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Tech hubs across Africa: Which will be the legacy-makers?

Tim Kelly's picture


One of the key features of the African digital renaissance is that it is increasingly home grown. In other sectors of the African economy, such as mining or agribusiness, much of the know-how is imported and the wealth extracted. But Africa’s 700 million or so mobile subscribers use services that are provided locally, and they are also downloading more applications that are developed locally.

One of the main sources of locally developed applications is the technology hubs that are 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.
 
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.
 
The list of hubs is growing on an almost weekly basis, and BongoHive maintains a current list based on a crowdsourcing model. But tech hubs also disappear, particularly those that are based on informal gatherings of developers, or hackerspaces. A high failure rate is an inevitable consequence of innovation, and the testing of ideas. A recent World Bank Group report, on the business models of tech hubs, provides some lessons on how to improve sustainability. *iHub_, in Kenya, lists more than 150 companies that can trace their origins to ideas incubated there, among its 13’000+ members. In the longer term, it is the companies that tech hubs give birth to that will be the lasting legacy. So which will be the legacy-makers among today’s generation of African Tech Hubs? Send us your thoughts and join the conversation.

Comments

Submitted by Radwan on

Your information is outdated by at least 2 years, otherwise it's a great collaborative effort between hubs, we should have much more!

Submitted by Tim Kelly on

Thanks for your comment. We are aware that the information in the map is incomplete, and probably could never be complete given the pace of change. But the aim of publishing the map now is to attract additional information so that we can add the new or missing tech hubs and remove those that no longer exist

Here is a 2014 publication featuring some hubs that closed shop as far back as 2012. What does it take to verify info on Africa before publishing?

Assessing the legacy of any tech hubs worldwide leave alone Africa by Companies/Startups it has given birth to, is judging a fish by abilities to climb a tree.

The eco-system is very diverse even if we just focus on East Africa and respective skills of members within communities are influenced by various other factors way long before emergent of co-working spaces.

Submitted by Tim Kelly on

I think you're right in pointing to the fact that the typology of existing tech hubs is quite diverse, and we tried to highlight this in the text. There are many possible results measures, such as outreach, sponsorship, funding attracted etc, but in the longer term, the number of start-ups that emerge, directly or indirectly, is a good measure of sustainability and success.

Dear Tim - an important piece of work. Congratulations to you and your team. By the way, The Innnovation Hub is Africa's leading science and technology park and home to a number of tech and business incubators including mLab Southern Africa, Maxum Business Incubator, Climate Innovation Centre. The Innovation Hub (www.theinnovationhub.com) is different entity from The Hub (I am sure you are aware of that). What is however interesting is that each of past series of this map, there is no mention of The Innovation Hub, as a tech hub. I am hoping that this input is useful. Alternatively, a criteria for what qualifies as a tech hub would also be useful.

Submitted by Tim Kelly on

Thanks for this clarification. There are of course many types of business incubator, some specialised -- like Climate Innovation Centres -- and others general purpose. Although the Innovation Hub could probably fall into the general purpose category, I think there is a strong case to be made for including it in the map because of its tech focus. So we'll add it in the next edition, in addition to mLab South Africa, which is hosted by the Innovation Hub.

Submitted by Portharcourt on

www.focushub.net is another starting out in the Niger-Delta of Nigeria.

Submitted by Bunmo on

The list of incubation / ICT hubs in Nigeria is incomplete and does not represent actual facts.

Submitted by Tim Kelly on

Please let us know what additional tech hubs you think should be added in Nigeria and which ones might be withdrawn.

Submitted by enock on

kopo kopo is a perfect example of a successful company from I hub KENYA

Submitted by maya on

Due to World Bank Research and experience, what are the key components to create the first incubator in an African country?

Submitted by Tim Kelly on

There is no single recipe that works well everywhere, but the infoDev study of mLabs and mHubs in Africa, available at http://www.infodev.org/mobile, identifies many of the key components. These include ensuring a good throughflow of potential entrepreneurs, offering a convivial environment for collaboration, and having a reliable, high-speed internet connection.

