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Breaking New Ground

solomonSolomon Asante Dartey presents the functioning and experiences of a cutting-edge multimedia business incubator in Ghana

The Government of Ghana (GoG) has over the last decade made efforts to build a ‘knowledge-based economy’ and position Ghana as the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) hub of the West African sub-region. This vision was anchored in a national ICT for Accelerated Development policy in 2003 with the objective of engineering an ICT-led socio-economic development process. As a response to the national ICT for development agenda the Government received support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other development partners like the World Bank to set up a number of ICT programmes and projects in the country. Notable among these programmes is the Ghana Multimedia Incubator Centre (GMIC) established in 2005 under the Ministry of Communications (MoC) with support from the United Nations Development Programme.

Vision and Mission

The Ministry of Communications' vision for establishing the Ghana Multimedia Incubator Centre is to promote technological innovation, skilled business outsourcing, entrepreneurship and global competitiveness, making Ghana an Information Communication Hub in the sub-region of West Africa. It has a mission of promoting efficient use of the country’s limited resources in order to support practitioners engaged in all forms of creative industrial innovation and business outsourcing.

The GMIC - Concept and Structure

The Ghana Multimedia Incubator Centre which is the first of a series of Business Incubator programmes to be established by the Ministry of Communications (MoC) in Ghana, was set up in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Its presence provided the impetus for the Government's quest to help overcome technological and bureaucratic obstacles faced by technology start-ups, as well as provide affordable office space and business facilities. Most importantly, it provided advisory, training/coaching services, management and marketing support, business mentorship services, linkages to research facilities and access to capital, thereby greatly enhancing the chances of success of Ghanaian early-stage technology entrepreneurs.

The Incubator programme is today structured to ensure a progressive value-chain effect to overcome the challenges to the growth of the ICT industry in the country; namely, infrastructure and capital. It targets graduate students with innovative technological ideas with commercialisation potential, but who lack financial and technical support, and supports their technological and business development processes into viable products and services for the market. Tenants admitted into the Incubator programme are provided with structured support services. Through the Incubator's support services and industry partnerships, these start-ups are assisted to scale up their business concepts and produce viable market-oriented solutions. The innovative ICT products and solutions, some of which have won international awards and recognition in the business community include a vehicle tracking system, electronic campus and e-learning applications, interactive science educational software, radio frequency identification (RFID) solutions, robotics and small business/home automation security systems and triple play technology (data, audio, video) through ordinary copper telephone lines.

In addition, some of the products have been piloted in several government ICT projects including the UNDP/GoG Community Information Centre (CIC) programme which seeks to reduce the digital divide by extending ICT to the unserved and underserved communities in the country. The GMIC, as an active member of the worldwide network of business incubators, has been instrumental in facilitating regional workshops which provide the platform to share ideas on best practices among countries.

Location and Management

Recognising that one of the main impediments to technology commercialisation in Ghana is the cost of real estate, the Government of Ghana refurbished an office building complex (the Ghana House) into a high-tech building - The Ghana Multimedia Centre. The ICT incubator is located on the sixth floor of the Ghana Multimedia Centre, in a prime location in the central business district of Accra. The GMIC facility is managed by a six-man management and administrative team comprising a programme director, office administrator, ICT systems administrator, a secretary and two programme associates for BPO and ICT training respectively. The incubator currently houses seventeen tenant companies who are involved in the development of various innovative ICT products and services.

Programme Delivery

Coaches and Mentors are very important in any incubation programme. One key factor to the high success rate of the GMIC is the network of coaches and mentors that have been assembled for the incubatees (tenants). Training and capacity development of the tenants are done by industry experts who provide coaching support, and experienced businessmen and women as mentors/consultants. Each one of them plays a key role in the development of the tenants through the various phases of their businesses. These programmes have been developed to ensure that tenants are well equipped to become entrepreneurs on completion and are able to employ, scale up their operations, increase their turnover and thereby create employment.

The Centre also has a structured module developed for training call centre and data entry operators as a way of responding to the quest of the Government of Ghana to provide skilled manpower for the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry and position Ghana as a preferred hub for BPO activities in the sub region. GMIC is internationally accredited as a Customer Operations Performance Centre. As a result, a memorandum of agreement has been established with the Ghana Telecom University College (GTUC) to equip trainees with an internationally recognized certification in call centre/data entry operations. The training curriculum is tailored to suit the requirement of the local BPO industries which have recruited and continue to recruit key operational staff from the pool of trainees graduating from the programme. The key achievement of GMIC can be outlined as follows:

Market-Oriented Product Development

Guided management, advisory and technology transfer services have resulted in the successful commercialisation of ten out of the seventeen tenant companies within the incubator. Products of these companies are currently out on the market in Ghana and neighbouring countries.

