Incubating talent

The southern African mLab develops the skills of mobile apps entrepreneurs

Laurens Cloete

The southern African regional mobile application lab, based in Pretoria, will provide training and industry links to develop the skills of mobile apps entrepreneurs.

In September 2010, as part of the Creating Sustainable Businesses for the Knowledge Economy programme, two organisations were invited to host the African regional mobile application laboratories (mLabs), one in South Africa and one in east Africa. The programme is a joint initiative of infoDev, a donor-funded ICT-for-development agency hosted by the World Bank, the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and cell phone manufacturer, Nokia.

The South African consortium hosting the southern African mLab is led by the Meraka Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in partnership with The Innovation Hub, InnovationLab, and Ungana-Afrika. The specific objective of the mLab is to ‘increase the competitiveness of innovative enterprises in the mobile content and applications area, and to ensure that locally relevant applications are created to meet growing user demands in developing countries’.

Starting in early 2011, the mLab will work with local entrepreneurs, and provide resources to mobile applications developers elsewhere in their respective regions. The lab is set up to provide training, testing, mentoring and support on their premises, while other services, such as developing a website of resources for mobile apps developers throughout the region will be provided online.
These services will help the mLab to increase competitiveness and lower barriers for software developers wanting to create mobile applications and content and commercialise their products. The lab intends to focus on encouraging the development of mobile applications and content for people with low-incomes in the region, and stimulate the development of skills in mobile application and content production.

Expert mentors

The southern African mLab can cover countries throughout the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region. While based in Pretoria, this lab intends to build partnerships with institutions in other parts of South Africa, and in neighbouring countries. Recent improvements to connectivity in the region mean that delivering virtual services to developers and entrepreneurs farther afield has become easier.
Local programmers, web designers and mobile application developers register as members to have access to the infrastructure, tools and expertise necessary to start and grow their businesses in mobile apps development. The mLab has state-ofthe-art equipment for the members to develop, test and scale software, and offers technical training and workshops on business skills. The members can use the office space, with internet access and shared resources, including meeting rooms and conference and video-conference facilities. They can make use of a high-tech mobile development and testing environment, which would be unaffordable for most mobile enterprise startups.

Beginners as well as experienced developers can access to the facilities, while partner universities will provide much of the basic training. The mLab can then focus on helping developers and entrepreneurs get their applications onto the market.
To do this, the mLab will provide training to give entrepreneurs a better understanding of the world of mobile applications, successful mobile strategies, developing technology for multiple platforms, mobile design and architecture, and business development topics. The online platform provides access to the training materials and virtual communication with the trainers, technical experts and local industry entrepreneurs, who can provide insight from their experience.
The lab will function as a mobile application repository to make distribution of apps easier, and serve as a site to encourage the use of mobile devices for development. It intends to operate as a clearing house for marketable mobile concepts, and provide opportunities for programmers to work on contracted assignments to develop mobile apps. The idea is that the mLab will act as a gateway to local, regional and international markets and connect entrepreneurs with investors.
Members can explore how users interact with their applications, while the lab will encourage developers to produce apps that serve particular needs where real market opportunities exists. This includes exploring opportunities for low-income markets.
The mLab developers and trainers stress the importance of mobile technology as more than an information access devices, but as a computing platform, a sensor, a means of identification, a location aware device, a platform for transactions, and so on. There are enormous possibilities to exploit this technology, and the mLab hopes to play a large part in the process of developing the mobile apps industry throughout southern Africa.

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Laurens Cloete is executive director (acting) at the Meraka Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research ( www.csir.co.za)

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Related links

Creating Sustainable Businesses for the Knowledge Economy
www.infodev.org/en/Article.452.html

infoDev
www.infodev.org

Innovation Hub
www.theinnovationhub.com

InnovationLab
www.innovationlab.co.za

Ungana-Afrika
www.ungana-afrika.org

17 December 2010

Copyright © 2014, CTA. Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (ACP-EU)