The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Accelerating Information Technology Innovation (MIT AITI) programme, hosted by Wits University and the Jo’burg Centre of Software Engineering (JCSE), concluded with the successful presentation of seven real-world mobile apps by the participating 30 students.
Professor Barry Dwolatzky, director of the JCSE, says that the outcome of the programme exceeded his expectations.

“Not only did we have more students enrol than anticipated, but the level of mobile application development, coupled with supporting business documentation was very impressive.”

Dwolatzky says the programme was initially intended to roll out in Cape Town; however, it was moved to Johannesburg at the last minute.

“This left only four weeks to plan the programme, but it was great for us as it proved to the international community that programmes like AITI can be run successfully in Johannesburg, which is undeniably South Africa’s business capital.”

The main objective of MIT’s AITI is to promote software development in emerging regions and cultivate young technology entrepreneurs.

One of the MIT instructors, Mahlet Woldeyes, says that AITI partners with local universities globally to hold advanced courses in entrepreneurship and ICT.

“Together with the host university we aim to build networks of local individuals that will stimulate student innovation including mentors, seed funders and technology leaders.”
According to Woldeyes, MIT sends student-led instructor teams to developing regions through its summer AITI programme.

“In most cases, AITI and Google partner with a host university for three to five years, offering at least one intensive course per year, and working with the host university to develop skills in mobile technologies, software development, and entrepreneurship. It is our hope that the MIT AITI South Africa programme will be back again at Wits University next year.”

The students developed seven real-world mobile apps or Web sites. Some of the applications developed include a realtime translation app; an online platform that promotes African content (music, video, and literature) and artists; an optimised diet and meal planner, and shopping assistant app; a user generated, location-based, local business database, that contains useful information about business addresses, operating hours and reviews; and an inventory organisational and grocery list management app that gets smarter over time.

Dwolatzky says he found the approach refreshing.

“The majority of the apps will have a real impact on local communities. Of particular interest was the healthcare app that, if developed to its full potential, could make a huge impact for doctors, clinics and hospitals. It is this kind of innovation we need.”

He says that it was difficult to select the best as there were so many great apps developed.

“There is a definite appetite for this kind of programme. I like the fact that it developed not only the technical skills of the students, but also their business instincts, market research ability and capabilities to develop business plans incorporating all of the above.”