January Startup Hour: Review

I was over the moon yesterday upon discovering that one of my friends came for Startup Hour due to a post I shared on my Facebook Timeline. Social Media never ceases to amaze me with its powerful effect and influence. Anyway, now that I have come back to Earth, it is time for a review of the happenings at Startup Hour which was held at Smuggler’s Inn yesterday, January 8, 2014.

Firstly, it was not easy breezy when I walked into the venue. I had to ask around before I finally located the event spot because business was going on as usual at the Smuggler’s Inn bar. I will admit that I felt a little bit lost and confused when I first arrived since this was my first time of participating at Startup Hour. However, once I found the group, things started progressing more smoothly than before. The first person to greet me was Matthew Grollnek who is one of the organisers of Startup Hour and also one of the proprietors of Startup Junction. He introduced me to two people after I signed in and then the networking began.

Matthew Grollnek listens to Cassandra Mtine passionately speaking about shopzed.com
Matthew Grollnek listens to Cassandra Mtine passionately speaking about shopzed.com

I first interacted with Cassandra Mtine, the Chief Executive Officer of shopzed.com. We talked about a wide range of topics ranging from why she started shopzed.com with her business partner Victoria, to how she finds the technology landscape in Zambia. One of the most critical challenges she highlighted was that it is difficult to find developers with the skill to deliver superior quality products in a timely fashion. On the other hand, she mentioned that many opportunities have been discovered through networking events and meeting people in person. She stated that networking bridges the gap created by the lack of an online presence for Zambian businesses especially in the tech sector.

In the process of mingling, I bumped into Moses Samalama from Metro FM 94.5 who is a Strategy Planner and also a Radio Presenter. Moses had some intriguing information about how radio stations utilize social media. In fact, he stated that Facebook has made it easier to have access to information, get contacts and arrange for interviews. I learnt that radio stations use social networks for a myriad of functions from offering services to receiving feedback from the listeners. The most fascinating piece of information I extracted from Moses was that, to inform their decision, most advertisers tend to ask how many social media followers the radio station has. For this reason, there is no urgent need to create and maintain a company website. Wait, is this a sign that web design and graphics is becoming obsolete in Zambia?

In winding up my activities at Startup Hour, I decided to go and have another chat with Matthew because I was eager to pick his brain and for him to introduce me to many other tech people present at the event. The chat with Matthew was very enlightening as I got to hear about Startup Junction’s mission in collaboration with Bongohive to create a co-working space for entrepreneurs to facilitate the exchange of great ideas and skills. Rent would also be cheaper since this is a shared office space. K400.00 gets you 40 hours per month of office space while K1000.00 gives you unlimited hours per month in the offices. At least that is a start! Bearing this in mind, the impetus to generate revenue to afford rent would be on the entrepreneurs so that they can monetize their ideas. I also picked up on some ideas regarding design thinking, that is, how to prototype ideas, and accelerating incubation.

Clare Nkweto Simmonds, Imanga Kayama, Sean Dearham, and Betti Cengiz
Clare Nkweto Simmonds, Imanga Kay, Sean Dearham, and Betti Cengiz

Finally, the highlight of the event was when I got to rub shoulders with Sean Dearham, General Manager of Woolworths International Division. I had been mistaken to assume that he would be giving some kind of presentation during the night. It was only as I was getting ready to leave when I discovered that it was a meet-and-greet situation. Nonetheless, I am glad that I took the time to have Matthew introduce me to Sean as it was a great pleasure talking to him. He bemoaned the amount of fear from some of the aspiring entrepreneurs he spoke to and advised that people should be fearless and learn to risk more! I also got to meet Clare Nkweto Simmonds, former Director in the PwC’s Advisory Consulting and Technology practice but is now with Deloitte. Betti Cengiz from the Regus Group was also there.

The four us got to talk about techy stuff as simple as how Clare’s Android phone syncs LinkedIn contacts with her phonebook and Sean’s iPhone doesn’t. None of us had our business cards on us which led to the discussion of the evolution of exchanging contact information with technological advancement. It has become useful to put a face behind a name for effective communication to occur after the meeting. For instance, taking a picture of the person and then exchanging contact details, etcetera. As it turns out, we didn’t even need our business cards last night because I had my notebook in which to record contacts of which Betti took a picture of for her own records before we parted.

As I said my goodbyes for probably the hundredth time, I bumped into Dan Hartwright, Matthew’s business partner, who summarized the three major challenges faced by tech entrepreneurs in Zambia.

  1. The lack of online presence: people have not yet recognized the value of online advertising as opposed to billboard advertising
  2. Lack of knowledge and skill on how to monetize great tech ideas. He highlighted the significance to first build a business model then develop apps around that model, which is missing in Zambia
  3. Lack of venture capitalists willing to loan money in exchange for equity in startups with great ideas

If I were to continue listing all the people I met and everything we talked about, I can guarantee that this post would go on and on. Therefore, I will conclude by publicizing the next Startup Hour in February.  The event is held on the first Wednesday of every month from 17:30 to 19:00, although I actually only left after 20:00. So beware, it can be very engaging!

Sean Dearham talking to some participants
Sean Dearham talking to some participants
Networking in Action
Networking in Action
And more networking...
And more networking…


Featured Image Credit: startupjunction





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