mLab Southern Africa, a new regional incubator for entrepreneurs and innovators with a focus on mobile technology, has announced that applications for membership has opened. mLab will only be launched officially in Pretoria on 15 September, but mobile developers and startups may apply to become members.
mLab SA provides incubation support to mobile developers and entrepreneurs through the following services: subsidised office space with meeting rooms – to allow members to benefit from being part of the mobile startup community; training and accreditation on mobile technologies and entrepreneurship; business mentoring and coaching; business intelligence, such as privileged access to market research information and knowledge repositories; testing of mobile apps and services in dedicated test bays; and organising regular events for networking and knowledge sharing. The mLab SA will also assist members in accessing finance, whether it be in the form of grants, seed capital, angel investors or venture capitalists.
Members benefit from shared services offered at the mLab SA, such as reception, internet and test bays, because this allows entrepreneurs to lower their burn rate – how quickly they spend their startup capital – and so extend the survivability of their ideas.
mLab SA, and the recently opened mLab East Africa, in Nairobi, are the first of a number of mLabs to be launched around the world as part of the Creating Sustainable Businesses in the Knowledge Economy programme, supported by infoDev (World Bank), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Finland and Nokia. mLab SA is also generously supported by the South African Department of Science and Technology. While the head office will be in Pretoria, a number of satellite offices will be established throughout the region. A Cape Town satellite office is in the process of being established.
Southern Africa was chosen as a region to locate an mLab because of the enormous potential of mobile technologies for supporting business development, social development and job creation in the region. In South Africa, mobile penetration is around 100%, and 39% of urban South Africans are now browsing the internet on their phones. Mobile phones touch almost every aspect of peoples’ lives, and the potential for improving areas such as healthcare and education has already been successfully demonstrated.
But while there exists an enormous mobile opportunity in the region, there are still challenges to creating a sustainable business or organisation in mobile. Competition is stiff; the mobile landscape is highly uneven across different technologies, user groups and countries; and mobile developers are scarce and expensive. Added to that, a startup business or organisation is very vulnerable. It needs business, technical and financial support, and can benefit greatly from acceleration and incubation.
mLab SA offers three types of membership: Community, which is free and which anyone can join, and Silver and Gold, for which interviews are necessary. Silver and Gold members pay a fee to access the core services of the mLab SA at the facility in The Innovation Hub, and receive more structured support from the mLab SA team and it’s partners. Support services will either be delivered directly by the mLab SA, or through external providers to which members will be pointed, e.g. the Bandwidth Barn’s business mentoring program.
Applications can be submitted via the mLab SA website, where further information regarding membership can also be found.