Towards a ‘Silicon Valley of the Pacific’: the PNG Digital ICT Cluster

Welcome,

The tech sector in Papua New Guinea is growing fast but is constrained by a skills gap. Business Advantage PNG profiles the PNG Digital ICT Cluster, which is helping local tech talent reach its goals.

The participants of the first Hack4Change event. Credit: PNG Digital ICT Cluster

Over the past six years, the PNG Digital ICT Cluster has been working hard to support and grow partnerships that aid in the development of what co-founder and Vice-President Priscilla Kevin describes as the ‘Silicon Valley of the Pacific’.

Kevin tells Business Advantage PNG that the not-for-profit group has partnered with some notable global programs. One is the US Department of State’s Global Innovation through Science and Technology, which seeks to empower young innovators to work on solutions that address development challenges.

Another is run by global software developer Switch Maven, which guarantees eight training spots for Cluster members who are conducting university studies in computer science and ICT-related fields. Participants in this program then get a contract with the company to work on local or global tech projects.

More than words

First place winners of this years Hackathon. Credit: PNG Digital ICT Cluster

The Cluster also organises events to encourage local tech talent.

Earlier this year, it hosted its first Hack4Change Bi-Annual Hackathon, an ‘event to bring out the best of innovators, including software engineers, to showcase their problem-solving skills and critical thinking supported by network of mentors,’ as Kevin describes it.

Seven teams, comprised of university students, mid-career ICT professionals and budding entrepreneurs, participated in projects that aimed to solve one or more of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals using ICT solutions.

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After the Hackathon, the Cluster was selected as a National Expert Partner and Online Juror for the UN World Summit Awards Program 2020, which showcases global innovations that look at digital solutions to improve society.

To further help Hackathon participants, ICT Digital Cluster partnered with local crowdfunding platform Invest in Me to offer three winning teams the opportunity to develop crowdfunding campaigns and run them for three months ‘to see the market viability of their idea and to attract some form of seed [funding] to help them start,’ Kevin says.

The 12 women who participated in the Hackathon also took part in last month’s Women ICT Frontier Initiative (WIFI) program, which aims to promote women’s entrepreneurship in Asia and the Pacific.

COVID challenges

ICT Entrepreneur, Priscilla Kevin.

Despite this year’s successes, the ICT Digital Cluster has had some setbacks due to COVID-19.

It’s signature conference, ‘Techinnovate – Sharing Innovation. Creating Our Future’, was postponed to the end of the year.

‘It may be cancelled fully to 2021, as COVID-19 has affected the rest of the year’s planning and funding,’ explains Kevin, an IT entrepreneur who also sits on the board of Bank South Pacific.

When the event does occur, however, she hopes the conference will showcase the growing innovation ecosystem in PNG, and the current innovations of its tech start-ups.

Opportunities

While it’s causing problems for events, COVID-19 has also highlighted skill gaps in the industry and shown there are opportunities for small tech firms, particularly for those developing cloud and video conferencing tools as well as other tech solutions.

To bridge those gaps and help local startups, Kevin says PNG needs to create a conducive environment.

This should include tax incentives, addressing ease-of-doing-business constraints and cost of the internet in PNG, and solving the challenge of how startups access funding. She also argues for more skills development and entrepreneurship programs, as well as incubation/accelerator programs for emerging sectors.

‘These environments can be supported further through relevant policies and legislations,’ she notes.

ICT Digital Cluster offers an annual membership. To learn more, visit: www.ictcluster.org.pg/membership

Comments

  1. Chris Apisai says

    Thank you Pricilla Kevin

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