I was invited to the official launch of mLab South Africa and so I headed out to the Innovation Hub (by Pretoria) early in the morning eager to see what this is all about. As I was previously introduced to mLab at a Mobile Monday event , I did have some idea what was about to be unveiled – I couldn’t wait.
Having arrived at the Innovation Hub, we did the usual registration bit and then we were ushered into the courtyard where the mLab team had set up the mandatory coffee stations as well as the seating area where the presentations would be given.
so what is mLab ?
“The objective of the mLab Southern Africa (SA) is to facilitate demand-driven innovation by entrepreneurs and innovators so that breakthrough, low-cost, high-value mobile applications and sustainable businesses can be developed. The mLab SA focuses on invigorating and supporting the growth of mobile applications throughout southern Africa by providing services and support to mobile developers, innovators and entrepreneurs. It is based at The Innovation Hub in Tshwane, South Africa, with the first satellite office in Cape Town.”
with this in mind, we were ready to start the day:
The Programme Director, Ms Raelene Rorke, was superb in introducing the honourable guests, setting the guidelines and filling the gaps between speakers. The guest list and speakers were the whose-who and we were fortunate to hear their insights.
- City of Tshwane, Mr Kgosientso Ramokgopa, The Executive Mayor
- CSIR Meraka Institute, Mr Laurens Cloete Executive Director (Acting)
- World Bank, Mr Marco Scuriatti, Country Director (Acting), South Africa
- Nokia Middle East and Africa,Mr Jussi Hinkkanen,Vice President, Government Relations and Business Environment
- Department of Science and Technology, Dr. Valanathan Munsami,Deputy Director-General: Research, Development and Innovation (RDI)
- Finnish Ambassador, HE Ms Tiina Myllyntausta
- Blue IQ, Ms Amanda Nair ,Group Chief Executive Officer
- Gauteng Provincial Government, Ms Qedani Mahlangu, MEC for Economic Development
- The Innovation Hub, Mr McLean Sibanda, Chief Executive Officer
The common thread throughout the morning was that South Africa has the potential to be a leader in Mobile Development. South Africa and indeed Africa have different requirements to other countries and we should not be
ham-strunged by always opting for a foreign product vs. developing our own.
South Africa does not lack the financial means to achieve this but does lack the skills to do so, which is why the mLab project is such an important component.
infoDev and the World Bank have created more than 250 000 jobs around the world with their innovation hubs and mLab South Africa is the gateway to continue to do so in SA.
It has been recognised that Economic growth, Energy, Space, Bio Economy, Human Social Dynamics – all require ICT innovation. There is an opportunity for mobile application to take a lead role in these areas. The example of the farmer in the field is able to launch an application on his phone that will inform him what that days produce will sell for in the market.
The MEC for Economic Development, Ms Qedani Mahlangu, was adamant that bridging the mobile divide is not simply a case of providing people with TV. It was about having access to information, access to the internet, and being able to enhance the lives of the people using it. The MEC recalled a story of a news paper article showing how the Russians are giving Americans a “run for their money”. There is no reason why South African cant do the same.
Once the presentations were over, we were given a tour of the mLab facility which contains offices, conference rooms, a Mobile Test Lab where developers can test their application on multiple mobile phones.
mLab is a very important and interesting initiative joining Government and Private sectors. I really hope that the mLab community, which is currently made up of over 250 members, is able to be given the opportunity to showcase the talent that exists in South Africa. Even though mLab isn’t a finance house, they have the right connection and therefore the lack of finance will not be a factor in a product not succeeding. What will be a factor is the entrepreneurial skills and the innovative ideas that come out of the Mobile community.
There are already way too much “me too” products that are simply a replicate of exiting products found overseas – I am hoping that mLab will be able to find the right new tech idea that could literally change South Africa. Next stop: taking over the world !
Check out for more info and how to get involved : www.Mlab.co.za