Putting Innovation Stakeholders of Tanzania Under One Platform ━ Innovation Ecosystem Map
An overview of the innovation ecosystem in Tanzania
According to a World Bank report on the tech start-up ecosystem, relevant databases of startups are not readily available, and the fast-paced and multidimensional dynamics of startup ecosystems with new ventures constantly being created, failing, being closed, bought or transformed (changing names and/or purpose), make accurate measurement over time inherently difficult.
The ecosystem is rapidly growing with a 33 percent compound growth rate in startup (innovation) creation since 2009. However, it consists of fairly young startups, with most founders being in their first venture with a limited number of serial entrepreneurs and few successful cases of scale-up.
In Dar es Salaam, for example, a key characteristic of the ecosystem is the presence of educated founders (with 80 percent having a university degree and 15 percent an additional graduate degree, masters, or professional qualification). However, the educational backgrounds of founders for example, in engineering suggest a highly technically driven ecosystem with low business acumen, which may affect the survival rate of startups since business knowledge is essential for sustainability beyond the founding phase. Indeed, founders that have successfully obtained funding in Dar es Salaam have a higher rate of business education.
Who is an Innovator?
This term is difficult to define from one point of view. From the Human Development Innovation Fund (HDIF) perspective, an innovator is someone who develops a new item or service to solve a certain community challenge. This definition may not be true to all individuals, one may have a different way to define it, but in the end, the focus is innovative solutions to solve problems.
What is the Innovation Ecosystem?
This involves all players that support innovation in one way or the other. It includes the government, funders and/or investors, donors, lenders, educational institutions, hubs, incubators, NGOs and others who support startups.
Mapping the Ecosystem
HDIF initiated a process in 2016 to run a study of the Tanzanian innovation ecosystem and document the ecosystem players on an online map platform (http://innovate.co.tz). The goal of the mapping was to increase HDIF’s and innovation stakeholders’ understanding of the key players and actors in the innovation ecosystem, with the aim of improving connections and collaboration between players to help inform future programming and understand the landscape and gaps in the innovation sector.
In 2018, OpenMap Development Tanzania (OMDTZ)━a mapping organization guided by the principles of free and open-source software became the successor in mapping the ecosystem. OMDTZ’s main role for the development of this map is to administer the map, creating community ownership and review the mapping technology━developing a new platform or improving the existing one by adding more features to it
━making it more interactive and easy to network within the ecosystem.
OMDTZ, supported by HDIF, is working to develop the platform also involving more stakeholders in the ecosystem, not only by making them visible on the map but also creating a network system for all stakeholders to interact.
Understanding the Ecosystem
OMDTZ received training from HDIF on the nature of the ecosystem, bringing us in the loop of how innovators interact as it was a totally new experience for the organization. The training focused on who should fall in what category.
After the training, the team was able to develop a data model that will be used to conduct country-wide data collection. The data model will guide innovators to categorize themselves accordingly.
The team also did some preliminary research━visiting some Hubs in Dar es Salaam including Hub255, Sahara Ventures, Smartlab, Buni, etc. and discussed the best ways of mapping the ecosystem and how to design an interactive platform for innovators.
Introducing the project to stakeholders during innovation week
On March 2019, we participated in the 5th Innovation Week in Tanzania━hosted by HDIF and COSTECH with support from UKAid with the theme “Scaling and Sustaining Innovation for Human Development”━which brought together innovators and stakeholders in the ecosystem to showcase their startups and discuss different business opportunities within the ecosystem.
In our sessions, we showcased and had interactive discussions on the “Innovation Ecosystem Map of Tanzania” through workshops and exhibitions. We introduced the map to stakeholders and worked with them in refining the criteria for categories, better ways to connect with stakeholders, and the importance of reviewing the mapping technology especially on filtering information.
The discussion then became interactive with stakeholders giving their views on how this map can be a tool of interaction and connections. It was fruitful and gave us a confident stance that we have support from the direct beneficiaries of the project. The Hub Managers were very positive about the map and promised their full support during our next phase of the project which is country-wide data collection.
What is Next?
The team is now working on finalizing the online map platform and on the process of commencing the country-wide data collection process. Before data collection, the team will conduct mapathons and workshops in at least one region in each zone (Northern, Southern, Southern, Easten, Central, Eastern, and Lake zones. The mapathons and workshops will be used as a trigger force to introduce the map to innovators, its benefits and how they can map themselves. Participants will act as map ambassadors to spread the word about the map to other stakeholders in the ecosystem that would wish to be on the map.