By Anna Chinyoyo, Program Associate.
For 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a complex new landscape for corporations and startups alike. Consumer behaviours have changed, sales have taken a hit in some sectors, new channels are gaining popularity, and consumers are moving and relying dramatically on mobile & e-commerce.
The world’s economy has been affected highly by COVID-19. Despite the situation, at Smart Lab’s we created solid measures to support students, startups by connecting them with corporates, in order to create more solutions for society and foster technical advancement in Tanzania. Since the launch of the Vodacom Digital Accelerator program, in 2019, this year the startups were going through the acceleration phase. Although it felt like a challenge at first we still came out strong and worked with 15 startups that grew over the period of the acceleration phase.
We ran training sessions, mentorship sessions, and workshops online that proved to be a success; with the startups MVPs and customer base growing during the 3 months. By the end of the program, the 15 startups had pitched their business to a panel of 3 judges; Nguvu Kamando, Digital Director at Vodacom Tanzania, our very own Edwin Bruno CEO & Founder of Smart Codes, and Irene Madeje, Director of Operations at FSDT. The judges selected four winners whose solutions were not only impactful but were essential in the current climate in providing our society with important services like education and healthcare.
Our first winner Smart Class provided students access to studying online when they could not go to school physically due to the pandemic. Our first runner up was Hashtag Pools, an app that allows buyers of the same product to purchase in bulk so that they can enjoy price discounts. Our second runner ups were Ninsiima eDispensary and MyHi app, who partnered during the program to help their customers get health care services online and be able to access and purchase health insurance on their phones. Start-ups play a key role in the growth economies in Tanzania and Africa, but the COVID-19 climate is challenging their business, and for some limiting their growth. Business registrations have slightly decreased while existing businesses and new startups are finding new ways to be resilient in the current economic climate.
The current economic climate came with relevant opportunities for start-ups;
First, there are opportunities for start-ups that introduce (or upscale) radical innovations that can be useful in the short run; today, that could mean innovations in online-medicine and health care, home delivery, food processing, remote working, online education, contact tracing and many more. These short-term needs have been a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to start new startups and for existing ones to leverage on them and scale. We have witnessed how project management platforms like Asana, Monday, Trello, etc, and communication tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Slack, etc grow in support of remote working.
Second, and importantly, the COVID-19 pandemic may induce persistent changes in societies, consumer habits, or needs that could uncover valuable business opportunities for start-ups that are able to anticipate the changes. For instance, demand for remote working, e-commerce, education, and health services may also change in the medium run, global value chains and cities may be transformed. Due to this, we had tech companies like Zoom and many more that were highly important when it came to working remotely. E-commerce companies also did well during this time for Tanzania. We have seen food delivery apps like Piki and Foodsasa grow in their customer base. Due to the fact that students were studying from home, startups like Smart Class played a great role in ensuring that education services are still available.
For 2020, COVID-19 has created challenges, opportunities, and mindsets. For a technology company, we’re excited to see how much startups and companies have embraced technology and a digital way of life when it comes to working. We plan to keep exploring different ways that we can develop solutions and deliver premium quality services to corporations using technology. We also see an exciting future for innovation in Tanzania. We are looking forward to so many changes in the innovation ecosystem especially in the increase of startups.