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Setting fire to African ideas

A global movement is on track to connect ideas with people who can turn them into businesses.

Read time 4min 30sec

Getting a business off the ground can be overwhelming for aspiring entrepreneurs. Ideas for new apps, gadgets and other businesses are a dime a dozen - but very few get turned into execution. Ideas alone are worth little to nothing without the right people doing the right thing. And a global movement is under way to connect ideas with people who can turn them into companies.

We do have an overwhelming spirit of necessitated innovation on the ground.

Simon Dingle, contributor, ITWeb

Africa is of particular concern in this regard. We struggle with investors who “get it” and there is a worrying fear of failure in the market. But we do have an overwhelming spirit of necessitated innovation on the ground, and Africans look at developing solutions in a whole different, and refreshing, way.

The Hub is a global network of centres where people with ideas are given the resources they need to act - and it is budding nicely on our continent, fuelled by some great African ideas.

Igniting the flame

From the organisation's Web site: “Whether you are already working on a concrete project, have the first sparks of an innovative idea or just the intention to contribute your time, energy and talent to make a positive difference, the Hub provides a carefully curated experience to help take your initiative to the next level.”

In South Africa, a Hub is located in Johannesburg, with a localised Web site at johannesburg.the-hub.net. Founder of Hub Johannesburg, Lesley Donna Williams, says its intention is to inspire people beyond just the basics of getting going with their ideas.

“We provide an inspiring co-working space for social innovators and entrepreneurs, a vibrant community and meaningful events for supporting our members to shift their ideas from concept to impact and eventual scale,” she explains.

“There are currently 25 Hubs in major cities around the world, with 50 Hubs in the making.” There are others that function independently, but with loose affiliations, such as Erik Hersman's iHub, in Nairobi.

Says Williams: “Hub Johannesburg is the first Hub to open in Africa; we support people in taking ownership of tackling South Africa's most pressing issues in an entrepreneurial way. Our Hub Business Clinic offers technical skills training on how to run your business, our Thought Leader Dialogues provoke thinking around ventures relevant to society, and our members have the opportunity to test their products and knowledge before going to market by hosting their own events in a safe space.”

She says Culture Shift is an initiative run by Hub Johannesburg, which is “bringing people together who would otherwise not meet. By creating the right blend of diversity, we see the spark of new ideas happening which could possibly lead to the next great innovation. We want to break the silos that often exist between creatives and techies, addressing needs in society that are bankable.”

Culture Shift is a six-month innovation incubation programme that Hub Johannesburg is currently running with the British Council. It will include a three-day, theme-based programme with teams competing for a R50 000 cash prize. Winners will also receive ongoing expert advice and mentoring.

More information and entry details can be found at http://bit.ly/jhubcs2012.

Money should just be the beginning, however, and it's important to get execution going beyond that.

In his book: 'Anything You Want', entrepreneur Derek Sivers says that execution is a multiplier for ideas. A weak idea is worth, say, one unit, he says - but brilliant execution is worth $10 million. Multiply the two and you've got decent prospects. Conversely, a brilliant idea is worth 20 units, but no execution is worth $1. So a brilliant idea not acted upon is worth $20.

That's a powerful idea to keep in the minds of emerging entrepreneurs.

At Hub Johannesburg there is a clear emphasis on connecting people, so that those with ideas can meet with others who can help them develop it into a feasible business.

Celebrating failure

Another project I'd like to see replicated in South Africa is Fail Camp - a conference that literally brings together entrepreneurs to celebrate the failures they've experienced.

The organisation's Web site uses the following quote from author JK Rowling to illustrate its point: “The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.”

That doesn't gel with our culture in South Africa, where failure is seen as disastrous and something to be ashamed of. It isn't.

I hear a lot of ideas, and I welcome them. But the two questions I always have are: “What have you done with that idea already?” and “Have you failed yet?”

Ideas ain't no big thang.

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