Regional and International Recognition

Active participation in regional and international programmes of the Business Incubation and Entrepreneurship development industry has resulted in international recognition of GMIC and the subsequent selection of the GMIC and Ghana to host the Africa regional workshops of the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA). NBIA is the world's leading organization advancing business incubation and entrepreneurship, providing thousands of professionals with information, education, advocacy platforms and networking resources to bring excellence to the process of assisting early-stage companies. The development of the tenant companies over the years has gained international recognition leading to the following international awards:

  • 2007 GK3 3rd International Innovation Award by the Malaysian Government to a tenant of the incubator

  • 2009 Global Innovators Contest by infoDev of the World Bank to a tenant of the Incubator

  • 2010 Global Student Entrepreneur Award by the Marion Kauffman Foundation, USA to a tenant of the Incubator

  • 2012 ‘Women and Girls in ICT’ award from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Government of Rwanda to a tenant of the incubator


Capacity Building

Recruitment, capacity building and placement of 250 data entry clerks across the country for the National Youth Employment Programme to support and operationalise the digitisation of the various district assemblies as an integral part of the government's district level decentralisation programme.

Capacity building and skills development of 1,800 youth across the country in the area of Data Entry, Call/Contact Centre operations and Medical Transcription to create the pool of skilled outsourcing agents to attract BPO opportunities into the country. Over 70 percent of these trained agents have been engaged by service companies such as Teletec, Platinum Technologies, GCNET, 4Sight, Datcom, ACS, Ecobank and MTN.

In collaboration with the National Information Technology Agency and Microsoft, over 300 ICT personnel selected from the various ministries, departments and agencies have received extensive capacity development at the GMIC leading to international certifications from Microsoft in recognition of their achievement.

Recruitment, training and deployment of all 1,200 data entry clerks used by the Electoral Commission of Ghana for electronic collection of electoral results during the 2008 and 2012 parliamentary and presidential elections.

Lessons and Conclusion

Four key lessons have been gained since the establishment of the GMIC: Firstly, business incubators present many resources and opportunities to start-ups. These sometimes come at no cost to the start-up. The risk is that, these do not form part of their budgets until they graduate. Then reality sets in. Mentors, coaches, and incubator managers should encourage, guide and hold incubator tenants accountable right from the start in planning and in the preparation of their books to take care of all expenses to avoid shocks in future.

Secondly, the idea that a business incubator is a place for business research and development sometime overrides the need to look critically at how sales and marketing are to be achieved. The success of any business is the numbers. Without sales (revenue), any business will ultimately fail. Start-ups that have taken time to take a critical look at these sections in their business plans have gone ahead to commercialise quicker.

The third lesson learned was that at the GMIC, the selection of our tenants is very critical. We strive to do as we say and expect the same from our tenants. We therefore have adopted a comprehensive assessment process as part of our application method that includes a face-to-face interview and we try to weed out that rugged applicant who is often un-coachable.

And last but not least, being a government programme, we have experienced a fair share of unexpected budget cuts and delays in the release of funds for programme activities. Such situations seriously affect programme deliverables and the development cycle of the incubator tenants.

As a way around, a lot of effort should be made to solicit support from other sources. In addition, there should be a lot of lobbying for the creation of a budget line to committed funds for incubation programmes. These create innovative mechanisms for consistent and committed support to the incubator and the tenants.

Ghana has always led the way in the region - be it in terms of independence, economic growth and stability. It is part of the DNA of the culture, and incubation practices in the country can only help to further the enormous strides we have taken in recent years.

We believe that the GMIC will continue to advance the creation of businesses and increase entrepreneurial success as well as individual opportunities aimed at strengthening communities within the country with the production of new technology products / services and, therein, new and expanded job opportunities in Ghana. The future looks bright as we continue to break new ground.

WORD ON THE GROUND

Tenants Perspectives of the GMIC Programme

Robotics Inc

“My name is Benjamin Nortey, founder and CEO of Robotics Industries and The Metro Institute of Innovation and Technology (MINT). Robotics Industries is a technology company developing robots for education, entertainment and consumer markets whilst The Metro Institute of Innovation and Technology focuses on innovative approaches to develop, use and introduce technologies (information, computing, telecommunication, science, and engineering) to enhance the learning processes of students, professionals, and technology enthusiasts. Being a beneficiary of the Ghana Multimedia Incubator Centre I have had the opportunity to receive support in many areas including office space and advisory services that have helped me grow my ideas, making my dream come true. I have been able to create a primetime television educational programme and a market in robotics technology in Ghana, this being the first and a road not travelled by many in this part of the world.”

Real IT Solutions Ltd

“We attribute most of our successes as an education software development company in Ghana to the opportunities we've had as tenants of the Ghana Multimedia Incubator Centre. The incubator provided a fully furnished office with internet connectivity which eased the burden of finding huge capital to set up the company; these also enabled us to concentrate on development of our solution. The mentorship, coaching and training services offered by GMIC helped us set up our company structures and positioned us strongly to attract investors during the commercialisation stage of our business development. Today, Real IT Solutions is doing business in Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia and the Gambia.”
Published on 21-10-2013 12:56 by David Tee. 1103 page views

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