Why Technical Innovation needs Physical Space
Technology innovation hubs provide a set of core services in order to cater to technology innovation. One of the primary functions fulfilled by hubs is providing access to fast and reliable internet connections as well as electricity. Although
connectivity is rapidly improving in many African urban centers, affordable access to fast connections is still a major issue, especially for young entrepreneurs who were previously limited by using the shaky WiFi connections of coffee
shops. Now, hubs offer an alternative.
Hubs do not only offer access to physical infrastructure but also to information and networks. In many cities, hubs have become the entry point to the technology community, bringing together people who work on creative and innovative technological ideas. Most hubs create space for informal networking, for instance by including cafés, meeting space and hang-out areas. In addition, hubs also act as a nexus between local technology communities and investors, academia, technology companies and the wider private sector.
Training and learning mostly takes places informally. Most hubs try to offer learning opportunities to their members and the wider community in the form of seminars, lectures and discussion rounds as well as trainings and other events, rather than through set curricula and formal learning structures. They have also introduced events such as BarCamps, which are defined by open structures that facilitate peer learning. For instance, iceAddis, a hub in Addis Ababa, held its first BarCamp in 2010. Many students and local entrepreneurs held sessions and the BarCamp was such a success that it has since been established as an annual event. The concept was new to many Ethiopians who had not been exposed to such open event formats and it has helped establish a culture of exchanging knowledge and learning within the community.
Hubs attempt to support their members, in particular start-ups based at the hub, by coaching and matching them with mentors who share their experience in particular in business and marketing to compliment the members’ mostly technical
skills. Finding such mentors is not always easy and dependent on the number of members and capacity of the hub team. At ActiveSpaces for instance, all of the current start-up members have mentors that try to support their business development. In addition, ActiveSpaces works with its start-ups to make sure they have the right structures before approaching investors. This includes a working business plan, company registration, proper book-keeping and financial management. In the future, ActiveSpaces plans to actively link its members with investors and even negotiate on their behalf.
About the Author
Geraldine de Bastion is a freelance international consultant with a multicultural background based in Berlin, Germany. She is an expert on information and communication technology and new media for development and advises governmental organisations, NGOs and businesses on digital media and communication strategies. She also works with activists and bloggers around the world.