By Abdihakim Ainte (2 November 2021)
There’s a burgeoning tech hub scene across Africa with a footprint that stretches from South Africa to Somalia. In part, this is because tech hubs are seen as a new trend that is disrupting traditional ways of doing business. According to GSMA, there are 618 active tech hubs in Africa, while a joint analysis by Briter Bridges and AfriLabs estimates the number at 643. Regardless, this number is rising. Growth in the tech start-up scene is related, among other things, to venture funds and investment from financial institutions such as the IFC, World Bank, ECB, AfDB and other private banks. Optimism about tech hubs is also related to wider digital growth and expanding connectivity across Africa to internet-enabled devices. In many instances digital technologies seem to be augmenting economic growth and improving the efficiency of service delivery. Tech hubs appear to be part of these developments, by creating scope for new forms of inclusion, efficiency and innovation in doing business. As part of the Datafication and Digital Rights in East Africa research network blog series, this post presents the experience of iRise – Somalia’s first tech hub – in order to show the challenges, successes and prospects of digital innovation in this particular Horn of Africa context. The blog argues that tech hubs have great potential in Somalia but still face a number of challenges, such as weak connectivity, dilapidated infrastructure, the absence of a legislative enabling environment, and lack of access to external finance.
What do tech hubs do?
While there are many components to a strong economy, there is widespread consensus about the importance of fostering innovation and collaboration. Ideas need spaces where they can be welcomed and nurtured, and where invention and creativity can be converted into economic activity and actual outcomes. ‘Tech hubs’ embody this development and aim to create space for entrepreneurs, innovators, and changemakers to play a critical role in fostering economic growth. Tech hubs aim to assist tech start-ups from conception to investor readiness, by instilling technical and vocational skills that are essential for entrepreneurship but are rarely taught in regular educational settings. This is particularly true in Somalia, where traditional educational institutions are still in the process of post-conflict reconstruction and where the quality of teaching curriculums are not up to the standard required for higher education.
Tech hubs are also places where established companies in an industry can connect with new ventures, sharing insights and collaborating as established companies undergo their own digital transformations and start-ups are formed. This results in a channel of ideas and enterprises from which new and sometimes successful businesses emerge. Tech hubs often use a deliberate multi-stakeholder strategy that allows them to make an impact across the public and private sectors.
In contrast to universities, which typically create job searchers by building people’s knowledge and capacity, hubs aim to create jobs for people. They equip people with innovative abilities and entrepreneurial skills that can be immediately applied to creating jobs. Tech hubs also foster a network of entrepreneurs who can share ideas, learn from one another, and offer mutual support as they pursue their entrepreneurial goals. The community support that tech hubs seek to provide is perhaps the most important role they play in fostering start-up creation and success, as they can be a gathering point for diverse players in the digital ecosystem.