The Umbono Project powered by Google, Cell C, Bandwidth barn, Silicone Cape, Ogilvy and the Hub,launched with a ‘jump’.
It’s with much excitement that I’d like to introduce you to The Umbono Accelerator Programme. Umbono is Africa’s first, seed-funded incubator programme. It is set to assist local web and mobile based startups turn their ideas into reality. Umbono brings together innovators and investors while providing local startups with a platform to test and develop their products. Once chosen the successful teams are provided with a range of benefits that literally jump starts their business. These benefits include:
- Seed capital ($25 000 to $50 000) from the projects local angel fund investors.
- Business skills training which is provided through the Bandwidth Barn‘s VeloCITI program.
- Access to mentorship from an extensive network of business and technology experts.
- Web access which is funded by Cell C and of course,
- A creative work space based at the Hub, in the Old Castle Brewery in Woodstock.
It’s funny, I have always imagined Cape Town as being the world’s next Silicone Valley. Being the product of programming parents as well as an extended family of 1st and 2nd generation programmers, I have watched the MuthaCity closely on her journey to achieve this California-inspired-dream. As it turns out, Google agrees with me. They state this pretty clearly on the Umbono website, saying that Cape Town has all the key-elements for,
“the development of a sustainable, entrepreneurial environment in the technology sector.”
It was an honour to be present for the official opening. Crossing the creative threshold into the Umbono office space, you’d be forgiven for not noticing the subtle Google Androids that have been so carefully and cleverly hidden on the stairs.
After finding the Droids, I spent a good deal of time finding and admiring the remaining details of the interior and industrial design in this space. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Luke McKend , South Africa’s Google country manager shares my opinion. This is an incredible working environment. He even took the time to mention his admiration of Adrian Smith’s team from LI Design, the Comesis design team and Ocellus design’s work in his opening speech.
Working together they pushed the boundaries of creativity. The locally hand crafted tape-measure rug in the reception area was commissioned especially for the office. The ceramic tea-cup down-lighting in the kitchen adds a touch of quirkiness, as do the up-cycled Consol glass light fittings. Then there is the dramatic African safari scene in perspex and the white boarded walls. Walls you can draw on. I would love some of those in my office. The flower pots built into the window sills and of course the encouraging ‘on-air’ lighting at the entrance. It all pulls together to create such an admirably creative work space. Personally, if I worked here, I would never leave.
As afternoon turned to evening, the place filled up quickly. By the time we got to 6pm it was packed and everyone headed downstairs to the Hub, for the official opening ceremony. Luke McKend took the floor thanking all of the Umbono project’s contributors. He reiterated their goals particularly with regards to the expansion of Africa’s mobile and web based industries. Personally, I found his most notable comment to be, ‘The thing I love about Cape Town is that every conversation ends in an opportunity.‘ Well spotted. Living in a mixed economy with the world’s most creative people will do that. We live for opportunity.
Following Luke, Google’s Vice President of Engineering, Nelson Mattos needed little introduction. His speech made it clear that he understands Africa’s technology challenges. Google, he says, wants to assist in the removal of all access and costing barriers to technology in Africa. An admirable and ambitious goal. Imagine an Africa where limited access to phone lines and internet were not an issue. Where we did not pay exorbitant fees simply for landline access. Business would flourish. I wonder if our government is going to figure this out at some point. Taking this into account, while Umbono is still in an infant, pilot-project phase, the vision extends far further than the current scope.
First up and my personal favourite: TaxTim. The companies goal, says Evan Robinson and Marc Sevitz; is to provide an online service which automatically simplifies tax returns for salary earners. It’s apparently going to be as easy as completing a questionnaire and the rest will be automated. This makes the need for the assistance of an accountant obsolete for salary based income earners. Eventually they also want to expand the service’s capabilities to include tax return simplification for small business owners. I don’t know of anyone else is offering this service to small business owners yet, but I will definitely use it once launched.
Sampleboard is another fantastic idea. Basically it is a design focused website that digitalises sampling , thereby allowing designers to share their visual ideas with their clients without the hassle of physical boards. This assists users to manage clients’ expectations from the beginning. The project was initially started by an interior designer, Rosslyn Tebbutt to find an easy solution to providing clients with sample boards, moodboards and inspiration boards. The online tool itself, is like a basic version of photoshop but easy enough for inexperienced users to manage. It also comes packed with thousands of samples to choose from or you can upload your own libraries. Never being one to take another’s word for it, I tried it out and was surprised by how easy it is to use. What do you think? Are you a designer? Would you use Sampleboard?
Localsort , founded by Marcel Van de Ghinste, Justin Womersley, David McLennan and Jonathan Womersley is their solution to the problems they found in their first online business www.travelground.com. It was through Travelground that they learnt not only how important great guest service is, but that there is currently no easy way for businesses to connect and share information with accommodation suppliers. Localsort.com tackles this problem by acting as an online concierge service. It aims to provide hotels and other accommodation suppliers with recommendations on the best locations and activities for their guests.
Last but not least, was Starburst Games. A mobile game development startup. Henko Lategan is the sole team member on this one. A brilliant young guy, his accomplishments include completing his honours in Computer Science at 23 years of age, winning the IMB competitions algorithmic prize for music, and coming second in the Android developer challenge. At first I was confused. This is Africa, why would you waste money developing a game when we have things that are way more pressing, like reducing the poverty line, education, job creation, medical care etc. After chatting to Henko however, I now understand that his company aims to increase the use and understanding of cellular technology through the use of these games which are social and take place in a virtual reality. He also claims it has “the most addictive mobile game on the market”. I’m looking forward to seeing the final product.
What do you think of the winning teams? Could you do better? If you have an idea for an online product, why not submit it to Umbono by clicking here. Who knows you could be the next to have your ideas jump-started.
Tags: accessment, Africa, angel fund, Cape Town, capital, Cell C, funding, Google, Help and Advice, Hub, investment, mobile technology, mutha city, Old Brewery, seed capital, Silicone Valley, South Africa, Startups, technology, Umbono Launch