The first drone (unmanned air vehicle) startup accelerator programme in Africa was recently launched in Katlehong, in the City of Ekurhuleni, south-east of Johannesburg. The programme is being hosted by the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Rapid Incubator (CfERI) of the Ekurhuleni West Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College. This initial programme is a pilot of the concept, involving 13 startup companies. A second pilot programme will be launched in Limpopo this month.
“We’re hopeful that this programme will make an impact on the local drone industry, and grow it,” technology consulting and training company Mzansi Aerospace Technologies founder Victor Radebe told Engineering News & Mining Weekly. The idea for the accelerator was first promoted in this country by Radebe and his company.
“We have developed a programme that takes startups from an early stage (not the very beginning) and helps them reach the product-market-fit stage; it’s an accelerated programme, which takes 20 weeks,” he explained. “Product-market fit is when you have developed a product or service to the point that customers can use it, gain experience with it, and decide they want it, and demand for it is created.”
The programme is being supported by a several partners. The seed finance is being provided by the Small Enterprise Development Agency, and some money is also being provided by the National Youth Development Agency, but more funding is required. Application has been made to the City of Ekurhuleni and discussions are under way with the Gauteng provincial government. Other partners in the project include the Ekurhuleni West TVET College itself (its CfERI is the only such centre in Gauteng), UDH Group (an investment holding company), and Netherlands-based engineering and consultancy group Royal HaskoningDHV.
“We were contacted by the [accelerator programme] partners because they knew we used drones, both our own and others we contract in,” elucidated Royal HaskoningDHV South Africa chief commercial officer Salani Sithole. “They asked us if we would like to join this programme. We found the idea very interesting and agreed, especially as the programme includes training in coding.
“For us, drones are not a standalone capability,” he added. “They add to our data collecting, mapping and data analysis activities.” Royal HaskoningDHV currently uses drones in a wide range of applications. These include the mapping of flood zones, the infrared scanning of electrical systems, surveying difficult terrain, and examining the interiors of buildings that are unstable, condemned or otherwise unsafe, or are difficult to enter.
His company is providing expertise for the programme. Royal HaskoningDHV engineers will assist the startups; the company will provide access to its data to allow the startups to identify opportunities, besides providing contacts for the startups to its already existing customers.
The first pilot programme will be concluded by the end of June. “We hope that, out of the 13 start-ups in the programme, we’ll get three or four that will be able to scale up and employ 20 or more people,” reported Radebe. “After the two pilot projects are completed, we plan to roll out this programme in four more provinces for a total of six.”