By Simoniah Mashangoane

When we started out all we had was a concept, were going to be social entrepreneurs and we had what we thought was an innovative idea that would change the community media funding landscape. What we lacked were plans to convert that brilliant concept into profits. What we had at the time was a willingness to “go for it”.

Fast-forward seven months and we are nearing the end of a journey that has enabled us to not only embed our concept into a potentially profitable business model, but to build an organisation that would carry that concept.

One of the first lessons from the Jamlab Accelerator Programme was the importance of separating our business from our product. While the two are linked and related they are also separate. We needed to be able to speak about both as separate units. This meant that we had to quickly adapt our thinking and our planning. Once the two were separated we were able to structure our planning in a way that allowed us to progress at an “accelerated” pace.

It was firstly important to for us to set up a business through which multiple products could be introduced if needed, if our one idea failed the market test we should still be able, if we so wished, to develop other ideas through the same organisation. We invested a considerable amount of time and some capital in ensuring that our business is established. The most crucial lesson here came when our concept/product evolved. Since we have built our organisation or company around a broad sector, the evolution of our concept did not take us back to the drawing board where our business itself is concerned. We could focus on developing our ideas/product without worrying too much about whether that would lead to a possible dissolution of the organisation.

We were fortunate to have been selected to be part of the Jamlab Accelerator Programme within a few months of developing our concept. This saved us a great deal of time and money and helped us to avoid some common mistakes that some new entrepreneurs make. We avoided falling into the trap of spending too much time attempting to perfect our idea. We instead focused on determining/creating a need for that idea and developing that idea for the market. Our Jamlab facilitator assisted us to take our initial blue sky idea and mould it into a practical product that could be sold to our target market. From early on we were made to understand that our initial idea could change as we explored different business models and developed that idea into a prototype. The more practical questions were asked, the more our idea evolved.

The business model question is one that haunted us for months. We were made to understand that a brilliant product could fail if it was not linked to a suitable business model. With so many business models out there, selecting and adapting one to our needs and market for maximum profitability and scalability tops the list of our challenges as startup entrepreneurs.

We secondly learned the importance of knowing our customers. Understanding what their needs are, their willingness and ability to invest in fulfilling those needs. We also needed to understand how accessible our customers were to us and how accessible we would be to them.

These are just some of the important and practical lessons learned during our time on the accelerator programme that were beneficial to us. The structure of the programme itself is designed to allow you to learn by doing. Coupling the more practical demands of the accelerator with an accredited entrepreneurship course (Creating Media) gave us an opportunity to learn by doing. But it was also in some instances a baptism by fire, as hard lessons were learned in real time. Some of these hard lessons cost us time and sometimes money. But it was important for us to learn those lessons at such early stages. Those costs could have been more detrimental and more expensive had we learned them in the future, which we would have. The accelerator programme is intensive and demanding, everything is done in real time and not on hypotheticals and rhetoric. It requires a deep sense of self-accountability and dedication to your startup to complete the programme. The best part of the programme is being part of a cohort that believes in each other’s abilities and is willing to be both encouraging and give honest critique. We are each other’s cheerleaders.

We are now ready to walk out of this with a costed strategy/plan, a viable business model, an idea that has been tested and validated by the market and a network of startup entrepreneurs who have an intimate understanding of our business

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