Scheduled to begin at 8 am but only kicking off at almost 10 while we waited for the Minister (of Transport, Works and Supply and Communication Yamfwa Mukanga) to arrive, the event was not entirely destined to be a failure.
In the spirit of the ICT Business Forum’s theme “Innovate – Create – Thrive”, Hon. Yamfwa Mukanga started the agenda by saying that only if innovation is nurtured in Zambia will the country develop further. He stressed how important for the major movers and shakers in the country to meet with young innovators. He also added that because of the presence of ICTs in the country, Zambia is no longer land-locked but is now land-linked to the world by technological means.
There were opening speeches from delegates and startup entrepreneurs aimed at motivating innovators in the audience. The platinum sponsors Airtel and IHS Towers also gave their 2 cents on the ICT environment in Zambia.
Airtel’s Marketing Director Sekou Barry spoke on innovation, noting that today’s youth is more passionate, open-minded and innovative, and Airtel is doing all it can to open up more internet access to help them build their ideas.
IHS Towers’ Zambia Commercial Director added that in order for companies like Airtel to do this, they are contributing by buying off some of their cell towers, currently owning 1700 in Zambia (for both Airtel and MTN) to help these mobile operators focus on their core business of providing voice and data services. They have also enabled co-location of mobile service providers to lease spots on the same tower in one location to increase their network reach across Zambia.
The best part for us was a talk on the “Elements of a successful Startup” with main speaker Professor Mpazi Sinjela from the Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA) who spoke mainly on the importance of patenting one’s startup ideas. Here are some major tips he emphasized on for startups in Zambia:
- We can’t develop as a nation if everything we use is imported. We need to start innovating some more.
- Startups need to protect their ideas, not share them anyhow and keep them close to their chests but get a patent for them.
- Last year PACRA only registered 10 patents, this year (2015) they have 22 so far, which is over double the figure but still too low.
- After a startup entrepreneur gets their idea patented, they can then commercialize it. No one else is legally able to steal or copy the idea without facing a lawsuit.
- Startup entrepreneurs need to find successful startup mentors who can assist them with knowledge if they can’t help with funding.
When asked about why PACRA patent fees are so high, making it harder for startup entrepreneurs to pay to protect their idea, Prof. Sinjela said his team is working on ways to reduce the fees to support young entrepreneurs, and that he is optimistic that he can get together with other partners in the ICT sector to support promising startups, funding them to make their idea a reality.
Another activity that happened at this ICT Business Forum 2015 was the presentation of projects by young startup entrepreneurs that were trying to win the best innovative project in the Innovators Challenge created by ZICTA. 76 applications were received, 21 were chosen, the top 10 made their pitches and then the final 3 were announced. We noticed that most of the finalists had innovations focused on solar power energy, electricity inversion to combat load shedding and power deficits in the country, and traffic and bus management systems or software.
The grand prize was a K15000 capital investment, an HP laptop and a fully sponsored trip to the GSMA’s Mobile World congress in Barcelona Spain in 2016. The runner-up got a K10000 and HP laptop prize while the second runner-up got a K5000 and HP laptop as well.
We can’t wait to see what today holds…