Crowdsourcing Africa’s tech hot-spots, 35 technology hubs mapped in 13 countries

In the past three years we have witnessed the rise of the African tech hub. Early models were Appfrica Labs in Kampala, Uganda and ActivSpaces in Buea, Cameroon. Later came the iHub, the Nailab and Hive Colab. Since their entrance we have seen similar models pop up across the continent.

At VC4Africa we have partnerships with many of these labs and have been pleased to engage their communities. Specifically, we work to help profile events, connect resources and champion success stories. For an impression see photo reports from Activ Spaces in Cameroon and ICE Addis in Ethiopia. The founders of VC4Africa also support AfriLabs, a network organization that seeks to further support this development.  We are currently looking for funding needed to bring on board a director that will give the network real power.

It is great to see the labs take initiative to further bring together this community. The most recent effort we are excited about comes from  BongoHive Zambia and their efforts to visualize this growing network. Their research has revealed that there are at least three times as many technology entrepreneurship hubs in Africa than even the best-informed ‘industry insiders’ knew about.

In a press statement, the BongoHive founder  Lukonga Lindunda explained, “It’s amazing and we suspect that this is only the tip of the iceberg. New reports are arriving at the website every day revealing the true proportions of Africa’s passion for new Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).” He expanded, “Before this process began the largest network of technology hubs in Africa had five members and nobody had ever claimed that more than 15 existed on the continent. This crowdsourcing initiative has provided evidence that at least three times that number exist. We have already mapped 35 technology hubs.”

A technology hub is a building where tech entrepreneurs, experts and enthusiasts come together to share experience, collaborate and innovate new ideas. Some tech hubs provide office space to incubate new technology start-ups. Many tech hubs provide training and events to build skills and strengthen networks to form synergies and provide a supportive environment in which innovation and entrepreneurship can blossom.

Why the Mapping Initiative?

“One or two tech hubs like the iHub in Nairobi have earned well-deserved acclaim for their work”, say Lukonga. “but we suspected that there were many less well known hubs out there like BongoHub Zambia. We knew from our experience here in Lusaka that bringing tech enthusiasts together creates real benefits; enormous synergy comes from people sharing their experience and providing practical help and motivation for each other. Now we want to reproduce those network benefits on a pan-African scale by enabling reciprocal learning between technology hubs in many different countries.

The initial idea came from a brain-storming session with Tony Roberts (@phat_controller on Twitter). BongoHive already had experience of crowdsourcing and mapping information using Ushahidi from our work during the Zambian elections in December. We think that crowd-mapping is the perfect way to make visible the wealth of entrepreneurial talent springing up all across Africa. No one has done it before and we wanted to see if it could be done. So we decided to create the first on-line map of technology hubs in Africa. And we decided to use crowdsourcing on CrowpMap to achieve it. We wanted to help other tech hubs in Africa learn about each other and assist them to raise their profile. BongoHive wants to know more about their successes and challenges. We want to collaborate with them as peers.”

How Does it Work?

“Anyone can access all of the information submitted about tech hubs already mapped by just clicking on one of the red dots on the map to learn more about that centre. Anyone can add a new technology hub to the map. By just clicking on “submit a report” anyone can put a tech hub that they know about on the map by simply filling in some basic information and sending it to the website. Put your technology hub on the map by clicking on ‘Submit a Report’ and let us have the website and contact details of any centres not yet on the map.” See the website.

What is BongoHive?

“BongoHive is Lusaka’s Technology and Innovation Hub, a place where tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs meet to share, learn and innovate. BongoHive is being nurtured by VVOB (Flemish Office for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance) as part of a strategy to establish Knowledge Centres at partner institutions. BongoHive assists VVOB in collaboration with the Ministry of Education to provide access to information and knowledge via mobile platforms. BongoHive has so far attracted funding from Dr. Brenda Davies, an angel investor. and Indigo Trust. BongHive was set up in 2011 and is becoming well known as a place where Zambia’s technology entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts meet up to share experience and skills, attend training events and hackathons and collaborate on the latest projects.”

Why was BongoHive Zambia set up?

“Our experience was that Zambia was not short of technology enthusiasts with great ideas but that it lacked a space for them to network with like-minded entrepreneurs who were facing similar challenges and triumphs. That’s why we created BongoHive. Synergies are created when like-minded people work together and bounce ideas off each other. Governments create business parks, business leaders form chambers of commerce, universities create think tanks and we formed this technology hub.”

At VC4Africa we applaud these efforts and are excited to see the space come together in a more concerted effort. Indeed, working together more can be leveraged in supporting the continent’s brightest ideas and the entrepreneurs with true potential.