Spotlight: Startup Junction

Startup Junct

A revolution is what we need in Zambia. Not a physically violent one where the government is overthrown, but one that will shake things up enough to wake up smart people. The status quo as we know it is not normal and that is why Startup Junction wants to change that. It’s abnormal because Zambia is full of intelligent people yet the majority live in abject poverty. It’s definitely an anomaly!

So far, you’ve read two articles on Startup Hour where we highlighted the amazing event which aims to unite startup communities in Zambia by holding get-togethers every first Wednesday of the Month. However, the picture would be incomplete without talking about the company behind organising these amazing events. That is why we caught up with the founder, Matthew Grollnek, to give us some insights into this dynamic organisation called Startup Junction. Brace yourself to see things differently after reading the article in full as I was left feeling truly inspired.

Matthew Grollnek in action at Startup Hour
Matthew Grollnek (Left) in action at Startup Hour

What was your motivation to create Startup Junction? 

The motivation came from observing that well-educated people in Zambia couldn’t find jobs. This is mainly because formal education doesn’t necessarily translate into skills. There is a disconnection between intelligence and the practice/application of knowledge, thus, arose the need to make a connection. Unfortunately, the method that students are taught here is, repeat after me, do as I do, instead of, apply what you know how you can. It is evident that some aspects of colonial influence affect the education system.

How was this motivation conceived?

My background engendered my motivation. I was involved in the education and business development sectors when I previously worked for Peacecorps and the U.S embassy. I was in Zambia for 5 years and then went to do a Masters Degree for 2 years in the US at Stanford University. My exposure made me start thinking, how could I help Zambians eat part of their economic cake?

Startup JHr

What does Startup Junction do?

Two things: implements design thinking and facilitates business incubation. Design thinking is a way of creating new ideas by tailoring solutions or products to a specific group of people. This involves a lot of interaction between the creators and the targeted market. The idea is to put in very little time and very little money to achieve the quickest and cheapest prototype. On the other hand, business incubation is a way to raise up companies that have potential. For example, Dropbox was part of a business incubation in Silicon Valley. There is no specific model, although it can generally involve a process where businesses apply to be part of business incubation, tapping in to mentors, resources etc. At the end of incubation, investors are invited to a final pitch of the business plan to start them up.

Additionally, Startup Junction organises Startup Hour and is working towards creating a co-working space for small businesses.

How will the co-working space operate?

The co-working space is for entrepreneurs in order to facilitate the exchange of great ideas and skills. It will be operationally self-sustaining because it will have a pay-by the month per desk arrangement or pay for number of hours per desk.  Rent would also be cheaper since it is a shared office space. The logic is to push small businesses to go out and make money in order to meet their overheads and hopefully make a profit while at it.

All being well, the co-working space will be open by the middle of this year (2014). The biggest challenge has been finding a convenient location, with a professional enough feel which has parking at a price that allows affordable rent to the entrepreneurs. The ideal location would be closely situated along Great East Road in the Northmead to Arcades area.

These co-working spaces have proven to be the heart of innovation and productivity in cities like San Francisco, London, Stockholm and Nairobi. And now it’s Lusaka’s turn!

What are your achievements so far?

I first started with a “meet-up” of about 8 to 10 entrepreneurs once a month for 4 months and then 12 to 15 people started attending.  This motivated me to organise Startup Hour which would reach more entrepreneurs than just an inner circle. There are now 60 to 70 people who attend Startup Hour with a total of 200 different people coming through. 50% are regulars while the other 50% are rotational.

Startup Hour has three aims: connect entrepreneurs to each other (free); connecting entrepreneurs to skilled development and mentorship(free); offer shared services i.e. accounting, lawyers, start-up advisory and business registration (negotiation for discount).

Operating Startup Junction has not cost me any money out of pocket because many people support it.

 What do you think of the competition, do you have competition?

It’s a process of system and enterprise. Instead of competition, there is collaboration such as referrals and the like.

What is your outlook for the current year in terms of achievements?

We will continue to bring high profile people from the business community in Zambia to meet young people at Startup Hour. This is so that these high profile people can hopefully continue to interact with the youth and impact them.

Do you have a process for selecting the high profile people who are featured guests at Startup Hour?

Yes. We invite people who have managed to produce results. For example, by creating businesses or have been appointed as decision makers in a business.

Would you call yourself a social entrepreneur?

I don’t agree with the whole social entrepreneurship movement. I tend to think in terms of, what impact does this business have on society? It is important to ask this question before you decide to get into business.  After this is identified, dump the social aspect and adopt a dynamic and evolving business model.

What is your advice to procrastinators?

Just do it.  95% of people in Lusaka have a business at the side, their jobs take away from their energy. Commitment is key. Don’t be self-fish. Figure out a way to test how big the opportunity is on the market and then do it full-time. Ideas get to be great when more than one person is thinking about it.

I never get into a project, event, or business, unless somebody else is excited about doing it. Therefore, I am big on partnership and co-founding.

The way that startups work anywhere from Silicon Valley to Lusaka is that you have to tell everybody about it. You have to be out there talking about it in order to generate investment.

What is your passion and why do you pursue it?

Building a Zambian economy that is diverse and an economy that is owned by Zambians is my passion. I would like to see Zambians playing a participatory role rather than just being the labour component of their own economy. The reason why is because I have always been interested in an equal society. My world view was expanded through travelling and studying abroad.  Also my passion to see a better Zambia stems from being married to a Zambian.

How do think of creativity?

Anyone is creative. It’s about interacting with the customer a lot and having good insights about what they really want. Creativity in some sense is being able to understand what the customer needs.

For more information about Startup Junction and Startup Hour please click here. The next Startup Hour will be held this coming Wednesday, March 5th, at Smuggler’s Inn from 17:30 hours to 19:30 hours.

Images credit: Startup Junction Facebook




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