At the centre of innovation in Botswana

Botswana innovation hub BIHThe Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) in Gaborone has been built primarily for businesses that want to establish themselves, develop and compete in the regional and global markets. (Image source: BIH)New thinking and new opportunities are promoted at the Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) in Gaborone, there is emphasis, here, on the development of sustainable companies with a particular focus on energy and the environment, on cleantech solutions

The BIH was borne of the Botswanan government's Excellence Strategy, which has sought to deliver diversification, to move the country away from dependency on diamond mining. The country has been subject to the consequences of price fluctuations and the nuances of market dynamics with respect to diamonds, and so has created a hub to act as an environment for science and technology.

A fundamental element of its strategy to attract companies to the hub - to lead the way for new ventures, start-ups, by local entrepreneurs, ultimately to develop a sustainable knowledge-based economy. The Microsoft Corporation has been a key supporter and investor in this strategy. Financial backing, to the tune of 6.2mn euros, has come from the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

An emerging innovator in a flexible investment climate
The hub was formed in 2012 by the Botswanan government, as a self-sustaining entity. There is an interest in developing into a private concern. It has been developing ideas since its formation, and has been learning lessons about what can and cannot work in the application of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for public sector ventures and private sector enterprise.
Allied to this is a team geared towards developing innovation networks and best practices amongst the Botswanan business community. Very much part of this is the monthly exchange of ideas held at the hub, between hub executives and business representatives, and events such as the mobile hackathon, which enables the development of new coding and ICT solutions.

First steps towards creating and sustaining ventures
Principal activites at the Botswana Innnovation Hub include: a tech transfer office programme, to support the introduction of new technologies for businesses, and to protect intellectual property rights for emerging enterpreneurs and inventors; upliftment initiatives for disadvantaged communities; and bilateral working on ICT deployment with neighbouring countries including Zambia and Kenya. Moreover, there is the First Steps Venture Centre, a programme which has been introduced by the Botswana Innovation Hub to mentor, to coach, to give business advice, to protect and nurture innovators, value creators - to kick-start and offer ongoing support to enterpreneurial companies such as Nimo Technologies (www.nimotec.com) . Allied to this is an educational programme reaching out through universities, schools, community centres and the Internet.
Concrete steps are being taken, too, in the planning and development of a new facility - the Icon building, a 25,000sq m structure - which will include conference facilities, the Okavango Library for knowledge exchange, and the Chobe office suite to enable the management of a progressive and commercially sustainable working environment. Construction is scheduled to begin in November 2013, and to be completed by 2015.

Cleaning up technologies
The Botswana Innnovation Hub promotes, also, the use of clean technologies to reduce energy consumption and to introduce technologies to more indivduals and communities across all age ranges - through ventures such as Biodiesel Botswana.
There is here, too, a Cleantech Centre allied to the Botswana Innovation Hub, which draws from a mixture of private and public funding and objectives. Two principal aims of the Cleantech Centre are to maximise usage of renewable sources of energy such as solar power, and to improve management of water resources, provision and utilisation. Energy efficiency also applies in the Cleantech Centre's attempts to reduce pollution produced by power generation from coal.

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