Earlier this year iHub Research released the first report of a kind ever on ICT Hubs research. The on-going research aims to understand the unique factors that make up ICT Hub models across Africa. Click the image above for an enlargement showing lists of hubs per country.
The objectives of the study is to understand the models of the Hubs/Labs, its entrepreneurs and the sustainable impact of these Hubs/Labs in spurring innovations that improve livelihoods. Little inquiry, if any, has been done to understand the various ICT Hub models developing all over Africa, and how such factors influence the entrepreneurs in the spaces. iHub Research aims to fill this dearth of information. This study is to act as a benchmark for existing and new hubs in their implementation of their hub model.
The iHub Research study extensively looked into both external and internal factors (similarities & differences) that affect the hubs models in their respective countries. External factors in this study refers to those factors that contribute to the ICT growth of the country: ICT GDP, ICT support from the government, level of corruption, good infrastructure, ICT budgetary allocation, telecommunication investments and the thirst of a country for innovation, among others. Internal factors refer to existing structure and management in place-in terms of guiding principles, sustainability model, partnership and challenges among others.
Similarities & differences in the Hubs models:
There are striking similarities as well as differences in the 7 hubs studied (iHub – Kenya; Activspaces – Cameroon; Hive Colab – Uganda; KLab – Rwanda; MEST – Ghana, BongoHive hub – Zambia and KINU hub – Tanzania). They are similar in that their community of members is key in driving the Hub’s activities. They operate in open spaces as opposed to enclosed cubicles. In addition, most of the hubs adopt a unique membership tier system to differentiate members working in the spaces, have a series of events within the hubs to engage and develop members’ skills through the theme of open innovation. However, they differ in their management structure, guiding principles and their sustainability models.
Critical success factors of a strong hub:
The study identifies critical success factors of a strong hub, as one with: government support, strategic partners, community members, a strong science, technology and Innovation, human capital and research and development.
Source: iHub Research. Critical success factors for a hub
Lessons the Hubs can learn from each other:
The study offers some lessons that hubs can learn from each other. Some of the lessons include the need to develop human skills; the need to have a sound sustainable and incubation centres initiatives; enhanced collaboration and partnership from all stakeholders and the need for membership tier system for effective management of the hubsas their community of members keeps growing.
Challenges faced by the hubs:
Despite the huge impacts the hubs are making in socio-economic developments, they are faced with some challenges. They include: slow connectivity, limited staff capacity, inadequate funding, limited space capacity, limited investment capacity, lack of strategic partners, quality assurance of their products, infrastructural challenges, inadequate seed capital and inadequate skills and exposure.
Recommendations to the above challenges:
To solve some of the challenges, the study suggests the following recommendations but not limited to:
– In the short term, Hubs should partner with local Internet providers who can provide a subsidized Internet basket for faster acceleration of the innovations being developed by their members;
– They should also train their staff in order to build sufficient in-house capacity to manage, administer and deliver efficiency and value-add programs.
– Limited capacity issue can be addressed by adoption of tier system where they have physical and virtual members or expanding their space into 2 location sites e.g. such as what ActivSpaces has done in Cameroon.
– Due to limited investment capacity, it is recommended that hubs need to hire coordinators to do financial outreach and also who can understand what investors are looking for and aligning with the needs of the startups in the Hub.
– Monitoring and evaluation mechanisms should be put in place to ensure products/services and planned activities are measured against a set of indicators and an associated feedback loop to ensure high standards and delivery are met on a continuous level to address quality assurance issues.
– Introduction of investor education programs to address the challenge of seed capital. This program should entail development of human capital, technological capital and financial capital.
– Lack of exposure and inadequate skills should be addressed by hubs hiring qualified trainers, employees, technical experts and mentors to train the members who can also double up as in-house capacity.
– Sustainability model of most hubs are in the short-term. Long-term models can include but not limited to working on commissioned projects together with their members, corporate partnerships and events, offering services to external community at a fee through initiatives that add value and addresses their needs.
– Hubs housing information centres by providing access to high level resources and services e.g. business planning, legal and talent recruitment can form part of the potential sustainability models.
The study concludes that although these ICT hubs are in nascent stages of development, they can be a nexus point for economic growth and ‘techprenuership’ development in Africa. In addition, these innovation spaces can be viewed as a catalyst for socio-economic development through creation of technology-led entrepreneurs. Indeed, Innovation hubs can be most effective when they harness the idea of openness and community-driven approaches through collaborative events, sharing knowledge and encouraging development of innovations that have a positive impact in the society as a whole.
We welcome the community to share reactions in the comments below!
To download the full iHub Research report on the comparative study on innovation Hubs click here! To download individual reports of the 7 Hubs across Africa under study see: iHub – Kenya; Activspaces –Cameroon; Hive Colab – Uganda; KLab – Rwanda; MEST – Ghana, BongoHive hub – Zambia and KINU hub – Tanzania. For more information or feedback, kindly contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Also see a previous post by Hilda Moraa: What makes technology hubs successful and are they a platform for innovation?