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New Innovation Fund Committee to ‘hit ground

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The implementation of the Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) Fund is expected to breathe life into stifled startups in the innovation sector that have over the years been challenged by lack of funding. Minister for Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr Alfred Madigela last week urged the newly elected Botswana Innovation Fund Committee members to hit the ground running in ensuring that they commit the first grants during the current financial year. The committee that consists of members nominated from academia, business, private and public sector include; Prof David Norris of the University of Botswana, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, Dr George Matllho of the Botswana Vaccine Institute and Oteng Sebonego of NORSAD.

Members of the committee have a crucial oversight role in the Fund’s establishment and implementation, while BIH will serve as the secretariat. The purpose of the special fund is to support entrepreneurs by providing grand funding to deserving projects in the innovation space. According to Dr Madigela, funding of innovation has become a pre-requisite to achieving the solutions and products that are beneficial to society. “Government is spearheading the drive to use innovation as a trajectory for economic growth. To this end the establishment of the Innovation Fund would assist to close the gap in early stage financing for key projects of national importance,” Dr Madigela said at the launch of the Fund Committee.

Government has set aside an amount of P12 million to be used for funding projects in the current financial year. The grants call, according to Dr Madigela shall be accessed through competitive calls advertised to the public to allow submission of proposals. “We have put in place robust governance framework to allow evaluation and awards from this Fund. The oversight committee is the main structure that will ensure delivery on the objectives of the Fund,” Dr Madigela said. The Fund’s grant scheme is expected to follow an annual plan approved for implementations each year with agreed set targets. The criteria for funding shall take into consideration several factors including; intellectual property, sustainability and social impact.

In addition, the Fund’s guidelines will provide details of eligible and non-eligible costs. Companies registered with the BIH are advised to heed the call when the first call for proposals for funding of competitive innovation projects is made soon. According to Madigela, the turnaround times for submission will vary but ideally it should be between four to six weeks, for example, from submission of full application to receiving feedback. Upon awards, the grants disbursements shall be based on milestones.

Funding framework addresses: Gap closing support initiatives; Innovation funding Procurement of innovative products and services Facilitating venture capital and angel funding networks Crating an appetite for investments into new innovative solutions from the corporate entities and general public Cultivating a spirit of innovation in the nation

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‘Manufacturing holds key to economic growth’

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Barclays bank’s economist Naledi Madala has urged the country to consider manufacturing, as a key tailwind to drive the economy and reduce inequality.

She was speaking at a gathering organised by the bank which focused on economic outlook for 2019. “We should not make a mistake of leapfrogging without manufacturing,” said Madala, lamenting that the country’s diversification remains a pipeline dream, as the diamond is still the economy’s mainstay. She bemoaned that mining activities in the country could not spring forward diversification, though non-mining GDP has been steady over the years.

“Extractive industries are not good stepping stones for diversification, the sector does not prepare us for the next step,” said Madala at the Barclays’ Economic Outlook Forum Review 2019. The economist further noted that government should confront head-on challenges of productivity and competitiveness to attract the much needed Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Though diversification efforts continue to hit a brick wall, Madala said the country should expect increased activities in the mining sector hinged to ramp up in coal production in the year ahead.

She also implored government to consider a welcoming attitude towards foreign investors and generous tax incentives to businesses that set up in the country. Madala is also upbeat that the use of public private partnership model could also help diversify the economy coupled with privitisation. “Privitisation will offer opportunities for growth, through the renewed optimism from government, as business confidence has improved,” said Madala.

She implored the government and the business community to access what is going to drive and hinder growth highlighting that key headwinds to growth are income inequality, diversification challenge and productivity, among others. “The pace of poverty reduction has slowed down, while income inequality goes up,” said Madala

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MINISTER BEWAILS BAD REPAYMENT BY YOUTH

Keikantse Lesemela

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Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Culture Development, Tshekedi Khama has told parliament his ministry continues to face challenges on the repayment of Youth Development Fund (YDF) loans.

Recently presenting the budget to Parliament, Khama said this financial year the ministry has received a total of 2582 YDF applications and approved 983of them to the value of P98 million. He said the programme attracts a high level of interest from youth but the ministry is only limited to funding a maximum of 1200 youth projects annually due to budget limitations.

“However the greatest challenge for the Fund is the repayment of the loan component by the majority of the youth businesses. The youth have advanced number of challenges for this including high rentals for operating spaces, low market access owing to tight competition and limited production capacities,” said Tshekedi, adding that they continue to pursue beneficiaries to repay the loans.

Out of the 919 businesses funded 1058 jobs have been created. The minister highlighted that disbursements of funds will continue to be undertaken until the end of the financial year. “The YDF is currently under review in line with the pronouncement made by the President, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi in the State of the Nation Address, to improve beneficiaries through training, and encourage consortia and cooperatives,” said Tshekedi.

The ministry assists YDF beneficiaries in marketing their products and services through fairs and exhibitions. The ministry also runs entrepreneurship-training seminars for youth and in the past year 3692 young people were trained. Over 600 youth businesses attended fairs and exhibitions to market their products and services. Currently the ministry is collaborating with Local Enterprise Authority (LEA), First National Bank Botswana and Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) on training in entrepreneurship development and mentorship of YDF beneficiaries.

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