Tshimologong gets R15m funding for content hub

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Tshimologong Precinct CEO Lesley Williams.
Tshimologong Precinct CEO Lesley Williams.

The Braamfontein-based Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct has extended its offering, launching a digital content hub in partnership with Agence Francaise de D'eveloppement (AFD) and the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS).

The content hub will serve as an incubator of innovative and creative audio-visual content. It is made possible through a EUR950 000 (around R15 million) grant from AFD.

Professor Barry Dwolatzky, director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) who was instrumental in setting up the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, says: "This is such an exciting moment, because the vision is still partial and all the bits are coming together."

He says the precinct was meant to incubate digital entrepreneurs and grow the skills pipeline for the digital economy through collaboration with academia, corporates, government and entrepreneurs.

However, he says digital is an umbrella term for software, hardware and digital content. "And up until now we had the software and hardware parts sorted. This partnership allows us to set up a place for digital content."

Sturdy foundation

Tshimologong CEO Lesley Williams says: "Technically, the precinct is only one year old, so it is safe to say this partnership is in the foundation of what Tshimologong is and will be.

"We have had the software part incorporated from the very beginning with the JCSE, and hardware through our maker space, but the missing link has always been content.

"When we look at the future of work, it is a huge unknown and we think the arts will come to play an important part; we like to talk about STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and maths] not just STEM."

Williams says, for example, virtual reality content is being produced for health and society sectors to help train workers before they are put in dangerous situations, such as down a mineshaft.

The three-year grant will enable Tshimologong to expand its activities to incorporate audio-visual content creation such as animation, virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, holograms, 360-degree video, Web content, video games, applications, Web series and music.

The digital content hub will be based at the precinct in Braamfontein and managed by Tshimologong in collaboration with key players in the multimedia and cultural and creative industries sector in France. Eventually, the content hub will have its own dedicated building.

The idea of establishing the hub was born from an existing collaboration between Tshimologong and Digital Lab Africa, an initiative launched by IFAS in 2016 to support African start-ups creating multimedia content. The existing Digital Lab Africa system will be incorporated into the new content hub.

Rise of the arts

Martha Stein-Sochas, AFD Southern Africa regional director, says this type of funding is not traditionally what AFD South Africa does. However, AFD headquarters in France believes the organisation really needs to start supporting the arts, spurred on by France president Emmanuel Macron's outspoken support of arts and culture.

"We are very happy to be supporting the ecosystem in Africa," says Stein-Sochas. "We now firmly recognise the cultural and creative industries and what they bring to the continent."

She says it is the largest donation of this kind yet, and will be used to support local content creation, African content creation and taking this to the rest of the world.

"It will also address the issue of youth unemployment and youth skills development, which is very close to our hearts.

"I'm hoping very soon we will see in cinemas a marker in movies saying the film was proudly made in South Africa."

French ambassador to SA Christophe Farnaud says SA needs more and more Tshimologongs around the country and hopes the work done in Johannesburg will inspire other cities.

He says innovation is a priority for France. "You cannot talk everyday of globalisation and then not do anything about it; you need talent and you need to adjust all the time.

"We have to adjust to become competitive and this starts with innovation."

He says Tshimologong not only provides a place for young minds to come together and exchange ideas, but also to meet funding partners.

"Innovation means growth and growth means jobs and that is what Johannesburg needs, and the rest of Africa needs.

"This is just the beginning and I hope we have many more successful projects together," says Farnaud.

One of the first projects the content hub will run in the next few months is a two-year skills development programme with a focus on gaming and animation.

By 2021, the precinct expects to have fully incorporated digital content development into its activities in a self-sustainable manner.

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