The problem with simply growing more tech hubs in Africa

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More than 130 new hubs have opened in Africa over the last two years, and there are still not enough. Many hubs get financial and technical support from foundations as well as tech and telco corporates among others.

Recently, Facebook and Google have both rolled out significant new centres, with NG_Hub and Launchpad respectively in Lagos, Nigeria. Google last month announced the opening of an Artificial Intelligence Centre in Accra, Ghana. There are promises of more to come elsewhere.

The “tech hub” label includes a wide range of very different types of operations. Many, perhaps most, are community centres in the most important way possible. There’s immense value for aspiring entrepreneurs to be around like-minded innovators and technology dreamers if you’re in an African city, where trying to be the next Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the most obvious ambition.

Then there are those like those supported by Google and Facebook, which are a bit more than just being a place for good Wi-Fi and regular electricity. If you can get into their programs, your startup would likely get some crucial world-class technical support.

What the tech giants are offering

Facebook’s hub will be home to workspaces, an event space and is to host digital training programs including Fb Start Accelerator Program and SheMeansBusiness. It will also offer grants of Sh2 million in equity-free funding.

Over a three-year period, Google’s Launchpad Accelerator Africa program will offer Sh3 million in similar funding to more than 60 start-ups on the continent as well as provide mentorship and technology support.

There’s also an end-to-end model, which provides community, technical support and early equity investment. One example: MEST, one of the longest-running headquartered in Accra, now also has hubs in Lagos and Cape Town, with Nairobi expected by the end of the year.

Many more are needed, says Rebecca Enonchong, who chairs Afrilabs, a pan-African network of around 90 hubs across 30 countries.

“When local corporates see Facebook and Google opening up they’ll follow. And that’s good because we need more hubs, not fewer,” she said during last month’s Vivatech event.

As Enonchong sees it, the role of tech hubs enabling start-ups by providing access to training and networking could be even more important than raising money.

The biggest needs now, beyond sheer numbers.

So perhaps the most pressing need is more and different types of hubs. As the market matures, there will be demand for specialized knowledge, suggests Aaron Fu, who runs MEST Africa. “I think there needs to be a more collaborative model between hubs,” says Fu. “There could be some that specialize in different sectors that we could direct our start-ups to collaborate with.” ( (Agencies)

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