Varsity invades business space!

Varsity invades business space!

MASERU – THE National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub, which is hosting at least 12 businesses, is poised to deliver more than 25 products to the market shelves around the country in 2019.
It is time to enjoy the fruits of innovation at the NUL.

The year 2019 will be remembered as that in which the NUL Innovation Hub (NUL-i-Hub) entered the business space in this country. Thanks to the amazing efforts by the NUL management and Metropolitan Lesotho.

“We have invested in many things, but for us to invest in businesses that are this innovative and dynamic is deeply gratifying,” Nkau Matete, the Managing Director of Metropolitan Lesotho, said.

Metropolitan Lesotho dropped a whopping M1 million towards the NUL-i-Hub.
NUL added M2 million to make it M3 million.

Could this be perhaps the greatest single investment in innovation ever made in this country today?
We bet.

Mohalalitoe Natural Soap, Bohlale Biscuits, Phula Poultry Products, Mafika Stones, Pius IV Egg Incubators, Pitsa Manufacturing Pot, C-Mat Waste Paper Furniture, Sebatso Dairy Products, Sorghum Choice Muesli and Intriguing Software Services, Khuisa baby foods, Tloutle textiles, all these businesses will produce a host of products this year.

This time around, we want to put you in the loop concerning the hub. What is it? Why it is different from other innovation/incubation hubs, locally and internationally. Why does the difference matter?
NUL-i-Hub is a physical space that incubates businesses. This is what makes it different.

It is powered by research, not untested ideas: companies that enter the NUL-i-Hub are based on ideas that were previously tested within the NUL Laboratories and developed into reliable products.

Since NUL-i-Hub is based on creating value out of research and knowledge, it is more than just an incubation hub, it is an innovation hub.
NUL-i-Hub is not an IT hub although IT will be an essential part of it.

Normal innovation/incubation hubs favour IT at the expense of other technologies.
But IT works best when it supports these overlooked technologies.

So NUL-i-Hub is full of manufacturing mini-factories which will be powered by creative use of IT.
One IT company within the NUL-i-Hub will be marked by its use of IT to transform the hub itself.
For instance, it is creating an online system that will professionalize selling of the hub products.

On your phone, you will order products on your app, use mobile money to pay and check the status of the product you paid for (how much time is left before you can collect it).

If the NUL-i-Hub truck is used to deliver your goods, it is possible to trace its movements from Roma right to your doorstep, on a cell-phone.
Buying and selling will never be the same in Lesotho.

NUL-i-Hub does not incubate entrepreneurs, it incubates companies. Many incubation/innovation hubs put a laser focus on training entrepreneurs on “business skills.”
NUL-i- Hub is not a business school. Rather what will graduate from the hub will be independent companies (containing experienced entrepreneurs, of course).

NUL-i-Hub is about testing and refining business models by testing businesses in the real world.
It is about testing businesses for their (a) product acceptance in the markets (b) marketing and selling strategies and (c) manufacturing processes.

When a business is failing, strategies are checked, and products and processes are taken back to the lab for improvement.
Then the business is tested again in the real world.

Failure is not failure, it is part of the learning process.NUL-i-Hub is an intermediary institution, not the end in itself.
Conventional innovation/incubation hubs either incubate entrepreneurs for a set period of time (6 months to 2 years) and then throws them back into the cold where they came from, or these hubs end up becoming no more than permanent rental places for small businesses.

In contrast, when companies are incubated within the NUL-i-Hub, they are already on the road to the proposed NUL-LNDC Industrial Park for mass production, no matter how long it will take to reach there.
That is the final goal.

NUL-i-Hub does not incubate “earth-shaking” ideas (whatever that means).
NUL-i-Hub leaves self-driving cars to Google, electric cars to Tesla and Rockets to NASA (for now).
If you are the NUL-i-Hub and you live within a womb of a university that is not famous for having a big purse, then lofty thinking is not for you.

And that works to your advantage.You learn to start from humble beginnings (u tlhotleha boikhomoso).
You don’t shy away from producing the simplest products.
You learn the secrets of doing more with less, sometimes with nothing.
That we call innovation.

For instance, Mohalalitoe, one of the companies under incubation was supposed to buy a M1 million soap making machine — the money they could only dream of.“Instead, we entered into four years of intensive research in our labs,” said one of the representatives of Mohalalitoe.
“We ended up designing our own M80 000 machine, 12 times cheaper! Now we don’t only know so much about soap, we know about the machines that make it, some of which we manufactured here in Lesotho.”
Meanwhile, let’s hope for goodies from the NUL-i-Hub this year.

Own Correspondent

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