Entrepreneurs working to develop their platforms and products
Tech Coming To Africa
An African digital renaissance has begun and its trademark is its grassroots basis. If you look at other sectors of the African economy, such as mining or agribusiness, you’ll notice the expertise imported with the wealth being exported. Take a look at Africa’s 700 million plus mobile subscribers and you’ll see that they are using more applications and services that are developed locally.
One of the main sources of locally developed applications is the growing technology hubs springing up across Africa. In a recent project carried out for the Botswana Innovation Hub, we worked with two of the longer established labs, the research arm of *iHub_in Kenya and BongoHive in Zambia, to create a map of tech hubs. To our surprise, there are now around 90 tech hubs across the continent, and more than half of Africa economies have at least one. South Africa was the first to make it into double figures but other countries are not far behind. Indeed, hubs such as MEST in Ghana, the Co-creation hub in Nigeria or *iHub_ in Kenya are widely regarded as models, and the latter was recently named by Fast Company magazine as one of the most innovative companies. It has impressed the Kenyan government enough for it to commit to establishing a tech hub in each of its 47 counties.
Growing Africas Tech Economy
As might be expected, tech hubs vary a lot in their scale, objectives and business models. Some, like Smart Xchange in South Africa, aspire to be fully-fledged ICT business incubators, offering office space for start-ups to grow. Most, like Hive CoLab in Uganda, might be better described as pre-incubators, or co-working spaces, where entrepreneurs come together to shape and refine business ideas. Some, like Rlabs or Jokkolabs, seek to grow through a franchise model, while others look to external seed funding from commercial partners, such as the Nokia Greenhouse Nairobi or from non-for-profits, such as infoDev’s mobile applications labs (mLabs) in Nairobi and Pretoria. Other tech hubs begin life in universities, like the iLab at Strathmore, one of Kenya’s premier private universities. Increasingly, governments are seeking to get directly involved in funding tech hubs, attracted in part by the jobs that can be created, particularly for young people, or the chance to create a new MPesa, Kenya’s mobile money service. Botswana Innovation Hub is an example of a government-driven initiative, now transitioning to a more sustainable model, with assistance from the World Bank under a reimbursable advisory services contract aimed at promoting economic diversity and competitiveness in Botswana’s economy.
Hub Here Hub There Hub Everywhere!
The number of hubs grows at an almost weekly rate. It should be known that tech hubs come and go; particularly those that are based on informal gatherings of developers, or hackerspaces. A high failure rate is an intrinsic part of innovation. The World Bank Group has reported, that some tech hubs business models can provide lessons on improving sustainability for others. Regardless of the failures the momentum is strong; *iHub_ of Kenya has over 150 companies that originated with ideas incubated there. In the long term we can expect the companies produced by tech hubs to give birth to a lasting legacy of innovation in Africa.