Start-ups are the way to a new Namibia

19 August 2021 | Business

Stellenbosch • Joshua Romisher
Research confirms what entrepreneurs have long suspected: start-ups drive the creation of new
jobs. Harvard University, for example, found that while only 15% of companies are so-called high-
potential firms or scaleups, they account for nearly half of all new jobs created.
The same research found that, from 1977 to 2005, existing companies in the US were in fact net job
destroyers, losing one million net jobs per year. In contrast, new businesses in their first year added
an average of three million jobs annually.
We also know that start-ups can boost economic growth by encouraging innovation and a
competitive business ecosystem, improve productivity, and spark new ideas that stir innovation and
stimulate competition.
But perhaps more importantly, start-ups produce innovations so fundamentally disruptive and
transformative that they routinely change how we work and even how we live.
Triple challenge
Namibia is currently an extractive economy reliant on diamonds, uranium and zinc, as well as copper
and gold albeit to a lesser extent. It has the fourth largest nonfuel mining sector in Africa and is the
world’s fifth largest producer of uranium. Its second largest economic sector is tourism, followed by
fisheries, to which it is one of the tenth largest contributors globally, and agriculture. All of these
sectors are under threat and it’s becoming more and more apparent that sustainable growth of the
Namibian economy relies on economic diversification.
Namibia faces the triple challenge of high poverty, inequality and unemployment. Only a minority of
Namibia’s population derives income from employment, while the majority relies on subsistence
farming, pensions and grants. With a Gini coefficient second only to South Africa and a youth
unemployment rate of 38%, Namibia needs to find ways to diversify and grow its economy – and
fast.
A further challenge is gender inequality caused by cultural beliefs, which results in women having
limited access to assets, resources, technology, education and employment, and being victims of
widespread domestic abuse. Severe localized food insecurity is another constant stress on the
Namibian economy and people.
The upside
Namibia’s literacy rate is 91.6% and, in terms of the Human Development Index (HDI), which ranks
countries according to their standard of living, health and education, it’s ranked 129 out of 189
countries: a rank that is surprisingly higher than average in sub-Saharan Africa. While the country
faces numerous environmental issues – including depletion and degradation of water and aquatic
resources; drought; desertification; land degradation; wildlife poaching; and loss of biodiversity and
biotic resources – Namibia has ratified and is committed to meeting all international environmental
protocols.
The country is also committed to growing and diversifying the economy. The UNESCO Culture for
Development Indicator Suite (CDIS) has identified several areas that the government needs to focus
on to achieve this: education, infrastructure, transportation, promoting entrepreneurial drive,
information and communication technology, and additional governmental efforts in renewable
resources.
Most of these present opportunities for the private sector and entrepreneurs. Combining innovation
and digitalisation with traditional industries, in particular, could go a long way towards solving many
social and economic problems and thus significantly impact Namibia’s sustainable development.
Gearing up for start-ups

Unfortunately Namibia’s current ecosystem for start-ups and for upscaling small businesses is
embryonic. Support structures for start-ups are still in their very early stages, but do show promise
for the future.
Start-Up Namibia, for example, has a Digital Transformation Centre which focuses on addressing the
challenges for digital start-ups and building a tech ecosystem in collaboration with local, regional
and global private sector players in the areas of digitalisation and the digital economy. It also runs an
incubation and innovation ‘basecamp’ in Windhoek, as well as mobile outreach units and pop-up
camps in three additional regions in Namibia.
Stellenbosch University LaunchLab has partnered with Start-Up Namibia to launch its 2021 Cook
(Incubation) Programme. The eight week Design Thinking and Lean Start-up programme assists start-
ups in testing key hypotheses within their business model, growing sales and ultimately locating
product-market-fit for their world shaping business. It’s supercharged with online curricula, weekly
cohort sessions and 1:1 mentoring from some of Namibia’s most successful businesspeople and
entrepreneurs.
Now we’re really cooking
The first cohort of the Cook Programme kicks off in mid-September. We’ll roll up our sleeves to work
hand-in-hand with 5-7 high potential start-ups focused on target sectors including travel and
tourism-tech; cultural and creative-tech; and blue and green-tech*. Our ideal entrepreneur exhibits
true grit – a combination of passion plus perseverance – as demonstrated by extensive customer
discovery, a minimum viable product in the market and a full-time team.
The programme is valued at N$25 000, but successful applicants need only pay a non-refundable
commitment fee of N$500 acceptance into the programme.
With its focus on tech that is uniquely applicable to the Namibian environment and economy, I
believe that the Cook programme perfectly complements Start-Up Namibia’s existing start-up
support system. As Anna Vambe, GIZ Project Manager for StartUp Namibia says, “Even our best
individual efforts can't stack up against today's complex and interconnected problems. This
collaboration to bring the Cook programme to Namibia cements our view that start-ups need to
think regionally, or even better globally.”
Stellenbosch University LaunchLab looks forward to watching these promising start-ups grow into
the world-shaping companies that Namibia needs to tackle its triple challenge head on.