If you’re downtown in Joburg today, make sure you stop by the Tshimologong Innovation Precinct on Juta Street in Braamfontein. There’s a slightly carnival atmosphere about the place. After some ten years of ambition and three years of hard planning, fundraising and building, Tshimologong is officially opening its doors.
The name Tshimologong is Setswana for “new beginnings”. Professor Barry Dwolatzky of Wits University and the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) – who’s been the driving visionary behind the precinct development – says that it’s no coincidence the grand opening is being held on the festival of new beginnings, Spring Day.
“This represents a new beginning for Wits relationship with Braamfontein, and is part of a program of rejuvenation in the area,” Dwolatzky said at the launch. The Precinct covers the city block that includes the old Inc nightclub, and is believed to have cost in the region of R40m for the development.
The multi-million rand centre will serve several purposes. At its core is a startup incubator and shared workspace. Dwolatzky says that there’s space for around 400 members and 61 startups, who will be charged R1 500 per month per head.
Some seats will be sponsored. The City of Johannesburg, for example, is sponsoring 100 seats per year through its initiatives like #HackJozi and GeoJozi.
The Tshimologong Precinct also houses a makerspace with access to 3D printers and CNC machines. This is fundamental to the vision of the centre, says Dwolatzky, who cites the principles fourth “digital” industrial revolution.
“When we speak about digital, we speak about three things,” Dwolatzky says, “Hardware, software and content and how they come together in an increasingly connected world. What characterises digital innovation is that people keep on learning.”
As far as learning goes, members at Tshimologong will get access to skills training facilities. There’s also a large room for the Gauteng provincial government’s Design And Validation (DAV) centre. In this room, entrepreneurs will be able to present ideas directly to government departments responsible for procurement. This space can be reconfigured easily, says Dwolatzky, so it could be an office or a classroom-style set-up for demonstrations.
Key funding partners with Wits and the Johannesburg Centre for Software Excellence (JCSE) in the development of Tshimologong have been the City of Joburg, Microsoft, Teraco, the Airports Company of South Africa and Telkom. The latter is also funding a R30m chair in digital business studies. Last week, IBM opened its R700m Research Lab in the same precinct.