2012-04-04

Co.Exist

A New Silicon Valley? Tech Hubs Spring Up In Africa

Internet access is expanding rapidly across the continent, and with it new organizations are coming to help foster a budding tech startup scene.

When thinking of tech hubs, Africa doesn’t exactly spring to mind. But the continent has had some amazing spurts of open innovation, with 45 collaborative hubs now open.

Africa faces some hurdles in developing information technology. Even though global Internet penetration is about 32%, it’s lower in Africa, where only around 11% of the population have access to the Internet through a computer or mobile phone. Within the continent, too, there are enormous divides. While a country like Nigeria has 28% of its population online, Ethiopia has less than 1%. But all that is changing: Internet usage in Africa has grown faster than on any other continent over the past decade.

So what exactly do tech hubs do? In the African continent, they train, connect, and encourage innovation. Here’s a closer look:

Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology: Ghana

A nonprofit starts a school to train the next generation of tech entrepreneurs—and then funds their projects. Meltwater graduated its first 20 students in 2010 and 20 more last year. The graduates can then use seed funding of between $30,000 and $200,000 to develop software businesses that will reach both Ghanaian and global markets.

One example of a recent startup is Dropifi, a web messaging platform which helps companies better analyze, visualize, and respond to incoming messages from contacts. Last fall it took top honors at the Accra Startup Weekend.

ActivSpaces: Cameroon

One of the first tech hubs in Sub-Saharan Africa, ActivSpaces serves to engineer socially responsible investment and the incubation of African small and medium-sized enterprises. One thing Cameroon has going for it? A ballooning population of young people—40% under the age of 15—many of whom are online and engaged.

One example of a project is Bisou, a motion-activated streetlamp. When motion is detected, the light comes on and a piece of music or a public service announcement can be played, helping out parts of cities that can’t afford to keep the lights on all the time, but want to reduce crime.

iHub: Kenya

iHub just won $150,000 in funding from Google to expand its operations. Acting as a more traditional incubator, iHub seeks to connect entrepreneurs with funders. Membership is open and free to those who work in programming, design, or research, but different levels of membership open up different opportunities.

iHub supported the creation of M-Farm, a mobile-phone service that delivers real-time information to farmers on current market prices, weather alerts, and agro-supplies in their area. It also brings farmers together to buy or sell their products in groups, helping them to gain access to larger markets.
M-Farm enables farmers to carry out a cost-benefit analysis before deciding where to sell their products, with voice controls in both English and Swahili.

Co-Creation Hub: Nigeria

Co-Creation calls itself a pre-incubation space, where work to catalyze creative social tech ventures can take place. It recently launched Ideas 2020 a crowdsourced platform to gather citizens’ ideas to improve Nigeria ahead of the year 2020, when the country is expected to be one of the largest 20 economies in the world.

CcHub is supporting Budgit, an online platform that uses infographics to make the Nigerian government budget easier for citizens to read and understand. The platform was born out of the Hub’s training series, which focused on good governance. Budgit went live in September last year, posting 100,000 hits in its first month online.

And there are more on the way. A pilot program funded by Google in South Africa called Umbono has just started taking applications for its six-month fellowship, training entrepreneurs and then connecting them with funding sources.

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