Goodbye To The Startup Challenge

L.S.M Kabweza Avatar

Many of you have asked us when we’ll be holding the Startup Challenge this year. We covered it a bit in a podcast we posted some 3 weeks ago, but here it is again:

The ZOL Startup Challenge has been discontinued. We will not hold it this year and we will not hold it next year or the year after that etc… There are a couple of reasons why:

  • There was no strong business case for the key sponsor, ZOL, so they decided not to sponsor it this year
  • The Startup Challenge format had some issues. Some years, what we thought was the deserving winner got the prize – other years, like last year, jokers and startup competition gamers won, which was extremely disappointing. We discussed this a bit after last year’s challenge and there was no solution in sight that improves this aspect of the challenge. Or put another way, no one had the strength to find another way.

Contrary to what many believe, Techzim actually never made any money hosting the challenge. If anything, we spent money both in hard cash as well as in time. Initially we didn’t mind as the gains for the ecosystem and us in the long term were clear. Eventually it started to worry us that this was very unsustainable. And it just got worse given the gamers above.

As a startup ourselves though we’ve been forced to do a lot of thinking about where our energy is best spent and what we will be proud to have built and been part of some 20 years from now. It is not startup competitions. It is something else inside that we have to focus our full attention on. To build a successful startup ecosystem, we have to be successful ourselves and that will help us help others better, otherwise we are just the jokers we hate.

To be clear, we think startup competitions are a good thing for a tech ecosystem. They provide an easy way to meet fellow hackers and entrepreneurs, they provide great pressure to build and ship something quickly- such constraints are a great thing. They help people to learn to question their idea assumptions, they help people stop assuming ideas are companies, and most of all they help those genuinely seeking a boost on something they have been working hard at. We think so at least.

We thank ZOL, the other sponsors, partners and the judges of the challenge for the support they gave through the years. There are some moderate “success stories” of the challenge that make us proud today and we thank them too. We thank the volunteers who gave their time selflessly for the challenge to succeed each year.

That said, we will continue to support startups we believe in, via the Techzim platform, by sharing some of the resources we have been fortunate enough to get, and via sharing our experiences – the blunders we’ve made and what’s worked well for us.

If you have any questions, we’ll answer what we can in the comments.


  1. Vinni

    Please explain this statement further “like last year, jokers and startup competition gamers won”. I think it is sad that the competition has been halted and Hypercube is closing its doors. Is this a sign of the economy in Zim where only if you have backing of Econet/etc can you thrive/get your product off the ground?

    1. L.S.M Kabweza

      meant exactly that, Vinni.
      game being someone that pretends to be build a startup but are really just trying to win the money so they can finance whatever else it is they actually have passion for…

      1. Taurai B

        Now they are jokers? How does one pretend to build a startup? A startup can fail for various reasons, throwing money at it does’t necessarily guarantee success. When you accuse or allege, support it with facts.

    2. L.S.M Kabweza

      Is this a sign of the economy in Zim where only if you have backing of Econet/etc can you thrive/get your product off the ground?

      Certainly not. They have their own problems keeping the cash machine running. Remember I said above we never made any money ourselves even with the full sponsorship of the challenge.
      Startups have a myriad of options today to get their startup off the ground – nothing to do with Econet.

  2. Robert Ndlovu

    The economic conditions are rough and liquidity tight.Thats the truth.

  3. Anonymous

    Thank you for the time and resources invested for the time that it ran 🙂

  4. emma

    bittersweet, the major startups to come out of the startup competition that have the potential to be sustainable in the long-term are 2012 winner Remote Livestock Marketing System (RLMS), mazwi, Soccer24, 2013 winners Schools Sports Network, Zimbokicten 2013 finalists,

  5. emma

    the worst year for the startup competition was 2014, a bunch of pretenders from sociallyzim to zhet and the others just wannabe entrepreneurs

  6. Raymond Swart

    Was actually thinking about the ZOL Startup challenge last night whilst watching Hells Kitchen. It made me think that there is a need for the ZOL Startup challenge to change it’s format. I’ve competed in one and must admit at the end of the day they money would’ve been great to grow our start-up, but the mentoring would’ve been invaluable.

    So here is me just putting this out there:

    Perhaps the format should change to a more of a knock out arrangement, with the main focus being mentoring and solving real issues in business or communities. Individuals enter and all have tasks to try and solve, real problems business or communities have. These can be problems the sponsoring companies have or bigger ones (The Swift guy talking about the uber model for packages comes to mind) or just a problem a specific community is facing that tech could solve. This way everyone is a winner, the “Startups”, Sponsors and Communities. Every round the various individuals have the “Problem” explained to them they do what they think will help solve this problem and get judged. Round by round people get knocked out ultimately building the best possible team for the final “Problem” that requires a solution.

