Founders Spotlight: Onthatile Maswibilili (Co-Founder,Innovateium)

A chance encounter between three individuals during a hackathon led to the inception of Innovateium, a software development firm with a mission to digitally transform industries in Botswana. I caught up with one of the cofounders of Innovateium, Onthatile, to discuss the birth of the startup, his views of hackathons, Innovateium's future goals, and much more!

In your own words, please tell us who Onthatile Maswibilili is

I graduated with my degree in Metallurgy in Volgograd, Russia. Growing up in a mining town (Selebi Phikwe) influenced me to choose that field of study. I understood the value of that field. A couple of family members also told me it leads to great career options too.

Your background is in Metallurgical Engineering. Please take us through the journey that ends with you being co-founder of a tech startup

I have been passionate about technology from a young age. If I were to pinpoint when and how that started I would say around 2009. I used to watch sci-fi movies and series (2008 Knight Rider, Iron man & GI Joe come to light). As much as I was a student of science, the way all this tied back to science was fascinating to me, and building something that was impossible seemed like the greatest feat that one could achieve and I wanted that. Although I did metallurgy, this was more of a realistic choice because the career landscape at the time had a lot of unemployed IT graduates so I decided to study metallurgy. I excelled and graduated with a cumulative GPA of 4.67. During my free time, I’d use the internet to learn to code in different programming languages and technologies i.e. C++, Objective C, Swift, Java, JavaScript, SQLite, HTML, and CSS. One of the first things I wrote was an algorithm that solves Sudoku logically. This was a great achievement personally, especially because I could visualize the solution in my head and turn that into working code. 

Post-graduation, I came back home looking for a job in my field. That proved to be difficult because it was after BCL and Pula Steel had shut down operations so a lot of people were out of their jobs and getting an intern position was a challenge. This meant having to make do with my existing skillset. I continued with my passion to code. I learned some more modern frameworks and languages(React & Kotlin) just to boost my speed at development. I also did some graphic design on the side to design UI icons. It turned out to actually be a great idea because I could easily write logic and design the UI to build an overall great user experience. I did freelancing developing websites and mobile apps and working on my own personal projects. Come 2021 I joined the then first Botswana Innovation Hub hackathon to develop the GovApp. We got a prize for the second position. It was a great achievement for us, especially because we didn’t know each other and had met for the first time just before the registration deadline. One of my team members here was one of the people I co-founded Innovateium with.

Please tell us more about your startup, Innovateium?

Innovateium was founded by 3 individuals during the ABSA hackathon. This was Brandon Botshelo Tidimalo, Nametso Matenge, and myself. We develop world-class quality software. Mobile apps, Desktop apps, web apps, you name it. As the co-founders, we are well versed in a vast array of technologies. This allows us to really go all out and develop some of the best solutions out there.

What was the motivation for starting Innovateium?

Seeing what we can do even in the time constraints of a hackathon was the biggest motivation. Absa had a requirement for the top 3 teams to register as companies so that fast-tracked things.

What challenges have you faced executing the core mandates of Innovateium as a business?

Just like any startup, I'd say we’ve had financial challenges.

How have you been trying to surmount those challenges?

We have diversified our income stream to not only rely on software development. We have also made partnerships that would make it easy for us to get investors.

Innovateium recently won the ABSA Botswana Hackathon. Please tell us more about that

That was an exciting turning point for us and the very first big win for us as a company. It gave us a platform to showcase some of our best work under tight time constraints. We would go on to win another BDIH hackathon in November. This has given us the opportunity to contract with the government to develop online services.

There are polarized opinions in the Botswana developers’ community about hackathons with some seeing them as exploitation of participants’ intellectual property while others see them as an opportunity for developers to be involved in large and impactful projects in both the public and private sector. What is your stance on that topic?

I’d say they give everyone an equal opportunity to do their best work. There are no requirements. If you can code, then you can join. You don’t have to be a company. These opportunities so far have only been available to Batswana. So in a way, the only documentation you need is your ID. By joining in you get to challenge yourself to do your best work. As the host, you also get to find the kind of solution you’d like to have. This is how you get the best solution.

What are your goals for Innovateium in the next 3-5 years?

Innovation across different sectors of the economy i.e. mining, tourism, manufacturing, health. We are after all a company founded with the mission to digitally transform industries and help Batswana embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

What has been the proudest moment of your entrepreneurial journey so far?

The ease of navigating the corporate space and making partnerships both locally and internationally. Something that seemed like a challenge before the pandemic.

What’s something you know now that you wish you knew earlier in entrepreneurship?

To have a goal and clear vision of where you want to go. 

If any, what is the best advice you have received in your career?

”Sometimes it only takes showing up in time as much as it does hard work”-Zinzi Letsididi 

Is there anything you would like to share with our readers regarding any exciting products or ventures Innovateium is launching in the near future?

A lot of it is still under development and nondisclosure. Our own internal products should be market-ready by the third quarter.

What advice can you give to aspiring tech innovators who want to also embark on the entrepreneurship path? 

Challenge yourselves. The ball is in your court. There are opportunities out there that can take you to greater heights. And it only takes showing up for these opportunities to be available to you.

Lastly, please share with our readers where you can be reached if they are interested in getting in touch

Personally, ’owashe’ is my handle for all my social media pages LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Search and you’ll find me there. You can also contact us through our website:

NB: Interview has been slightly edited for clarity

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