New incubator targets mobile developers

29 July 2011

mLab Southern Africa, a new regional incubator for mobile technology innovators and entrepreneurs, opens at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria on 15 September – and developers and entrepreneurs with a start-up business, organisation or mobile concept can already apply to become members.

mLab Southern Africa (mLab SA) will be hosted by a consortium of four organisations: CSIR Meraka Institute, the Innovation Hub, InnovationLab and Ungana-Afrika.

“While the head office will be in Pretoria, a number of satellite offices will be established throughout the region. A Cape Town satellite office is in the process of being established,” mLab SA said in a statement this week.

mLab SA, and the recently opened mLab East Africa, in Nairobi, are the first of a number of mLabs to be launched around the world, with support from infoDev (World Bank), Finland’s ministry of foreign affairs, and Nokia.

mLab SA is also supported by the South African Department of Science and Technology.

Wide-ranging support offered

mLab SA will provide support, including: subsidised office space with meeting rooms; training and accreditation on mobile technologies and entrepreneurship; business mentoring and coaching; business intelligence, such as privileged access to market research information and knowledge repositories; testing of mobile apps and services in dedicated test bays; and regular events for networking and knowledge sharing.

“The mLab SA will also assist members in accessing finance, whether it be in the form of grants, seed capital, angel investors or venture capitalists.”

Members benefit from the shared services offered at mLab SA, such as reception, internet and test bays, because this allows entrepreneurs to lower their burn rate – how quickly they spend their start-up capital – and so extend the survivability of their ideas.

Potential of mobile technologies

Southern Africa was chosen as a region to locate a mLab because of the enormous potential of mobile technologies for supporting business development, social development and job creation in the region.

In South Africa, mobile penetration is around 100%, and 39% of urban South Africans are now browsing the internet on their phones.

Mobile phones touch almost every aspect of peoples’ lives, and the potential for improving areas such as healthcare and education has already been successfully demonstrated.

“But while there exists an enormous mobile opportunity in the region, there are still challenges to creating a sustainable business or organisation in mobile,” says mLab SA. “Competition is stiff; the mobile landscape is highly uneven across different technologies, user groups and countries; and mobile developers are scarce and expensive.”

Added to that, a startup business or organisation is very vulnerable – it needs business, technical and financial support, and can benefit greatly from acceleration and incubation.

Three types of membership

mLab SA offers three types of membership: Community, which is free and which anyone can join, and Silver and Gold, for which interviews are necessary.

Silver and Gold members pay a fee to access the core services of the mLab SA at the facility in the Innovation Hub, and receive more structured support from the mLab SA team and its partners.

“Support services will either be delivered directly by mLab SA, or through external providers to which members will be pointed, for example the Bandwidth Barn’s business mentoring programme.”

Applications can be submitted via www.mlab.co.za, where further information on membership can also be found.

SAinfo reporter

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