Where are they now?
Vodacom Innovation Park 1st cohort
At almost a year since the Vodacom Innovation Park officially opened its doors as one of Vodacom Lesotho Foundation’s flagship projects, the program has trained and empowered 12 Basotho owned and run businesses, with the first 6 having completed their training program in June, while the second group of 6 is currently wrapping up their 12 week training.
The Vodacom Innovation Park was established by the Vodacom Lesotho Foundation, with the aim to address some key challenges facing Lesotho’s entrepreneurs. The program focused on three key issues to solve: lack of the right levels of skills, knowledge and discipline to manage and grow businesses; lack of office space, facilities, connectivity and office equipment for most entrepreneurs who end up working from home, limiting their ability to either reach clients, or depriving the of the opportunity to interact with the market; and thirdly, to a small extent, the program aimed to address the issue of lack of access to finance for entrepreneurs. To address the third issue, the program has focused more on developing and preparing entrepreneurs to get to a level where they can secure finance and entice investors easily, as opposed to directly funding the entrepreneurs themselves. The program is also focused on building the right partnerships with financiers and investors who can fund and invest in graduates of the program, who will, without a doubt, be worth the investment.
Since its launch, the Innovation Park has trained entrepreneurs in a wide range of industries, from agriculture, fashion, e-commerce, mobile app development, and a host of others; all of which have on thing in common, a huge potential to drive Lesotho’s socio-economic development forward and to create jobs for other Basotho. Speaking on the journey of the program; the Vodacom Innovation Park Manager, and Manager of the Vodacom Lesotho Foundation, Mpho Brown stated that:
“We started this program with a vision of what we wanted it to be, and an ambitious goal to chip away at Lesotho’s shocking rates of unemployment, especially for young people. We were very much aware that there was a learning curve involved with getting something this ambitious absolutely correct, and as much as we have had amazing successes and stories that we are sharing today – we are also proud of all the learnings that we’ve come away with that are allowing us now to continue to refine and better our program. Our first group of guys has gone on to do amazing things locally and internationally; and we are continuing, as per the program, to house them at the innovation park and offer guidance and mentorship where they experience challenges. Our second group also consists of entrepreneurs and business people whose brilliance and passion continue to blow us away every single day, and we learn from all of them as much as they do from us. “
As the program gears up to take the 2nd cohort through to Pitch Day – a rite of passage that all businesses graduating from the program have to go through – the management team is already working to prepare for the 3rd round of applications for the program, the dates of which will be announced and widely publicized in due time.
“We expect to continue to see an increase in both the number of applications and in the quality of applications we receive – and our selection criteria is not getting any easier. As we continue to see these successes of the businesses we have supported, we are hoping to be able, with the right partnerships, to grow the program to take in higher numbers of Basotho entrepreneurs.”
While the program gears up to graduate their 2nd cohort and take in their 3rd, here are some highlights from the 1st cohort of the Vodacom Innovation Park and where they are now, some 10 months since they kicked off the program.