Poor Innovation By Zim Startups Forces POTRAZ To Do Workshops: Is It The Startups’ Fault?

Alvine Chaparadza Avatar

Startups are kind of synonymous with innovation, aren’t they? It’s supposed to be the big companies, enterprises that can’t figure out innovation. Aren’t startups just “naturally” great at coming up with solutions?

According to POTRAZ, Zimbabwean startups are telling a different story, they are simply not innovative. And that lack of innovativeness is making it hard for the supposed startups to get funding through the POTRAZ Innovation Drive fund. In light of that, POTRAZ decided to do workshops that help the emerging and aspiring startups to come up with innovative ideas. Speaking about the lack of innovation, POTRAZ director general, Gift Machengete said;

Most applications are failing to make it during evaluation due to several reasons, including the failure of the applications to bring out innovativeness in the proposals. Only a handful of applicants have been able to access funding under the (ICT Innovation) Drive. This has resulted in the ICT Innovation Drive failing to achieve its intended objective of motivating our youths to innovate to their fullest potential

In many ways I agree with POTRAZ. Many startups that are emerging in Zimbabwe are not really innovative. Being innovative means coming up with an idea that solves a problem and that will eventually derive economic value to investors.  At one end if they have innovative ideas, the idea will lack a business case. Or if an idea has a business case, it won’t be an innovative one, but just an already existing solution being done poorly by someone.

Maybe the problem is not startups

We can talk about the failure of the startups to come up with innovative ideas but maybe the problem is with POTRAZ. Maybe the requirements of winning funding were not really clearly expressed by the telecoms regulator. Did POTRAZ clearly express that the Innovation Drive is open for established startups (those already having operational ideas) or emerging startups (those still developing their idea)? No, it’s not clear. On who can apply for funding from the Drive, POTRAZ says;

Any ICT Innovators or start-ups that have brilliant innovations or solutions that have the potential to revolutionize its target market and/or drastically change the lives of Zimbabweans and the economy as a whole.

So, there is a need to for POTRAZ to be clear on who is really needed. Is it the idea or the startup? If the funding is open for every startup then I’m sure there are established startups that are in dire need of funding and who are deserving of such funding.

Probably adjudicators (for the Innovation Fund) are not open-minded enough to accept radical ideas. At the end of the day, startups with radical ideas are not funded. (you can take a look at the startups that got funding, there didn’t really present “WOW!” ideas).

Well, in the startup world good startup ideas initially sound like bad ideas. It’s the good ideas that look like long shots that become successes. Good ideas that look like good ideas are already being worked on by big companies or others.

Startups are in the business of coming up the unthinkable leftovers (ideas). Facebook, which started as startup initially looked like a site for college students to waste time is now the world’s largest media company. Is POTRAZ giving such startups or people with radical innovations a chance?

It’s also important to know how POTRAZ defines startups so that startups know what’s really needed of them. Some people think that having an idea is equal to having a startup. One can present a splendid idea, but it may not be financially rewarding, which is not appealing to POTRAZ as I understand.


  1. traldo

    Waal ,it sounds a good advice and hope it reaches intended beneficiaries.

  2. Churays

    These men vakadya majiggies ema innovators..lol
    I am was in dire need of funding inorder to continue developing a blockchain content publication platform.I applied for funding but got no response from their office and their comments are just well a sign of lower IQ and AQ in their hierarchies else all blockchain proposals sent there cud HV had at least 20 selected.
    We expressed that the development phase was costly and required a lot of capital commitment and support from legislation.
    We are funding it on our own and will probably move…
    I think the idea of immutable, distributed,press and media distribution freaked them out since we are aiming at putting ZBC out of business essentially…it so shocking & also passê to still have a one broadcaster and expect over 300000 artists including book producers to get an income whilst they are in arrears even for existing artists which are currently factored into the system…
    Maybe it’s the Cryptography or The cryptocurrency or the idea of an information driven currency for an information age that they can’t handle whilst they fail at coming up with a stable currency system which I also factored in…
    Honestly… the first chance that I get to export the product when the prototype get ready, i’m out…

    1. tinm@n

      Sorry to burst your bubble but it has nothing to do with ZBC being under threat by your super awesome idea that will put them out of business.

      Maybe their ignorance over the subject or maybe even your inadequate articulation of the business model

      Either way, it’s good to hear you haven’t given up. If it’s worth its salt, we will hear about you.

      Good luck!

  3. munhumutapa XXII

    I think the process of attracting the innovators was not so proper. You cant do a “tender-approach” to innovation. It doesn’t work. This is supposed to be a continuous process. The Israeli model is the best one to look at from my point of view. There is an office permanently stationed to deal with innovation. The rules of the game are very clearly spelt out to ensure delivery. The more disruptive a submission the more likely it can be considered an innovation, if the people assessing are up to scratch, NOT just university lecturers.

    Also, it was not defined whether or not a prototype was a requirement. It was not defined wo will own the solution after it was funded by Potraz. It was not defined what markets the innovation is supposed to target. All these things plus more are required for the selection of the adjudication teams.

  4. mr-lee

    There are a lot of factors wrong with this innovation drive and chief among them is offering loans to start-ups. This is a big problem. I will never take a loan in whatever form to fund my start-up, in the same manner that I would not look for angel investors. This is risky for a young start-up because a lot of start-ups require business models that take up to five years to generate meaningful profit. But the investors will turn to loan sharks.

    This money and the model should have been given out in other ways. its just that our government is broke, but a better way should be found, because this loans thing is bad for start-ups.

  5. Anonymous

    What is POTRAZ’s JOB and why do they ALWAYS seem to overstep their boundaries ?