Many of the innovations we have featured on Inventive Africa have come out of Tech hubs. These hives of innovative activity are seen by some as a foundation that will drag Africa up to compete with the rest of the world on every level. According to Disrupt Africa, there could be more than 300 tech hubs across the continent by the end of this year. That means despite the universities there are 300 spaces dedicated to creating African solutions for African problems. But what are tech hubs? Are they just glorified internet cafe’s, or do they offer something more exciting by being a Think Tank with action?
A tech hub, or incubator, or start up space (there are so many names for them) brings together technology and innovation startups and entrepreneurs under the same roof and gives them access to space to work on their ideas. They will have internet access, tools to work on and, maybe most importantly, access to each other. The communal nature of tech hubs is focussed upon in many ways. Without it’s members, a hub would not be valuable. It is the human capital that meet, sit, works, discusses and create new ideas together that has made such a buzz out of African tech hubs in recent years.
How do these hubs form? Is it possible for anyone to say, “there is a space for you to get together in, go ahead and be innovative’? On many occasions these hubs of innovation develop out of something else with a bottom up organisation. In the case of many hubs in, they started off as a work space for startups and grew into a place to nourish and flourish the startup ecosystem became a co-working space for everything innovation.
This, like so many things about African innovation this and many other hubs grew out of an innovative culture looking to express itself using the latest technological advances. People across the continent were and are having solutions to problems that were now possible due to tech, internet and mobile phone coverage. Without tech hubs we wouldn’t have had the likes of Eneza Education and BRCK and with the increased demand for hubs we are likely to see even more incredible innovations coming out of Africa.
As enablers of innovators, hubs bring together a variety of individuals into the same space. Many think of tech hub of a hive of coders and programmers huddled over their computers. Indeed coders are an important part of the hub ecosystem, but they need engineers, creative thinkers, designers, finance experts and investors in order to optimise innovation.
People work together side by side in this space on an equal standing with no hierarchy. This enables them to share ideas and as well as develop their own products with the help of those around them, occasionally accidentally create a new solution with their combined knowledge. This is why we like to think of them as actionable Think Tanks. The Think Tank discusses Africa’s problems and then writes a report or offers suggestions. The Tech Hub discusses Africa’s problems and then creates something to solve them!
We talked about building capacity in a recent blog, and this shared knowledge is satisfying that need. In many hubs, there are opportunities to take classes and build on existing skills. These are often offered to people who are not often in the hub, enabling more and more to enhance their programming skills or technical knowledge.
Hubs are being opened all over the continent, and even though they are focussed around a few key countries like South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, smaller countries are also embracing the model. Somalia, Ethiopia and Madagascar all now have at least 1 tech hub, and they will find that these benefit the country greatly. It is likely that there we will see an evolution of tech hubs into more niche spaces. Currently, you find hubs that house entrepreneurs and start ups from all kinds of sectors under one roof, which is part of the charm and success. These will remain, but others will begin to pop up that focus on fin-tech, e-commerce or education tech etc.
We have set out a brief explanation of how a tech hub functions but we should remember that the innate flexibility of a hub makes it hard to put a strict definition on them. They often grow into what those that use them want them to be. Do you use a tech hub? Why do you think they are so important and what benefits do you gain from using them? If you have any thoughts please get in contact with us on Twitter @InventiveAfrica and please also share the blog on Twitter and Facebook.