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People are beginning to enjoy products of the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation hub in the markets. That is just the beginning. More products are coming. Those products which are already in the market will expand until they reach the four corners of the country—and beyond. Even better, there are plans to get the second, bigger, phase of the Hub.

Mosa has just bought Sebabatso and Molelloa yogurts and she finds them to have a “different” yet tastier feel to the ones imported elsewhere. Thabiso is using Mohalalitoe Natural Soap and he can’t stop marvelling at how “different” and moisturizing it is on his skin. Lineo has just paved with Mafikeng Stones and, to quote her, “this paving is “different” and amazing.” Maleshoane can’t stop talking about the “different” MacAli Sweets and Moleboheng is marvelling at the “different” Pasa Pencils.

(Join NUL Innovation Hub’s PhuthaLichaba, the Future Bank of the People, here: www.phuthalichaba.com/register).

Just two years in existence, the Hub is working with nearly 50 brands as we speak, creating a rare buzz by local products in the markets. Let’s listen to the story that may give you an idea why.

One day the hub is visited by a curious PhD student from South Africa. Her lengthy PhD study focuses on Incubation and Innovation Hubs across Southern Africa and what could be done to improve them. Based on her knowledge of Lesotho, no matter how little, she is convinced that she is going to share beautiful advices that will surely help the new hub to come to the level of other multi-million dollar hubs she came across all over Southern Africa.

She hasn’t seen the hub but, well, she already knows what to expect, after all, it is probably a poorly and less organised hub in Lesotho, trying its best to get along.

When she arrives at the Hub, she isn’t disappointed as she is referred to a newly refurbished old laundry building which may be nearly as old as the university itself. It is nothing like some of the fancy Innovation Hubs she came across in the the region, some of which looked like they were ready to fly.

After being given a complete tour, she leans back and says, “I thought I was going to teach you guys something. I am humbled to have been taught by you.”

She was hoping to find a group of “young entrepreneurs” sitting at the feet of “mentors” being given “entrepreneurship skills” in a series of never-ending “workshops.” After all, that’s what she saw in her tours all over Southern Africa and that was her understanding of what innovation or incubation hubs meant.

From the horse’s month, “instead I am immediately confronted with a series of mini-factories; with the occupants of each “factory” busy making products that are already being delivered to the markets in a manner that will put the most heavily financed Innovation Hubs in the region to shame.”

Then she asked, “what is your secret?”

The most beautiful thing about secrets is that they are not so secretive.

Here is the secret. The Hub understands what innovation is. How often have you come across people who have told you, “they say they are the Innovation Hub but the things they make there are not innovative”? A sizeable bunch of people have that view because they think innovation is creativity or invention.

They got it wrong!

If we were to describe innovation in just two words, we would describe it in a single equation.

Innovation = Mass Production.

Yes, it is either mass production of goods and services or the means to achieve such mass production. Let’s make an example. One of the most innovative companies in the world right now is considered to be Tesla, a little-known-in-this-part-of-the-world electric car company which now has a combined value of most of major car companies put together, including the likes of Toyota, VW and Daimler-Chrysler. But Tesla did not invent a car, they did not even invent an electric car.

They have come up with a way to “mass-produce” electric cars and that’s it.

It doesn’t matter what you mass produce, you will always realise that mass production is the hard part. It is not a one man mission, it is always something that needs a plenty of cooperation with people of different skills and backgrounds. And that’s what we call innovation. That’s why, if you understand what innovation is, you are surprised to come across phrases like, “he is so innovative.”

No individual can be innovative.

Africa is where it is, contributing only 1% of the world’s manufacturing because it hasn’t learned mass production of goods and services no matter what those goods and services are. Remember this simple truth next time. When you make a product, you are creative (inventive) if that product is new. When it is mass-produced, new or not new, your organisation (not you) is now on the path of innovation.

That’s what makes NUL Innovation Hub different. Every single business under the hub or working with the hub is being influenced to aim at mass production from day-one. But as they do, they also influenced to add a different feel or touch to the product itself.

(Join NUL Innovation Hub’s PhuthaLichaba, the Future Bank of the People, here: www.phuthalichaba.com/register)

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