    I’m almost certain the Zororo Makamba’s, Nafuna TV’s or Battle of The Chefs would love to team up on this and make a show out of it further adding value to potential sponsors?

    Sad to see this door close, but perhaps this one needed to close in order for another bigger, better door to open. Keep up the good work you do Techzim Team, look forward to seeing what you come up with next.

  7. Anonymous

    I beg to differ ,Yes the economy is tough but its not justification for TECHNOPRENUER FAILURES IN ZIM—the probably cause of these closures is mismanagement,poor leadership ,lack of experience of running start-up models ,lack of funding ,poor innovative solutions to the market,

  8. Update

    Sad for such a event to come to an end. Could you please elaborate what the last years winners did, as I seemed not understand the jokers and gamers . Where they fakes or what

  9. macd chip

    l think it was a success, you guys inspired others to take over where you left! Technomag working with the Ministry of ICT l think copied your idea and modified it a little bit.

    It was also a advertising platform for Zol, they might not have made money directly but definately their name spread across.

    1. Toneo

      @Macd Chp it would be perfectly fine to keep techzim stories with them without mentioning us at all, Young achievers Tech Awards, is a national brand to recognize techies across all hubs and challenges,(adjudicators came from these as well) its not a challenge itself but a platform that will connect these players from such challenges to their next venture capitalists. We did not copy nothing bro!

      1. kundie mangwende


        Anyone can be mentioned especially it it is reference to what we talking about. I never any malice in Macd’s comment. It might be incorrect, but take it an opportunity to correct him and feel free to drop your link in the comment just like you did in the hope that reader will click on it and go your space. That said bottom line is you can’t go about telling people not to mention you. Grow up brother.

  10. Des

    Wow! This article makes for interesting reading. This article reads like a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    From what I can read there are a catalogue of issues that have contributed to this position ranging from governance (why were “jokers” allowed to win and where the due diligence failed, where were the judges, what safeguards were in place for stage sign-off before stage payment release, etc) to execution of strategy by start-ups to the general economic conditions.

    It sounds like the author is a little bit hung up over the “jokers” who won and has failed to really address what should be done to ensure a thriving ecosystem which echoes what @Raymond Swart, @Anonymous and others have already said. Section 8.3 of the ICT Policy from the Ministry of ICT ( talks about inclusion of the marginalised. Does anyone know of any initiatives available to prepare start-ups or does the failure of the Start Up Challenge serve as the case study for an action/solution?

    I personally think there is a compelling argument to prepare and present a co-ordinated lessons learnt review of this failure otherwise the ZOL sponsorship and TechZim effort has all been for nothing.

    1. L.S.M Kabweza

      As a startup ourselves though we’ve been forced to do a lot of thinking about where our energy is best spent…

  11. Desire

    Honestly l think its a bad decision to discontinue the startup competition. Obviously we were all disappointed with the results last year, but having one bad year doesn’t mean something great is not going to come. About sustainability and growth, Rome wasn’t build in one day and before you blame people who competed please look at yourselves. Why did you allow jokers to be in the competition? If it was me, l would look at the problem inside-out and instead of discontinuing the competition I will create a better platform for non-jokers to participate.

    1. L.S.M Kabweza

      As a startup ourselves though we’ve been forced to do a lot of thinking about where our energy is best spent…

  12. Xibo

    Tell us about kwese tv

  13. Chris Hanyane

    Here is my 0 cents worth of contribution.

    First, it is unfortunate that the Challenge has been discontinued. Second, economic hardships lead to all sort of good ideas not making it. Maybe the jokers and gamers failed because of that reason (as did the startup challenge). Third, econet has a 1000 ideas to fast follow from the Muzinda stable (I believe the number grows as they mentor others). Remember it’s founder is a strong believer of fast following “things not patented”. So the ROI on continuing sponsoring a startup challenge has received a direct hit.

  14. TheDutch

    How are the inventions of Saith Technologies going? Any updates on these jokes? I wonder if they partnered with NASA to head into space……

    1. Kwakson

      Those clowns….. vachandotsva kugehena nekuda kunyepera mwari kuti anovaonesa ma helicopter kuhope

  15. Xibo

    Citing business case in an en-devour that was mainly seen a corporate social responsibility seems a bit weird but hey… who knows