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Author: Ray Mahlaka|

17 January 2014 00:52

South Africa's own Silicon Valley?

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Braamfontein’s poised for a high tech revolution. See gallery.

What once was a cluster of five derelict buildings in Juta Street, Braamfontein, and Inc, a popular night club which closed its doors in 2010, will soon get a new lease of technological life.

Braamfontein is to host the first large-scale tech hubs in Johannesburg.

The Joburg Centre for Software engineering (JSCE) at the University of Witwatersrand is driving the transformation of Braamfontein into a cutting edge technology precinct.

The idea of the tech hubs is to establish co-working spaces which will offer skills development opportunities, software and hardware design.

“People can come to create and collaborate in technology innovations. Coming out of those collaborations are ideas for new businesses and startups. The tech hubs will also run technology courses and events,” JSCE director Professor Barry Dwolatzky told Moneyweb.

JSCE plans to repurpose existing buildings that are owned by the University of Witwatersrand to host the tech hubs to save costs and “show what can be done with inner city Joburg buildings”.

Braamfontein’s location is favourable to play host, as it is at the heart of the economy and in close proximity to tertiary institutions such as the University of Johannesburg and University of Witwatersrand.

“Braamfontein is very connected with transport; it’s easy to get to. There are also lots of students who live in Braamfontein and it is close to companies that will buy digital content - the likes of banks and mining companies. There are a lot of customers for digital content, “says Dwolatzky.

The project called Tshimologong, a Sesotho word for ‘the place of new beginnings’, is poised to operate on a similar model like Silicon Valley, a place where the world's largest technology corporations are concentrated.  

While Dwolatzky is cautious to liken the planned tech hubs to Silicon Valley, he says the Braamfontein innovation will create the same energy.

While the inner Johannesburg city is home to tech hubs, including Jozi Hub situated at 44 Stanely, The Open at the Maboneng Precinct and in Auckland Park UJ’s IntelliLab, Tshimologong is the biggest venture into tech hubs in the city, according to Dwolatzky.

Cost structure

The project to repurpose all five buildings will be to the tune of “R20 million to R40 million ”, with estimated costs of R5 million per building for renovations.

At the moment, one of the five buildings is operational and focuses on skills development and innovation of software and applications. This operational tech hub is in collaboration with Microsoft’s Windows 8 software which the apps the tech hub’s 15 interns produced for commercial purposes.

Skills development through the tech hubs is the main focus, as with the interns hired “the idea is to equip them with skills to get a job beyond the tech hubs and generate technology ideas so they can start their own businesses and become entrepreneurs,” explains Dwolatzky.

The tech hub plans rely largely on donations and collaboration with the private and public sector. Technology giant Microsoft and BBD, a software development company have pledged R2 million and R250 000 for the development of applications respectively.

However, internal funding from the University of Witwatersrand remains the main bank roller for the development of tech hubs.

Dwolatzky plans to transform the buildings that will host the tech hubs into green and environmentally sustainable buildings.

The green buildings will include a water recycling system and be off the grid, which will initially push costs for the tech hubs higher. He notes that the green and sustainable plans will only materialise at a much later stage.

The need for tech hubs

Managing Director of World Wide Worx Arthur Goldstuck says the idea of tech hubs in South Africa is new, while overseas they are popular. Goldstuck says there is a great need in South Africa for internet connectivity, thus “Tech hubs are necessary in providing those who don’t have internet connections”.

He also says there are places in Cape Town where free public Wi-Fi connections are available and thus the roll out of tech hubs will be a positive step for internet access in the country.

Deadlines

The start of 2014 will see major roll out of some of the plans for the tech hubs, including the renovations for the night club and the series of buildings for the tech hubs, subject to availability of funds.

“We will soon reach R5 million and we will start working at the club in the next few weeks,” he says. This deadline applies for the two buildings including a warehouse and founders square. The remaining two buildings renovations have started. 

Topics: Braamfontein, tech hub, technology precinct, University of Witwatersrand, Tshimologong, Silicon Valley



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