A research conducted by the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator revealed that there were 442 active Tech Hubs in Africa in 2017. This was a tremendous improvement from the previous year’s 314. Tech hubs, according to the GSMA, “are physical spaces designed to foster and support tech start-ups.” These include incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, fab labs, makerspaces, hackerspaces, and other innovation centers. The countries with the highest number of tech hubs in Africa include South Africa, which has 59 active tech hubs, Nigeria with 55, Egypt with 33, Kenya with 30 and Morocco with 25 (Savoy,2018). These countries are home to about 50% of the total number of tech hubs in Africa, however, each of the remaining African countries has at least one or two tech hubs.
Many of these hubs are funded by the government or foundations through grants. Their main focus is providing a co-working space for the community. However, some tech hubs such as the iHub in Nairobi, Kenya and Zambian Bongohive in Lusaka are striving to become self-funded, profit-making pursuit designed for start-up acceleration. This is evidently working well for Kenya’s iHub since over 150 start-ups have been launched from it alone from ever since it was set up in 2010. Although iHub maintains its role as a community and co-working space, it receives 70% of its funding from its activities such as consultation, events and corporate partnership rather than grants.
Tech hubs are an important bridge between private and public support for technology since they are exceptional when it comes to offering a slightly more community focused and less profit-oriented service. Their significance has been recognized by a number of global tech giants whom the past couple of years has graced Africa with their visits to launch their products and seek new opportunities. Their visitations have played a key role in stimulating tech hub trends across Africa. They include Google’s Sundar Pinchai and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg much-publicized visits to Lagos’ ccHub and Nairobi’s iHub, French President Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Rutte to Accra’s Impact Hub and iSpace, and Alibaba’s Jack Ma’s visit to East Africa. Google actually launched its first accelerator outside the United States, Launchpad Africa, while Facebook partnered with the Co-creation hub in Lagos Nigeria in 2018.
Most hubs resort to hybrid systems in order to be sustainable. There has also been an increase in partnerships between mobile operators and start-ups due to an increased affirmation of the mutual fringe benefits the parties can gain from – the mutual benefits being mobile operators provides the means to scale and assess a readily available market while start-ups offer the innovative element and adaptable business models (Friederici,2019). About 13% of the tech hubs in Africa have a partnership with mobile operators such as Vodafone and MTN. A number of tech hubs backed by mobile operators have been launched and they include; MTN Y’ello in Cote D’Ivoire and Congo, Orange Fab in Cote D’Ivoire, Orange-Start on in Morocco and Djezzy’s ENP Incubator in Algeria.
In conclusion, the landscape of tech start-ups across Africa has shown fantastic signs. The ecosystem in Africa has some degree of maturity due to the fact that the various actors in technology have started scrutinizing synergies to shape the ecosystem. The ecosystem has also consistently prevailed owing to the fact that most leading tech hubs have been active for over half a decade enabling them to evaluate various strategies and models. This has increased awareness that start-ups in Africa will play a key role in the development of the continent’s economy (Firestone, 2016)