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Majoro urges SMMEs to innovate



MASERU – PRIME Minister Moeketsi Majoro says Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) should innovate to be sustainable and continue to create jobs. Speaking at the 16th Public-Private Consultative Forum last Thursday, Majoro said although SMMEs are the engine of Lesotho’s economic growth most remain beholden to the traditional ways of doing things. He warned that some might not survive if they don’t innovate and move with the changing times. One of the survival strategies, Majoro said, was for SMMEs to embrace new technologies that help in the production, marketing and distribution of goods and services. He pointed at how banks have harnessed the power of technology to deliver better services to their clients. This, he added, happened even as banks were cutting jobs as more functions were automated. “Look at the banking sector, some of you have not been to a brick and mortar bank in a long time but you continue to be served through your phones,” he said. He said instead of holding on to the old system banks embraced technology and used it to grow and sustain themselves. The prime minister said he was worried that most SMMEs are not using technology. Dr Thimothy Thamae, the Acting Coordinator at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub, said innovation hubs play a significant role in the emergence of new businesses. Dr Thamae said through the university’s innovation hub, over a hundred businesses in their infancy stage are getting mentorship and coaching. He said since its establishment, in 2018, the NUL Innovation Hub has had a lot of innovative products produced by Basotho youths. “We have a robotic machine that will be able to print designs on fabric, wood, and metal. This machine will come very handy especially for the big industries like the textile industry,” Dr Thamae said. He mentioned other products like the Covid-19 drug, Mohalalitoe soap bar and Milco investment cooperative society as part of many innovative products the university is engaged in. “If more investment can be directed to the innovation hub then we will see many more products produced locally.” He mentioned that research, incubation, acceleration and mass production are key in innovation. Research, he said, provides rare insights that other competitors do not have. “It provides an understanding of products at a molecular level and allows continuous improvement.” The incubation stage, he said, is the stage where they confirm the availability of raw materials needed to produce products and confirm that the production of the product can be up-scaled and have a market. “We are currently incubating 20-35 businesses at the university. Outside the university, we have up to 200 businesses that are also getting assistance with mentorship and coaching.” Acceleration, he said, is a stage that enables them to assist the business to move from a small business to a medium business. “We have learned the hard way previously by overlooking the governance structure of the business. Now it forms a critical part of the things that we look at, at this stage.” “We also look at the financial skills and the number of jobs created by the business.” Although several businesses are doing well, none has achieved the mass production level. “We have learned that starting small is a good thing, that we are investors ourselves and that every failure is a success as it presents us with a new opportunity,” Dr Thamae said. He added that soon they will be launching the second phase of the innovation hub that will assist businesses with seed funding, water and electricity amongst other things. Noomane Fehri, a former Minister of Digital Economy in Tunisia, said across Africa there is a rise in innovation hubs assisting and grooming new businesses. Lemohang Rakotsoane

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