“Tech hubs are having an identity crisis”

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Tech hubs and innovations centres in Africa are having an identity crisis, and need to learn to adapt to their respective markets, according to panellists at the Africa Technology Summit.

Speaking at the recently concluded Africa Technology Summit (ATS), hosted by the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), panellists said tech hubs, innovation centres and seed fund accelerators across the continent need to look more closely at their respective markets to determine what their role is, based on local needs and demands.

According to Stuart Campo, innovation deployment lead at UNICEF – which manages a US$9.5 million fund for technology, innovation and social services delivery – currently many of the hubs active in Africa are suffering an identity crisis, and need to learn to better adapt to the market.

“We found that at the end of the day, many of them are having an identity crisis. They need to do some reflection on the demands of the marketplaces, and as for their programmes they need to adapt constantly to keep up,” Campo said.

Monica Nthiga, programme officer at Ushahidi agreed more focus needs to be placed on the demand for, and the roles of, different models of incubation programmes, as well as funding models.

A clearer understanding of the different routes available would be of great value to entrepreneurs in Africa, she said.

“We need to study the needs and the demands of the grants, and the seed funds. It helps to decide where you want to go  – grant or investor way,” Nthiga said.

Considering whether tech hubs are even necessary for entrepreneurs to thrive, Lia Mayka, Africa lead at Village Capital felt that many entrepreneurs would be able to work from home, or other local facilities.  However, she said innovation centres and hubs provide a place for entrepreneurs to network and collaborate – an indispensable function.

“The challenges vary from place to place. Some entrepreneurs can work from home but it is important that they have a place to interact and work together to discover new opportunities. We need to find ways to help entrepreneurs to help each other and build their communities and create stronger places,” said Mayka.

Looking to the future, Campo predicts an increase in government-led initiatives to grow the innovation ecosystem, and said it is important to create a neutral space for actors to be able to come together and support the ecosystem.

On the other hand, the panellists agreed it is necessary to make all the different players in the ecosystem – including the government – feel like they have a personal stake in it, in order for the space to grow and evolve most efficiently.

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Inspired and excited by the African tech entrepreneurial scene, Gabriella spends her time travelling around the continent to report on the most innovative tech startups, the most active investors, and the latest trends emerging in the ecosystem.

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