STEMMING from modest beginnings in Omaruru, Collin Nico /Uirab has belied the belief that individuals from previously disadvantage backgrounds cannot offer vital solutions in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. The founder of the Loc8it Project, which recently won the N$250 000 Startupper of the year accolade, sat down with Prime Focus Editor, Penda Jonas Hashoongo (PJH) this month, to discuss entrepreneurship and the opportunities that exist within the ICT sector.
PJH: Could you give us a brief background of yourself and the path that led to you starting the Loc8it Project?
I was born in Omaruru on the 27 April 1985 and moved to Otjiwarongo when I was just a toddler. I spent most of my teenage life in Otjiwarongo. I attended Junior Secondary School at Rogate Primary school & Donatus Junior Secondary School (both in Otjiwarongo). After passing my grade 10, I moved to Swakopmund and completed my Senior Secondary at Namib High School. In 2004, I was admitted at the then Polytechnic of Namibia (Now Namibia University of Science and Technology) for Information and Communication Technology (IT). Due to some financial difficulties, I dropped out of colleague and had to start working.
We started working on our Project Loc8it Solution in 2014. We identified the need to revolutionise advertising. The ICT sector is growing at such a rapid pace and we decided to develop a solution that would be able to counter the growth and be relevant to the needs of both consumers and merchants. As a team, we decided to put our different set of skills to good use and provide the world with an innovative practical solution. We started off with a simple version and added the features as we moved along.
PJH: How would you rate the access local entrepreneurs have to finance, particularly in the ICT sector, to get their projects off the ground?
Among the many factors, a lack of capital and the reluctance of financial institutions to assist start-ups without collateral was the biggest of them all. Financial Institutions in Namibia like the safe approach and mostly finance traditional business proposals like construction, catering and manufacturing. On the other hand, in terms of innovative, technological driven solutions face a lot of challenges as you have to convince financial institutions to take that chance, which, in reality promotes traditional businesses and innovation in the long run will die a slow and painful death. Simply because of a lack of access to funding.
PJH: Could you outline other impediments that may deter entrepreneurs from entering the ICT sector?
Well, one could be the infrastructure and by that I mean the technological infrastructure. I am sure there are Entrepreneurs out there that have ideas of solutions that can change the ICT landscape, but due to the lack of infrastructure they are not in a position to develop and introduce these concepts to the local market. On top of that, if you decide to buy the infrastructure and provide a service, the costs are astronomical. Either way, both can deter entrepreneurs.
PJH: What are your personal philosophies on entrepreneurship? Essentially, how would you advise young entrepreneurs venturing into the market where you have found success with your organisation?
Consistency is key. You have to analyse the market and look at what it needs. The Mobile Telephone market grows, on average, with 10% per year and currently stands at about 1.5 million smartphones in active use in Namibia alone. That’s 1.5 million potential smartphones that can use your App/Solution. Now the question is; how hungry are you in getting that done? Whatever it might be. What the mind can conceive, willpower can make.
PJH: How important is innovation in the ICT sector and, by your estimation, are our institutions of higher learning providing sufficient platforms for this innovation to thrive?
In my view innovation drives ICT. Our institutions provide sufficient platforms but more can be done. On the other hand the question remains; how hungry are entrepreneurs to give birth to this innovation? As much as we rely on institutions to provide the platforms, it is up to us to seek opportunities and develop solutions that are innovative and answer needs especially in our own backyard.
PJH: How big a challenge would you rate infrastructural support in the establishment of a sound and sustainable entrepreneurship culture in the ICT sector?
Our infrastructure is growing, however it is growing at a slow pace. I urge Entrepreneurs to be proactive and find ways to develop products using available infrastructural support. They can incorporate features as the infrastructure becomes available. It is a challenge, but there are ways around it.
PJH: Are there any additional remarks you would wish to make with regards to the ICT sector, entrepreneurship or Loc8it organisation?
Success comes from being consistent. Day after day, year after year.
Be true to yourself and most importantly; believe in your product/project/solution. Educate yourself about the ICT sector as well as technological advances around the world. This will put you, as an entrepreneur, in a position to innovate and be responsive to the needs of the market.