Google’s pilot incubator program, Umbono (Zulu for “vision” or “idea”) could become the game changer in Africa’s social media and mobile ecosystems, if it succeeds in South Africa. By starting in South Africa, Africa’s largest economy, Google plans to replicate the model in other countries if it succeeds. The most possible second place will be Nigeria considering our population and economy.
Through this program, South African startups will receive seed capital, mentoring and the network Google offers. Also, Google will help connect them to angel investors. To participate in this program, all participants must be legally living in South and Google will not provide much help in that regard if you are not. Unlike Massachusetts Mass Challenge in the United where anyone anywhere can apply and they will help in processing some papers if necessary, Umbono initiators will be not be giving much help in the visa aspect.
So, most Nigerians will properly not make use of this opportunity. However, all we need to hope is that it works in South Africa as Google will replicate this in Nigeria and possibly Kenya in coming months.
Tekedia thinks that Umbono will succeed because they are focusing on building local solutions. The focus is to help the participants transform their ideas into companies. This is also a penetration strategy for Google as everyone works hard to get the best in Africa. It is not just Google, Nokia, Blackberry and the hosts of the MNCs are finding ways to tap into the raw talents of Africans.
The incubator is designed as a 6-month program, in which five startups selected by Google panelists will receive a seed investment of $25,000 – $50,000, free access to office space, bandwidth and access to Google experts. This is a great opportunity since this will help the participants to conceptualize product design and idea with the necessary resources. Of course, proving internet connectivity is just the beginning of the solution. Many will surely do well just by the fact they have access to the Internet.
Why South Africa?
South Africa is arguably the innovation center of sub-Sahara Africa. The The Cape IT Initiative, a technology non-profit has been lobbying many MNCs including Google to build their incubators centers in Cape Town. This has just paid off. There is indeed a cluster in this city with the likes of Silicon Cape – technology entrepreneurship program and the decade old Bandwidth Barn that actually helped South Africa to separate itself from other African nations in term of bandwidth. Then the biotech firms are all over this cluster. South Africa has a plan and executed.
This is business and not charity. Google will be looking at discovering opportunities and if the pilot program works, we will see more of this. That they started in South Africa is a testament of the nation’s infrastructure and its ICT startup success. The land Mandela built has established Yola – a website creator- that has raised $25 million and Twangoo – the crowd buying club firm – that Groupon recently purchased (qluqlu Nigeria should be next for Groupon in Africa?). And of course, the big one, MXit, that has about 27m subscribers and counting. There is another one from my friend and pal, Marlon Parker, who I spent time last year in Amsterdam during TEDxAmsterdam, Jamixx – from his Rlabs. We discussed bringing that to Nigeria, but I passed it because of my lack of understanding the business of social media and networks.
The Umbono program lasts for 6 months—enough time for your team to get your idea formally off the ground or to prepare your existing business for its next round of funding. By the end of the program, you’ll be pitch-ready and have a business plan in place.
Teams should expect to receive a minimum of $25,000 and a maximum of $50,000. Capital from Angel investors will be exchanged for equity (10%) and will be governed by standard terms of investment (the same terms for each team). Funding will be disbursed around milestones; a customized schedule will be drafted with each team upon program induction, based on your anticipated development schedule. It is up to you to decide how to use the funds.
We provide the furnished office space and bandwidth for the duration of the program. This is a collaborative space for all Teams in the program, providing a forum for mutual support, idea sharing and tech talks.
Business Skills Training
Umbono Teams will have access to the Bandwidth Barn’s VeloCITI program. This program covers all business topics relevant to an emerging business, from business model definition to market segmentation and pricing strategies. The 10 business modules and 4 additional financial modules are led by external topic experts and business leaders. The sessions will take place on a rolling basis and Teams can participate in all modules or only those areas where they would like to build up more skills specific to the stage of their product development and enterprise.
The Mentor Base
For the duration of the Umbono Program, Teams will have regular access to our extensive network of business and technology experts, many of whom are Googlers. Umbono’s Mentor Base is extensive, so we are confident that we can connect you with an expert for any coaching needs, be it marketing, finance or product development-related. (See our People page for some examples of our mentors). In addition to that, each team will be paired with a Google Power Mentor, someone from our Product Management team, you will be in regular weekly contact with them throughout the 6-month program for hands-on guidance.
All great stories need a platform for advertising their success. Association with the Umbono brand and resulting awareness at our networking events, blog posts, and press releases will provide Teams with reach to additional funding.