Innovation of Africa by Africans

May 2020 News

Thirty-seven-year-old David Phume was born with an entrepreneurial spirit. The charismatic creative, who hails from Bryanston, Johannesburg, has never been afraid to dream big.

Phume’s interest is robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) and he’s determined to become a leader in this field on the African continent. And, if his track record is anything to go by, it won't be long before he has achieved his goal.

“It all started when I was 12 years old and was fortunate enough to be exposed to high-end animation software,” he says. Phume studied 3D animation at Boston Media House in Johannesburg, before graduating from a San Francisco-based animation school where his teachers included professionals from international studios such as Pixar, Reel FX and Sony Pictures Imageworks. He founded Penthouse Motion Pictures in 2005, a broadcast design and animation studio which has since gone on to win numerous creative accolades.

But Phume has always been one to look for new challenges and so he began studying robotics and AI online with leading EdTech platform Udacity. “Four years ago, I started a new journey in tech because I realised that most of Africa’s problems are due to lack of technology,” he says. “I went on to launch, a technology company that identifies problems in Africa and finds solutions through technology. It is founded on four pillars - to inspire, identify talent, nurture skills and innovate.

“And now we are working on a robotics challenge TV show for high school students and currently in negotiations with broadcasters; a School of Robotics and AI and an Innovation Lab.

“We have already started the process of identifying five students for the School of Robotics and AI who we are enrolling in our programme at no cost to them. The main courses are robotics engineering and AI programming. For those with no prior knowledge in computer programming, there are prerequisite courses on C++ and Python programming,” he explains.

“I want to do my part in ensuring that Africa becomes a technology powerhouse and within the next five years, I hope to have enrolled more than 5000 students across the continent in our robotics and AI programme.

“Robotics is a field that encapsulates many fundamental areas in technology, including computer science and AI. With AI clearly becoming man’s greatest and most powerful tool, it is important for all Africans to progress in technology with the goal of solving their biggest problem and that is economic slavery. Our health and poverty problems are a by-product of economic slavery and it is through technology that we can truly free ourselves,” he says.

Phume believes that Africa has a lot to contribute in this field: “The world is missing science through an African microscope and perspective. Africa should build a technological force that will advance technology through its own eyes and culture and not by copying others. This will ensure that technology has more dimension.”

He also believes that science and creativity go hand-in-hand and for this, he's also launched a tech-art studio as part of “Technology can be difficult and whenever we are faced with adversity, we want a sanctuary we can turn to which will remind us why we exist. Through our tech-art studio we create, collect, sell and donate art pieces that strongly embody Afrofuturism which is a cultural aesthetic, philosophy of science and philosophy of history that explores the developing intersection of African diaspora culture with technology. We are devotees of this philosophy as we want to exist in a technology powered Africa designed by ourselves.”

Phume’s partner in the business is Shelile ‘Gino’ Shelile, who has a post-graduate Diploma in Economics Journalism and a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and Media Studies from Rhodes University.

His goals echo Phume’s: “I want to position Africans as industry leaders in the tech and digital space. It is no longer enough to tell stories of greatness; we need to get to a point where we groom the greatness. We want to identify, nurture and develop African roboticists, scientists, tech entrepreneurs, Bitcoin babies, e-commerce evangelists and the coding cool cats. We do not want a seat at the table. We want to build the table!”

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