“Where in South Africa would an economic cluster focused on digital hardware, software and content have a good chance of success? Braamfontein certainly ticked all the boxes”.
Plans for a new recreation centre? No, this is the coolest tech space in Africa.
Brainchild of Professor Barry Dwolatzky, director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering at Wits University, the Tshimologong Precinct has been developed over the past three years into a productive, creative and innovative centre for existing businesses, techpreneurs and aspiring startups. Situated on Juta Street in a row of buildings that once housed a nightclub, warehouse, office and retail space, Tshimologong (a Setswana phrase meaning ‘place of new beginnings’) is the latest example of urban renewal in Joburg’s Braamfontein—and the starting place for many exciting developments and opportunities available to the neighbourhood.
“Silicon Braamfontein” is the up-and-coming technosphere of ihubs and technology centres, and initiatives such as Tshimologong are underpinning the City of Joburg’s focus on economic growth over the next five years, supporting information and communication technology programmes to inspire and enable entrepreneurs to put their ideas and innovations into action.
According to Prof. Dwolatzky, the precinct was inspired by the many other innovation zones he had visited throughout the world: London’s Silicon Roundabout, Boston’s Kendall Square, Nairobi’s iHub, among others. He then asked the question, “Where in South Africa would an economic cluster focused on digital hardware, software and content have a good chance of success?” His answer? “Braamfontein certainly ticked all the boxes”. The town is close to Wits, a major research university; it’s in an already existing business hub with well-connected transport and data networks; and is home to a well-educated population from both South Africa and the rest of the continent.
He identified the row of Wits-owned buildings in Juta Street and set about raising funds for the renovation thereof. He also enlisted the support of a number of key stakeholders: City of Joburg through its Department of Economic Development, the Gauteng Provincial Department of e-Government, IBM Research, Microsoft, Cisco, Datacentrix, MMI Group Ltd, the Telkom FutureMakers InnoTech Programme, Airports Company South Africa and the Technology Innovation Agency.
Tshimologong is creating a platform for young entrepreneurs, startups and existing businesses to share ideas through events, showcases, programmes and networking opportunities.
Teraco, South Africa’s biggest data centre, is another founding partner in the Tshimologong Precinct project. It is proud to support the foresight and vision of Wits University and the JCSE in creating a vibrant digital technology hub in Braamfontein. The company believes Tshimologong will support much-needed skills development, job creation, entrepreneurship and the rejuvenation of Joburg’s inner city. Teraco plans to partner with the hub in providing co-location space as well as positioning Tshimologong to become a member of NAPAfrica, the continent’s largest Internet exchange point.
The precinct is not the first entrepreneurial initiative supported by the City of Joburg. Its #Hack.Jozi Challenge, now in its second year, enables young digital entrepreneurs to access a one-year programme of support services and business networking.
Winner of the 2016 competition, Neo Hutiri, is the founder and developer of Technovera: a medical startup that allows people with chronic conditions to collect their repeat medication without the inconvenience of long queues, by making use of a tech-enabled service called a smart locker. These secure lockers, based at clinics or other health centres, are loaded with patients’ pre-packaged medication. Once this has been done, the system sends patients an SMS or email including a one-time PIN, which can be used together with their ID number and mobile number to access the locker at a suitable time. “Winning the #Hack.Jozi Challenge gave us a platform to engage the City of Johannesburg’s health team in a meaningful way,” Hutiri told Fast Company SA. “The funding was like oxygen, and enabled us to move and develop at a faster rate … I strongly feel that the City of Johannesburg has created a platform that makes it easier for entrepreneurs to position their solutions and impact the lives of our residents. It is up to us to take on these challenges and push hard. Technology is a great enabler.”
As part of the City’s aim to achieve an average of 5% economic growth over the next five years, it is focusing on a mixture of targeted-investment attraction (key sectors such as ICT), SME development, improved service delivery and urban rejuvenation—upgrading inner-city areas such as Braamfontein into business hubs to bring about economic growth and empowerment of entrepreneurs. A year ago, the Braamfontein Wireless Mesh went live—giving the entire area free 100% Wi-Fi access, with each citizen receiving 300MB per day per device. ICT investors (such as Microsoft, IBM, Telkom and others) have been encouraged by the City to co-locate at the Wits-linked hubs. The CoJ is also the main sponsor of the annual Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival in Braamfontein.
Projects like Tshimologong are contributing immensely to the growth of the South African economy, creating a platform for young entrepreneurs, startups and existing businesses to share ideas through events, showcases, programmes and networking opportunities. By providing everything they need in one space, the precinct is aiding the digital revolution. “I’ve always said that the fuel that powers the digital revolution are coffee, pizza and bandwidth,” adds Prof. Dwolatzky. He believes digital innovation is the future, and a key to solving the country’s problems. “Joburg is building our national ability to shape that future through the partnerships and capacity created via Silicon Braamfontein.”
Hub of activity
Idea spaces inside the Tshimologong Precinct
IBM Research Lab
Advances big data, cloud and mobile technologies to support South Africa’s national priorities, drive skills development and foster innovation-based economic growth
Open event room where members can showcase their work, brainstorm and share ideas
Joburg Centre for Software Engineering
Supports research and training initiatives for the software development industry
Exhibition room where tech entrepreneurs can display their latest innovations and designs
Collaboration space for creatives, innovators and programmers to grow jobs through hi-tech startups and skills development
Future contemporary collaborative work and event section
Open area where innovators meet and hang out, featuring a canteen and coffee shop
Gauteng’s Design and Validation Centre tests and evaluates potential new technology to provide quality assurance services, stimulate ICT entrepreneurship and support the township economy