mLab,” Matlhoko adds.
mLab claims that the innovation hub fills a void. Although South Africa has more than 100 percent mobile infiltration and enormous opportunity exists in the mobile space, there are still a number of challenges that have to be overcome if sustainable business is to be created in this sector.
One of the challenges which mLab is trying to address is the fact that there is a scarcity of mobile developers in the country.
It also claims to provide “networking and training opportunities, support for the development of a viable business model, mentoring, subsidised office space, and technical and financial support”.
These services, it is claimed are aimed at helping entrepreneurs through the tricky startup phase, where a number of businesses fail.
While the main mLab hub is in Pretoria, there are plans for a number of satellite offices throughout the region, including Cape Town.
The lab is funded by the South African Department of Science and Technology and infoDev, a World Bank programme focusing on supporting technology-driven small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
By the end of the year, a further three mLabs will be opened in Armenia, Pakistan and Vietnam.