As you may know, Indigo has been working alongside DOEN Foundation and Hivos Foundation running a fund to support tech innovation hubs in Sub-Saharan Africa. We believe that the best solutions to challenges are often devised locally. Through supporting technology innovation hubs, the fund aims to bring together, upskill and grow technology communities in African countries. We believe that in the long-term this will have a catalytic effect on the quality and quantity of projects devised locally.
Hubs typically provide state of the art facilities, events, mentorship and training. Seven hubs have been supported to date and great things are happening. All the hubs have attracted more members, supported the development of commercial and social ventures and had a real impact on those directly involved and on society more broadly. Here are just a few success stories:
Cameroon’s ActivSpaces offers co-working space, internet access, mentorship and training to Cameroon’s innovators. Since 2014 membership has almost tripled. 24 new start-ups have been supported, 500 people attended tech events and 628 university students took part in programming clubs. A further 4,000 people attended tech accessible events. ActivSpaces also ran an acceleration programme for four start-ups, providing marketing, business and financial advice and seed funding.
Hivecolab in Uganda offers a space for members to meet, share ideas and knowledge, hold events and grow businesses. In 2015 Hivecolab supported 16 start-ups with business development and technical training and by helping them make connections with investors and funders. Hivecolab now welcomes around 100 people per month plus an additional 500 to events and 1,000 via virtual connections. The hub has built relationships with universities, health, education and agriculture organisations and has supported many social ventures.
iSpace in Ghana helps tech start-ups to get going quickly. It offers permanent desks for resident start-ups, plus a drop-in area for those who attend on a less regular basis. Fast internet and plenty of room means iSpace can provide training and resources whenever needed. In 2015, iSpace was used by 120 members and 110 drop-ins and provided mentorship for 48 start-ups. Social impact was significant: an open data project, an Ebola alert system and an energy efficiency app were developed.
Malawi’s mHub was set up in 2013 to provide technology enthusiasts and innovators with technical skills and support to develop and incubate sustainable business models. Today, mHub has over 50 members and engages with a wide range of stakeholders including government departments, design and communications experts and corporate organisations. Four start-ups are now housed at mHub and 15 technology applications have been developed within it. mHub has also branched out around the country, holding festival events in four major cities and running community development activities.
Sensi in Sierra Leone aims to establish a citizen-driven ICT network in Sierra Leone. Heavily influenced by the Ebola outbreak, Sensi aims to look at what role the technology sector can play in such a crisis. Working with international and local partners, communities and governments, Sensi aims to drive the growth of the tech sector in Sierra Leone. Over the last year, Sensi has hosted 17 events, has established relationships with 5 universities and gained 1500 people and attracted 200 female members – an exciting beginning!
Swahilibox in Kenya has a working space which is a mix of traditional Swahili culture and modern technology. Although the hub has been running for just a few months, it has already renovated the space and recruited interns to support its work. Members are already developing software, including adapting a tool created for use in the USA to the African context. The tool enables newsrooms to gather insight from citizen journalists.
KINU in Tanzania has not submitted reports despite numerous follow ups and will no longer be supported by the fund.
As you can see, the developments made by the six hubs involved in this round of funding have been varied and exciting. There is more information on the activities of the individual hubs available here. As funders, it has been really rewarding to see this work develop and we look forward to seeing what these innovative and collaborative spaces do next.