mLab officially opens

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In an effort to encourage mobile innovations that will boost job-led growth and tackle economic and social needs, mLab Southern Africa, a regional lab for mobile technology entrepreneurs, application developers and innovators, opened its doors in Pretoria yesterday.

The facility was inaugurated by business and government leaders with the participation of around 150 stakeholders eager to make use of it.

The hub will draw on SA's high bandwidth environment and talented pool of expertise with strong connections to the rest of Africa.

The facility is co-hosted by the CSIR Meraka Institute, The Innovation Hub, InnovationLab and Ungana-Afrika. Financial support is provided by the Department of Science and Technology and infoDev, a World Bank Group global programme focusing on supporting technology-driven SMEs.

Speaking during the inauguration event, Blue IQ CEO Amanda Nair said the objectives of mLab SA were to create an enabling environment in Gauteng for sustainable jobs and growth.

“mLab SA is a mobile applications laboratory, an innovative way to foster enterprise creation, employment and competitiveness, by providing open spaces where entrepreneurs and programmers can find training, mentoring, technical expertise and access to finance,” she said.

According to The Innovation Hub CEO McLean Sibanda, The Innovation Hub was a natural selection for the location of mLab SA. “The Innovation Hub is a science park with a strong focus on innovation and is home to the Maxum Business Incubator, which can offer support services to mLab incubatees.

“It is also located in close proximity to the Meraka Institute, a consortium member of mLab SA, and which has a strong focus on mobile development and research. It is also close to the Department of Science and Technology and government departments in Tshwane,” he said.

Ben Zaaiman, mLab SA CEO, said competition in the mobile industry is stiff, while the mobile business landscape is highly uneven across different technologies. “User groups and countries, and mobile developers are scarce and expensive. Added to that, a start-up business or organisation is very vulnerable. It needs business, technical and financial support, and can benefit greatly from acceleration and incubation,” he said.

The mLab also provides networking and training opportunities, support for the development of a viable business model, mentoring, subsidised office space, and technical and financial support. These services are aimed at helping the mobile entrepreneur navigate the vulnerable start-up phase, which is when most fledgling efforts flounder.

“We believe that mLab can help us as a start-up mobile developing company to reach heights that we otherwise would not have attained,” says project manager Obakeng Matlhoko of Sowertech, a mobile Web developer and one of the companies that will be using mLab's facilities. “We are excited about the international linkages of the mLab,” he added.

Thabo Mofolo of Bamboo Computing Services will be using the mLab for the development of BusBuddy, a mobile application that allows users to consult bus schedules for specific routes.

“The assistance of the mLab to entrepreneurs in the development of their business models and also the experience themLab team brings in successfully implementing reputable projects, is of great added value,” said Mofolo.

While the mLab hub is in Pretoria, a number of satellite offices are planned throughout the country, including in Cape Town.

Related story:
mLab seeks new members

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