THE Vodacom Foundation on Monday officially launched its business incubation hub, Vodacom Innovation Park (VIP), which is meant to mentor up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
The Maseru Mall-based state of the art facility has been operational for the past six weeks and already houses six businesses that made it through the application process. The entire programme takes a year, with the initial 12 weeks consisting of intensive training sessions of 20 hours per week. The rest of the programme entails one-on-one counselling sessions held on a monthly basis.
Addressing guests who included Trade and Industry Minister Joshua Setipa and his Communications, Science and Technology counterpart Khotso Letsatsi, Vodacom Lesotho (VCL) Acting Managing Director Johnny Dos Santos said VIP was meant to give budding entrepreneurs a better chance at thriving and surviving in a tough economic environment.
Also in attendance was American business expert, Rhett Power, who is collaborating with the communication network giant in the training programme.
Mr Dos Santos said VCL was committed providing a dynamic and supportive incubation environment to accelerate the growth of innovative firms in Lesotho.
“We are very excited to be opening this innovation centre today, which we regard as a national asset worth investing in. At Vodacom, we are committed to taking entrepreneurship to a higher level of development that would not only benefit youths, but the country as a whole by turning ideas into viable businesses,” he said.
“The incubation process is being facilitated by a key stakeholder, Mr Power, who is involved in the training and mentorship programme to equip young and budding entrepreneurs with skills to run sustainable businesses.”
Mr Dos Santos said they would broaden the initiative to foster a culture of entrepreneurship across the country.
“The first six ideas have been incubated, and we are looking forward to more submissions over the coming years. The company aims to dramatically scale up the programme going forward, reflecting our commitment to supporting the national development agenda,” he said.
“Vodacom continues to invest in the national development agenda as evidenced by our investing M130 million towards health, education, and entrepreneurship programmes initiated through strategic partnerships with government and other agencies.
“You may also be aware of the e-learning programme we have introduced along with the Ministry of Education to enhance technology from the grassroots.”
In his remarks, Mr Setipa lauded VCL for pioneering the mentorship programme, saying government ought to have also established such a facility years ago. He said VIP had inspired government to establish a similar programme but on a much bigger scale.
“Vodacom is doing what government should have done 20 years ago. Considering that about 20 000 youths are trying to enter the labour market, not all of them can be accommodated. We, therefore, have to create opportunities for them,” the minister said.
“There is a whole range of initiatives that can be effected to level the playing field for budding entrepreneurs and Vodacom is already on course to achieving that goal.
“We need to support the businesses undergoing the incubation process, especially when they are pitching their ideas. Government has to formulate a policy which governs the protection of ideas under intellectual property.”
Mr Setipa said government would need VCL’s assistance in establishing a similar programme.
“We are looking towards Vodacom to assist us with establishing our proposed incubation centre for which we have already started planning,” he said.
“Businesses do not fail because of lack of money, but because of a lack of skills, so we will be looking forward to a partnership in that regard.”