The top floor reminds me of a drama studio I used to use when I was at college. It’s a vast, open space with a freshly poured floor and high false ceiling that cries out to be used in any way shape or form you see fit.
Want 500 people in to watch a conference stage? No problem. Need a space you can design and build a giant model robot? Easy. Want to put 50-odd young hackers and entrepreneurs through a city-sponsored business incubator that has one of the best views of downtown Joburg possible? It’s here.
Here is the Digital Innovation Zone – DIZ to its friends – and it’s the latest coworking space/tech hub to spring up in Braamfontein. It’s located in a disused warehouse on Smit Street that was – in its most recent incarnation – a school (the previous tenants cleared out over night without paying the rent). It’s not just hugely versatile, it also smells amazing. Bean There, the socially minded coffee chain, has its roastery in the same building.
DIZ has been opened and is currently in the middle of being equipped by Wits University and the Johannesburg Centre for Software Excellence. Right now, it’s a temporary home for the startups and programs (like HackJozi) which were being run out of the nearby Tshimologong precinct, but have been moved out while that area is under construction. Thanks to an influx of funds from IBM, the city and other partners Tshimologong is properly underway – but also unusable until around Christmas time.
JCSE director Professor Barry Dwolatzky, the driving force behind the creation of both Tshimologong and DIZ, says that if he can find long term backing for the new building he’d like to keep it as an ongoing resource once the main precinct has been finished. The large open space, big coworking area below and network of ready made classrooms would make it a perfect sister venue for longer term projects, he things. It would be similar in scope but subtly different in execution to the plans for Tshimologong.
As part of the wider Wits vision for the revitalisation of Braamfontein, he says, the more space for activities the better. Whether or not a partner can be found to fund it is a different matter.
Right now, the biggest problem in the area is bandwidth. One long term JCSE collaborator, the Microsoft App Factory, has temporarily relocated back to Bryanston until the network can be sorted out.
But ADSL issues haven’t stopped others moving in. As well as JCSE-run projects and groups of Wits students, two other firms have made DIZ their permanent home. High tech innovators Bushveld Labs, who create everything from robot orchestras to body-modding biochips to industrial-grade wireless networking solutions, have taken up residence in one office.
Next door, 3D print and design house Trobok Toys have a space from which it creates playthings for printing and runs regular Jozi 3D printing meetups. Together, the two firms are building a makerspace for DIZ users to prototype and play with hardware tools they might not otherwise have access to.
So what does it look like? Glad you asked…