Along came mobile phones for almost every African, followed quickly by fast Internet access. Today, technology is becoming an amenity on the continent and in places like Nigeria mobile phones now occupy a key position at the lowest rung pyramid of needs, so basic has it become. There is still a long way to go though in transforming such access into empowerment, but the sprouting of several Technology Hubs (Tech Hubs) across Africa is fast changing that.
As Africans, we are aware that we cannot depend on foreign aid, keeping in mind the proverbial giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish. While technology surely presents an unprecedented opportunity for empowerment, there is a corresponding lack of the needed technical knowledge, business skills and domain expertise – three indispensable ingredients for running a viable business.
It is this need that has spawned over 45 tech hubs in the continent in a relatively short time in order to train, network, encourage innovation, and mentor entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into viable businesses. I have visited 7 of these hubs across Africa and everywhere the message is the same.
What is it like to work out from a tech hub in Africa? The Co-creation Hub (CcHUB) and Wennovation Hub are notable for spurring entrepreneurship in Nigeria. The CcHUB provides a conducive co-working space for its more than 500 registered members, most of whom are young entrepreneurs that would ordinarily not have been able to afford a decent office space, fast internet and uninterrupted electricity.
Another crucial incentive that the hub provides is market validation. It often happens that young entrepreneurs fail to test their ideas for market-fit, a requirement for success. The hubs give these entrepreneurs access to peers and people with experience to guide them in their business design.
iHub in Nairobi, CcHUB in Lagos, and HiveColab in Kampala have also helped foment social change through the use of technology. The Ushahidi platform, supported by the iHub, brings crowd sourced data into a location (map) context and has been a useful tool for election monitoring in Kenya and many other countries within and outside Africa. A CcHUB incubated project called BudgIT has encouraged transparency and is going to help stem corruption as it helps ordinary Nigerians understand government budgets and track spending.
Most tech hubs in Africa also run incubation programs for early stage startups and accelerator programs for growing startups. These programs give entrepreneurs access to funding that will enable them grow their ideas into businesses. Last year the CcHUB launched its growth academy program which can offer interesting startups training and seed funding.
There is a lot of unemployment in Africa as government, traditional institutions and models has not kept up with the increasing man-power in the continent. The tech hubs are turning access to technology into empowerment, giving people employment and birthing solutions that address the peculiar challenges of society and business on the continent and beyond.