Can Zimbabwe Build its Own Silicon Valley?
While we were discussing the fate of Apple after Jobs resignation, we marvelled at how America had built Silicon Valley and the evolution and success of the technology industry in America. The next obvious question we asked ourself was …Could the Silicon Valley model be reproduced in Zimbabwe?
It may sound a bit far fetched but this issue is well worth exploring. Silicon Valley has been growing from the San Francisco Bay Area since the beginning of the Twentieth century starting as an electronics hub then morphing into an IT and silicon chip industry that we know today. It has obviously taken a long time for the industry to grow to what it is now but i think lessons can be drawn from how the industry developed; lessons that emerging economies like Zimbabwe can learn from.
The suggestion is not to try create the magnitude of the idustry, but to identify fundementals on which the industry is founded which can be used in the Zimbabwean context. The hub has its roots since the 1890s so we wont bore you with the history which by the way is well worth reading. There are always certain things that will make particular economies thrive more than others. We won’t bore you with that either, but we feel it is possible to build a successful technology industry in Zimbabwe which works as well-oiled ecosystem and not the version we find today which is characterized by a few notable companies and individuals who occassional work together.
A few organizations and individuals are indeed making a effort but we feel more can be done.Zimbabwe has the brains, willpower and reasonable infrastructure which may prove to be sucessful. However there is presently little coordination required for the whole industry start making headways.
For instance, Silicon Valley is organized as a community where there are the venture captalist who pour billions into nothing but ideas that then grow into huge companies such as Microsoft, Google, Apple. They have nothing but faith that the ideas of young people return on their investment. Most of them are in their twenties with no previous experience of running a company.
There are the universities that churn out the brilliant young minds that come out with innovative ideas, and within those universities there are programs that identify and develop this talent. In addition these universities have active alumni and former faculty members who are part of the universities who in turn are venture captalists and mentors of this talent. When it is reported in the news that Bill Gates or Steve Jobs dropped out of university what is not reported is that these guys had a whole community of supporters making sure that their ideas becomes reality. Americans do love rags to riches stories but the reality is rather different because schools like Havaard and Stanford don’t just accept anyone; they accept already extremely talented students.
There is also the infrascture built to support the industry ( sadly with the behaviour of ZESA raises many questions) that also makes sure that these startup companies are successful.There are organizations that offer free wireless in certain hotspots. There are thousands of volunteers and interns who offer free intellectual hours.There is also support from the federal government which makes it easy for these companies to attract talent from other countries. Any immigrant with a science degree has special despensations when it comes to working visa requirements.
Cooperation is also a key component of Silicon Valley even when there are marketing wars in the minds of consumers the facts are that the people who own these companies are buddies they go for cookouts together their kids do sleepovers together. They invest in each others companies Steve Jobs was one of the biggest investors in Microsoft he is good friends with Bill gates all of them have invested in companies like Google and Facebook it really is impressive how on TV these guys appear to be the worst of enemies.. more like politicians but thats another story…But these entrepreneurs all understand that competition is healthy for business it makes peoples creative juices flow.
Finally there are the consumers of these products. I have family members who swear they would never use Windows and are Mac loyalists or vice-versa. Consumers are the last piece of the puzzle they sustain this healthy competition. The idea of loyal customers buying Zimbabwean IT services and products in this case is vital. Once apon a time Japan ruled the day in the electronics war but not so clearly these days. There are the Chinese, Indians while the Americans are making a comeback.Its easy to lose a market without adequate customer support and continous innovation.
As daunting as this might look it is possible. India built Bangalore City and more recently Kenya has been producing very good IT products and experts in IT. The Americans are so impressed by Kenya some are actually going to learn and study the Kenyan Tech industry. If we, Zimbabweans coordinate their effort and approach the world as one unit we are likely to succeed. We need to stop outing each other, share resources – both human and material, share more information and then I’m sure we will make progress. Obviously the leaders of the industry have to make the first crucial step towards this synergy.
Companies that grew from Silicon Valley.