I'm trying to understand what you mean by the different names under Tanzania. Kinu is http://www.kinu.co.tz/, that's clear. TANZICT Innovation Space is nowadays called Buni Hub, http://buni.or.tz/. DTBi is an incubator http://www.teknohama.or.tz/. Both Buni and DTBi are in COSTECH which is the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology, so it doesn't make sense that COSTECH is on the list separately. And what is Dar es Salaam Innovation Space?

Submitted by Trevor Sibanda on

You forgot 3 other hubs all from Zimbabwe.
One of which is SkiHub from Bulawayo

Submitted by Marissa on

Thanks Tim and your team for sharing this, and definitely appreciate the work that goes into pulling something like this together. A request for those posting comments - where information is not accurate please offer what the correction should be, as this would be helpful for future reference. The landscape is changing rapidly as I am sure you are all aware...

Submitted by Marissa on

Great job Tim and team, I can appreciate how much effort goes into pulling something like this together. A little request to those with comments - if you have corrections please advise what they should be. As I'm sure you are aware, the landscape is changing very rapidly.

Strange for an article discussing the potential legacy of these many, many hubs -- some of which have now operated for years -- without mentioning a single profitable company, or even widely used application, which has arisen from them. Or mentioning the combined revenues of businesses created, or profits, or users of the apps created, ... or indeed ANY of the standard measures of entrepreneurial success.

Are the only profitable businesses created the hubs themselves, funded by aid money? Perhaps we need a new word to describe this phenomenon: "aidtrepreneurship".

By way of comparison we could look at another industry much less discussed: large-scale agriculture. For example, the horticulture industry just in Kenya produced $3 billion in revenue in 2012 (up from $2 billion in 2011) and employs more than 4 million people, exporting flowers, fruits and vegetables abroad (http://www.economist.com/news/business/21600187-forces-reshaping-one-africas-most-successful-industries-flower-power).

How does this exciting African innovation industry fostered by the many IT hubs compare to such vibrant and productive businesses in terms of revenue, profit, and employment?

And which industry is contributing more to the prosperity and development of Africa?

Submitted by Tim Kelly on

You raise some interesting points concerning the relative contribution of different sectors of the economy for future growth. Agribusiness incubators are a major focus of the World Bank's work, as you would see, for instance, in the Agribusiness Innovation Sourcebook, or infoDev's Agribusiness Innovation Program (see: http://www.infodev.org/agribusiness). The infoDev study on mLabs and mHubs, cited in the blog, and the GSMA study (at: http://www.gsma.com/newsroom/digital-entrepreneurship-in-kenya-2014/) provide some preliminary findings on the contribution of the tech hubs to economic growth. The example of Kopo Kopo, which was incubated at the mLab East Africa before outgrowing that space, which was cited by another commenter, is a good example of a high growth company that has emerged from a tech hub. But it will take some time to judge the long-term effects of what is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Submitted by Ken Gai on

interesting mention wrt 'creating the next mPesa'.. curious how that lawsuit turned-out.. as I recall the original founder took Vodacom to court in Nairobi circa 2009.. @_@

Submitted by Bankole Toba on

Good job for this information for most but it would have alot more interesting if more recent data is used as regards Nigeria, Our Incubator at the Abuja Technology Village called Enspire Incubator has been in existence for quite a while now and currently manages the Abuja Techies/ Innovation ecosystem.

Currently we are driving a more hands on policy favourable to startups from Incubators and also fostering innovation across our region (I am sure you know all these).

Anyway it would be encouraging to see an update of this map.

Thanks

Submitted by Onyait Odeke on

Thanks Tim for the good work. I would like people to appreciate the effort first before they criticize that said, I am part of a start up called Dignited in Uganda that has a special project of curating all Hubs in Africa in a more interactive way and this info was helpful in that regard. You can check out what we are doing www.dignited.com/hubs
I believe that Hubs have an important role to play with even though most of them survive on Aid which I don't believe in

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