In this premier edition with AfriLabs, featuring innovation hubs across the African continent, we take a journey to Malawi, a landlocked country in SouthEastern Africa.
We caught up with Rachel Sibande, the founder of mHub, Malawi’s first technology hub and incubator.
Founded in 2014, the hub was built on a vision to work with entrepreneurs, tech enthusiasts and innovators to create local solutions for local challenges.
Since its inception, the hub has trained over 42,000 youth in business and technology skills and raised over USD1 million worth of financing for emerging entrepreneurs.
The hub is centrally located in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi and has a presence in other urban and rural districts across the country.
According to mHub’s website, it is the best creative co-working environment that suits businesses in Malawi.
“We provide a creative and stimulating co-working space for young innovators and entrepreneurs. Our investment is to keep on connecting all young people in Malawi to on-job skills by leveraging technology in order to deal with contextual challenges that retard development.”
Getting to know more about mHub, the founder, Rachel Sibande took us through the hub’s journey and the role it has played in fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in Malawi
Rachel explained that Malawi did not have a space for disruptive thinkers and creative individuals to stress test their ideas and develop viable business ideas that they could launch on the market.
“From this mHub came in to provide a safe space for innovation and collaboration in Malawi.
mHub provides young people with financing, mentorship, technical support, skills development and networking opportunities.”
According to the founder, mHub has leveraged partnerships with private, public sector and international organizations to deliver a variety of programs and services that best serve the Malawi community.
“Our programs range from acceleration, investment readiness support, incubation and training for innovative entrepreneurs and technology enthusiasts.
mHub also works with other hubs to collaboratively deliver programs and lobby for policies that ensure a safe environment for upcoming entrepreneurs and innovators.”
In 2019 alone, mHub worked with 50 partners to deliver a wide range of programs in entrepreneurship, technology and innovation.
How hubs foster innovation/entrepreneurship
Racheal explained that Malawi has seen a rise in organizations and groups that value innovation and disruptive ideas.
“Since 2014, three other entrepreneurship hubs have been founded working with young people to develop viable business models from their business ideas.
Support from hubs and other relevant stakeholders enables innovative entrepreneurs to actively participate in their communities, by creating innovative solutions at scale that solve societal challenges, create jobs and significant social impact.”
The state of innovation/entrepreneurship in Malawi
According to Rachel, entrepreneurship and innovation support in Malawi is in its infancy.
“We have started to see interest in the space from Government that has since set up a dedicated directorate on innovation.
We also acknowledge novel policies to support SMEs and reduce the barriers that innovative entrepreneurs face.”
However, these are rather maiden steps, stressed Rachel, as the country lacks structures that support young people with disruptive ideas.
“There are still limited financing options and technical support for startups and emerging businesses.
“There remains a lot to be done in creating an enabling environment for innovative entrepreneurship to thrive by strengthening the following sectors:- policy; legal and regulatory; skills development; infrastructure; payment systems; access to finance and logistics.
Malawi’s reception towards STEM and how can it be encouraged from basic school
The founder explained that students must be encouraged to cultivate interest and understanding of STEM subjects, careers, and businesses that are grounded in STEM from an early age within the school curriculum.
“There is a need for practical learning and application of STEM to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship from an early age.
The pedagogy around the delivery of STEM education needs to be revisited to aim at building more STEM practitioners and theorists than theorists alone as has been the case.”
What has been the challenges in carrying out your function as a hub
Challenges mHub is facing?
Rachel explained that adequately providing a space for innovators, tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs has been the major challenge for mHub.
“There has been positive feedback from young people on working with hubs and creating businesses.
The challenge is for mHub to meet the individual needs of the ambitious young people we work with and to reach every corner of the country.”
How do you think the government can assist hubs in your country?
How the government can assist hubs in Malawi
According to Rachel, hubs have accumulated knowledge, experience and exposure that can contribute towards the national agenda on growing the private sector in Malawi.
“Government need to recognize hubs as instrumental in creating and stimulating the private sector with sustainable and socially responsible legal businesses that actively contribute towards the country’s economic development.
Governments ought to build partnerships with hubs as entities that enhance business support for innovative entrepreneurs that ultimately create jobs.”
What do you feel about women’s participation in Technology and how can they be included?
Women’s inclusion in technology
“There is a limited representation of women in STEM largely because women are not encouraged to pursue technical subjects.
There is a need for more programs that support women in STEM, role modelling and support for girls from primary school through tertiary to learn about women’s opportunities in STEM, support groups for women in STEM, and programs that support and/or sponsor women in STEM.
Initiatives that work towards shifting society’s negative stereotypes to positive perspectives on STEM careers being viable domains for women too must also be encouraged and consistently championed.”
AfriLabs role in mHub’s journey
According to Rachel, mHub joined Afrilabs in 2016 and has been very active throughout the years.
“Being a member of AfriLabs has helped shaped the business model of the hub through various activities that we have participated in.
The introduction of learning weeks has equipped mHub with more understanding of affairs of running hubs, measuring impact and supporting emerging entrepreneurs.
MHub has also grown its network both in the continent and beyond through its participation in the annual gatherings.
We have managed to partner with hubs in the network to run joint programs, training programs and shared knowledge at hub and startup level.”
What has been your milestone in helping startups achieve product commercialization and company development
According to mHub’s most recent 2019 Annual Report, mHub provided investment readiness support and training to 277 entrepreneurs; over USD350,000 in financing was made available for entrepreneurs and 69 products were launched on the market. 31% of women entrepreneurs had access to financing for business growth.
“It is always exciting to see the Malawian and African ecosystems grow and provide solutions to critical social problems.
mHub is building on the lessons learned throughout the years to convene policy conversations that will support the development of a conducive environment for entrepreneurship growth.
With support from the Afrilabs community members, mHub seeks to influence changes in policy, infrastructure, investment, and skills in the digital landscape.”
Featured Image: Rachel Sibande, founder, mHub
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