Didi Colin, co-founder of the recently launched Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) co-working space, incubator and accelerator the Hub, believes his country is full of unexplored potential.
“This problem can be solved by encouraging research and innovation through efforts to support entrepreneurship,” he said.
His answer to this is the Hub, launched in Kinshasa in December with the goal of bridging the gap between theoretical research and palpable innovative products and services that can compete in the global market.
“We want to reduce the technological gap between the DRC and other African countries, such as South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia. We need to help entrepreneurs innovate in different sectors to strengthen their potential and also help their community.”
The concept of the Hub is built around the conviction that the most powerful way to economically and socially transform the DRC is by providing citizens with access to an ecosystem that is conducive to innovation.
The Hub runs incubation and acceleration programmes, and also offers entrepreneurs access to technical and financial resources. It is also a co-working space that offers internet connectivity, solar power, and access to a team of mentors and specialists.
“The gap in the market was the strong potential of ideas of young people and the difficulty of obtaining financing for their projects, the legal framework, the cost of the internet, the dispersion of the solutions offered in the ecosystem, and lack of preparation for the professional universe,” Colin said.
There is little or no activity on the part of pre-existing hubs in Kinshasa, with most of the Hub’s competitors coming in the form of training centres and international organisations. Thus far, Colin and his team has self-financed the Hub, which can currently host up to 50 entrepreneurs each day and has a network of 5,000 members.
“We are operating in the incubation, acceleration, funding support and co-management of startups created by young entrepreneurs in various sectors of activity,” he said.
“We would also like to look at the development of certain sectors of innovative activities that are little exploited in the DRC, such as water and energy, artificial intelligence, robotics, biotech, pharmaceuticals, global health and transportation.”
“The Hub cannot contain all the young entrepreneurs of the city. We would like to have a Hub in each of the 24 municipalities of the city, as well as expanding the Hub through all the 26 provinces of the DRC and also through a few border countries.”
The Hub currently makes money from its co-working space, but is not focusing on its first accelerator programme, which will offer participants mentorship, skills training, and access to seed funding.
The acceleration programme – ‘Hub A-Z’ – will last up to six months, and will involve 20 early-stage startups who will be offered US$1,500 in seed funding in return for 15 per cent equity. It is an ambitious scheme, but Colin has gotten used for facing up to challenges.
The Hub has already faced issues with finding a large enough space and convincing local entrepreneurs of the need for such a service, while local banks and policymakers have not yet lent adequate support to early-stage startups.
“By helping to develop Africa’s next success stories, we are hoping to put a system in place which will help fix all those difficulties. That way we will reach our goal for 2025 of transforming 100 local startups into multinationals and 100 SMEs into MEs, which will help not only the local and African ecosystem but will help the world know about and use solutions made in Africa,” said Colin.