100 tech hubs across Africa: where are the new innovation hotspots?

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AfriLabs, the pan-African network of tech & innovation hubs, presently convenes for their second annual congress in Berlin (also see an article on their first meeting last year), Meanwhile the number of hubs across Africa is increasing, and the quality is getting higher and higher.

Below Tim Kelly of the Worldbank discusses a map of tech hubs that was recently created in cooperation with iHub Research (Kenya) and BongoHive (Zambia), in a project carried out for the Botswana Innovation Hub. Check out the map, read the article, and join the discussion below!

This article originally appeared at the Worldbank blog and is published with permission. Click on the image to enlarge the map.


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 more than 100 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? Do you know of more hubs not on the map yet? Share your thoughts below and join the conversation!

Many innovation hubs across Africa are members of the VC4Africa partnership network, cooperating to support African entrepreneurs. See for example the VC4Africa pages of iSpace, Klab, Hive Colab, Enviu, MLab, Seed Engine, Innoventures, 88mph,Umbono, Oubox, CTIC Dakar, Nailab, MEST, Wennovation, iceHubs, ActivSpacesAlso see VC4Africa’s Partner page. We welcome you to contact us if you want to join the VC4Africa partnership network or want to cooperate in other ways!


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