National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub has achieved a significant milestone by securing M1.9 million funding from the Lesotho Competitiveness and Financial Inclusion (CAFI) Project.
This project came to fruition through the government of Lesotho’s successful loan application from the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank, with a clear objective of improving access to business support services and financial products for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs, with a focus on women and youth.
The CAFI Project aims to achieve various key indicators, including increasing the number of women-owned and youth-owned enterprises benefiting from private sector initiatives, enhancing the financing available to women-owned enterprises, and driving growth in both revenue and employment for these businesses.
Within Subcomponent 2.1, the CAFI Project will strengthen Lesotho’s emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem and facilitate early-stage financing for innovative SMEs, particularly those led by youth and women. This involves establishing an Entrepreneurship Hub and Seed Financing Facility to improve the quality and breadth of integrated start-up business support services, ultimately providing better early-stage financing opportunities. One of the primary goals is the incubation of up to 500 start-ups and innovative SMEs over five years.
According to the Coordinator of the NUL Innovation Hub, Dr. Pulane Nkhabutlane, in pursuit of this goal, Enterprise Support Organizations (ESOs) were invited to submit their applications to incubate ten entrepreneurs or startups per cohort, with a total of five cohorts. The NUL Innovation Hub not only applied but also became one of the nine finalists selected for this initiative.
She says that after the shortlisting, representatives from the NUL Innovation Hub underwent a comprehensive training program held in Sandton, Gauteng, South Africa, from September 18th to 22nd, 2023. This training equipped ESOs with the skills needed to run Innovation Hubs effectively and help entrepreneurs achieve their goals. The week of learning involved the sharing of valuable insights, allowing all nine ESOs to further refine their proposals.
Subsequently, proposals were submitted on September 28th, 2023, setting the stage for the next phase of the selection process. On September 3rd, 2023, each ESO presented their proposal to a panel of experts appointed by the CAFI Project. The evaluation process culminated in the results, which were officially disclosed on Friday, September 6th, 2023. The NUL Innovation Hub was pleased to secure a spot among the top five ESOs.
Dr. Nkhabutlane further indicated that in recognition of this achievement, NUL Innovation Hub received $100,000 in funding. A significant portion, 70% of this allocation, is designated for the direct benefit of startups. Each of the first 10 startups selected for incubation by the NUL Innovation Hub will receive $7,000. The remaining $30,000 will be used by the Hub to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem and provide valuable assistance to emerging entrepreneurs. The NUL Innovation Hub now embarks on its mission to nurture and empower the next generation of business leaders through the Lesotho Competitiveness and Financial Inclusion (CAFI) Project.