Startup snapshot: ‘Collaboration is the new innovation,’ says Zimbabwean incubator CEO

Constantine Nyanzero

Zimbabwe-based B2C Coworking is a business accelerator and incubator, while also acting as a coworking space. Founder Constantine Nyanzero answers our questions.

1. Give us your elevator pitch.

B2C Coworking is a Zimbabwean business accelerator, incubator and coworking space, offering a full suite of entrepreneurial services for both those starting up and those looking to reinvent themselves. We help startups and established businesses develop, launch and grow – while strengthening and diversifying the local economy, thinking globally and acting locally in communities we work in.

Our mandate is to unlock the full potential of diverse and ambitious entrepreneurs to produce a high level of economic return for the state in quality jobs, company growth, and wealth creation. We provide high-impact assistance to diverse entrepreneurs and small-businesses owners, working one-on-one to establish and achieve value-creating milestones of growth, all the while working to increase the visibility and reputation of Zimbabwe as an innovation and entrepreneurial destination.

2. How did you finance your startup?

It was a mixture of testing and leveraging partnerships, but most importantly figuring out who to get involved at the right time. Old Mutual was the first partner we approached when we started out, as they have a lot of property across the city and country. We convinced them over a six-month period that investing in a space for young people and innovation is good business. They handed us a three-year lease agreement, rent-free, to test out the theory we had about enterprise development. Dr Mungai Lenneiye, the founder of Udugu Institute, our parent company, funded the first furniture and fixings we had in the space.

We also partnered with TelOne, the local state-owned internet service provider and they have provided internet for the past two years. These partnerships replaced the biggest costs that spaces like B2C suffer from.

3. If you were given US$1m to invest in your company now, where would it go?

The money would go into expansion of our two main focus areas: affordable, collaborative and quality workspaces for Africa’s young people; and robust enterprise development programmes. By coupling these two we will be able to provide holistic, long-term support for startups throughout their journey from idea to market. Our quick five-year plan is to have the largest network of IACs (incubators, accelerators and coworking spaces) across sub-Saharan Africa.

4. What risks does your business face?

Stagnancy; our biggest threat is stagnancy. Competition from other coworking spaces is actually a stimulant and not a threat. Our main focus is to continue crafting processes that take entrepreneurs from idea to market in the quickest and most seamless manner possible, in an ever-changing environment. My job is to continuously find companies and establishments that are looking to innovate their products and processes. This will be an edge that will keep us ahead of similar establishments in our industry. The moment we become stagnant, we will be out of business.

5. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?

Marketing has been our biggest challenge. Capacity wise, the team did not have people who were used to doing this naturally. However, we have used our ability to provide insight into local emerging technologies and trends, identify clear economic returns for the companies we partner with, develop strong talent pipelines, work with industry-focused mentors, and leverage various corporate resources. These have been our unique selling points. We have also engaged a PR team to help us put our best foot forward.

6. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

The greatest entrepreneurial moment has always been convincing Old Mutual that investing in the young people will be their cornerstone investment in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Bringing the various elements together, including our tenancy and partnerships, to build our ecosystem is the continued secret sauce that keeps me enterprising.

7. Tell us about your biggest mistake, and what you’ve learnt from it?

The biggest mistake I ever made was to think I had all the answers to enterprise development. In the first year this was invalidated. I quickly learnt that entrepreneurship requires an ecosystem that is adequately oiled. I also realised that if you build anything on the continent, it has to scale beyond borders; and to do this you have to think globally, act locally but most importantly ‘speak African’.

We have benefitted as a business from the partnerships and relationships we have established across the continent and beyond. When we started out, we thought we could do it all alone and we have learnt that on this continent collaboration is the new innovation.