South Africa: How the Barn Is Helping Khayelitsha's Entrepreneurs

Fezeka Mavuso in the Bandwidth Barn, a hub for entrepreneurs in Khayelitsha.

"We wanted local entrepreneurs to have an office space where they can grow their businesses, where they can hold business meetings, a professional space where we promote the use of technology in business in the townships." This is how Fezeka Mavuso describes the Khayelitsha Bandwidth Barn, a hub in Lookout Hill, Khayelitsha for entrepreneurs.

With Khayelitsha-based business like the 18 Gangster Museum, Discover iKasi and ABCD Concepts using their services, the Bandwidth Barn is the first of its kind in the township.

The Barn is run by the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CITI), a non-profit company. Its aim is to drive "technology inclusiveness" which means they want to make technology accessible to more people. It is mainly funded by the City of Cape Town and the provincial government.

This property used to be a hall, but it was converted into a township tech hub in 2015. "When we came to Khayelitsha, one of the challenges we faced is that we could not attract tech entrepreneurs. So we had to find out what the reason was," said Mavuso, who manages the Barn. "We were looking for programmers, coders and anyone who has a technology business."

Mavuso said Khayelitsha has a multitude of informal traders. "When you talk about technology to them it's like you are talking about something foreign," she said. "But they have got technology tools in their hands. A smartphone is technology: it has Whatsapp, Facebook, those simple tools that one can use for their business. But they do not know about this. We are running digital training to teach these things, even basic things like assisting them in creating an email account, and how to send an email."

The Barn has a lab with 40 computers which are used for teaching basic literacy courses. There is also a skills development section where they train entrepreneurs about IT, and a recently added gaming section for online gaming which caters for children aged nine to 16. Then there is the office space where people can work and have meetings. It has a lounge area, and people can bring their laptops and connect to WiFi.

For two years the Barn offered its services free. Today it's still a bargain at R500 per month, including internet access. Also on offer are printing services, administrative support, help with branding, marketing, financing and crowdfunding.

Entrepreneurs who join the Barn must have registered, operational and legally compliant businesses.

Mavuso said that though they would love to have Barns in other townships, at the moment they are focused on growing the current Khayelitsha branch.

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