Where are they now?

Vo­da­com In­no­va­tion Park 1st co­hort

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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.

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