We’ve all heard about business plans scribbled out on napkins over long lunches in low rent cafes, but that’s nothing. Nothing could be crazier than trying to start a business on a bus. Especially one that’s travelling thousands of kilometres around southern Africa.

Yet that’s exactly why the AMPION Venture Bus works: it throws a team of entrepreneurs into an unfamiliar setting in which they’ve given accelerated courses in planning and development and challenged to come up with a company by the end of the ride. To find out what that’s like, htxt.africa has teamed up with the organisers to publish these exclusive diaries from the journey. You can read the complete journey blog here.

Today’s post is written by Netia A. McCray, founder and executive director of Mbadika

I’ve only been with the AMPION Bus Tour of Southern Africa for officially 24 hours and it is quite clear that the motto for this trip will be “Sink or Swim”. In the majority of situations, this would be a cause of concern. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I would expect nothing less of a Bus Tour that aims to start in Harare, Zimbabwe and cover over 2,500km and four countries in order to end in Cape Town, South Africa. Did I mention AMPION plans on accomplishing this in less than a week.

For those not indoctrinated, the AMPION Bus Tour (formerly known as the Startup Bus Africa) is a bus tour that provides aspiring young developers, designers, and business experts from around the world a hands-on experience with a region or sector of the African innovation and entrepreneurship landscape in less than a week.

At the present moment, the AMPION Bus Tour is introducing a busload of aspiring change-makers and leaders to the innovation and entrepreneurship landscape in Southern Africa. In particular, the innovation and entrepreneurship landscapes in the following countries; Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. For a social entrepreneur, such as myself, AMPION can be considered a crash course in “African Ingenuity”.

Day 0 of the AMPION Bus Tour began in Amazon Gardens in Harare, Zimbabwe, where participants were able to meet their colleagues for the next week over breakfast in a gorgeous outside patio. We participants were slowly mingling amongst themselves, the group was hurried off to the official first stop of the AMPION Bus Tour of Southern Africa; Mazinda Hub.

During Stop 1 of the AMPION Bus Tour, us participants engaged with this Harare-based innovation hub through an ice-breaker activity involving three 24-piece Puzzle Sets being mixed together in a bath and then redistributed, now lacking the necessary parts to complete the original image, amongst the three teams. Everyone quickly realized that in order to successfully complete at least one Puzzle Set, in less than 15 minutes, we would need to work with our fellow teams and barter for the pieces that we needed. One team did just that and joined forces in order to create a “Mega-Team” with enough pieces to assemble at least one complete puzzle.

After the ice-breaker activity, Muzinda Hub greeted my fellow AMPIONeers (AMPION+Pioneers=AMPIONeers) with a diverse panel sharing their experiences in implementing innovative solutions in Zimbabwe as well as Sub-Saharan Africa from working within a MMO (such as EcoNet), a NGO (such as UNICEF), a startup, and an organization (such as Muzinda Hub). During the panel, I was delighted to hear the experiences of the panel as well as my fellow AMPIONeers in terms of working in the Southern Africa Innovation and Entrepreneurship landscape. As someone whose undergraduate career can be characterized as learning about the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Sub-Saharan Africa from a handful of publications from a handful of donor organizations and international business journals, hearing straight from the source was invaluable.

The Muzinda Hub panel provided me with brand new insights on the challenges facing aspiring young innovators and entrepreneurs. Insights that will hopefully be transferred to the rest of the Mbadika team and our approach to product design and development with young innovators and entrepreneurs in mind.

Nevertheless, as soon as it began, we had to leave Muzinda Hub and continue towards Stop 2. Well, continue towards Stop 2 while experiencing a tour of Harare by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority. During our bus tour of Harare, we were lucky enough to view the Presidential Palace (in my humble opinion, Presidential Residence sounds too informal as a name for the residence of Zimbabwe’s 90 yr old President Robert Mugabe. However, as soon as we passed the Presidential Palace, we had arrived at Stop 2; HyperCube Hub.

On this stop, I had to switch gears from an AMPION Participant to an AMPION Speaker as I introduced the AMPIONeers to the process of product design and development via the IDEO HCD Method (Human-Centered Design Method).

After some hesitations, I felt the group began to slowly warm towards the activity and actively engage in the mini-activities.

As my first mini-workshop in Zimbabwe, I must there were a few technical difficulties. Nevertheless, I feel that every participant gained at least a new product design and development tool to use over the upcoming week in order to turn their solution to the challenges facing themselves and their communities into reality.

Once again, as soon as we arrived, we were once again whisked away to our final stop for the evening…otherwise known as Stop 3: Emerging Ideas.

In the Celebration Center ‘Basement’, Emerging Ideas hosts Pitch Nights for aspiring young innovators and entrepreneurs in Harare to pitch their idea in order to gain one of the following in return; funding, helpful criticisms, or hurtful criticism (the Founder’s words, not mine). As the night was getting long, we were fortunate that the atmosphere was more relaxed than during the previous activity. Or perhaps it was the simple fact that I was no longer required to provide instruction while suffering from jet lag. Whatever the case, I thoroughly enjoyed myself in the “Basement” and based on the game of pool I played with my fellow AMPIONeers, I believe they enjoyed themselves as well.

The night ended with us re-boarding the AMPION Bus, headed to the Zimbabwe-Botswana border. Now, I write as we approach the border. It seems strange to be surrounded by absolute darkness for miles, but its been this way for approximately 2 ½ hours and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

Therefore, I must bid you all good night. I must gather my strength for Pitch Day tomorrow morning.

[Image – Last year’s Startup Bus in Johannesburg (the name has changed, same organisation though)]