Tech hubs can be defined as places where ‘ideas are encouraged and cultivated, and where innovation and creativity is translated into tangible results’. On the continent, tech hubs foster technological innovation, research, product development and business growth. Over the last five years, innovation hubs have become a dominant feature of Africa’s emerging technology landscape.
Research conducted by the GSMA suggested that in 2016, Africa already had 314 active tech hubs. The research also revealed that, while 50% of these tech hubs are concentrated in five countries (South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco), almost every other African country has at least one or two. In 2014 alone, VC4Africa reported that investments in the African tech hubs had doubled, rising from $12 million to $26.9 million.
So what explains the emergence and growth of tech hubs across Africa? Technology consultant Tayo Akinyemi, the first Executive Director of AfriLabs, a pan-African network of 50 technology innovation hubs, argues that the growth of tech hubs mirrors the continent’s growing demand for information technology training. Akinyemi commented that there are “fundamental gaps in infrastructure that impact digital entrepreneurship, connectivity, technology development, and innovation. Hubs are providing that enabling infrastructure… hubs are trying to fill those skills gaps”.
Furthermore, tech hubs help facilitate entrepreneurialism. They provide affordable shared office space, fast Internet, and, most importantly, access to reliable electricity. Tech hubs create valuable communities of stakeholders, as well as a platform for the exchange of information and business opportunities. Crucially, tech hubs in Africa offer foreign investors a regional investment platform from which they can engage with local entrepreneurs.
Fostering the creation of over 150 companies, Nairobi’s iHub tech incubator is one of Africa’s most successful innovation hubs. Of similar success, ‘RLabs’, based in Cape Town, runs digital and entrepreneurship bootcamps, providing large investments to every social enterprise developed through their programme.
Beyond providing investment, many tech hubs in Africa aim to educate and to encourage young talent. ‘Black Girls Code’, for example, encourages young girls to get involved with computer science, by enabling them access to technology. Some tech hubs also encourage new ways of thinking. The ‘Co-Creation Hub’ in Lagos holds courses to streamline tech product development, as Nigerian developers design and test web and mobile solutions that tackle some of the country’s social challenges.
In the coming years, innovation and tech hubs will continue to play an important role in strengthening the enabling environment and soft infrastructure for the continent’s rising tech entrepreneurs. We look forward to hearing more about the social and developmental impact that they have.