Tech hubs have taken on a key role in the digital transition in African nations. With traditional work methods moving increasingly towards automation, tech hubs provide start-ups with training and capacity building, from ideation to market readiness.
'Technology is our new reality,' says Joseph Mwanyika, executive director of Ennovation for Change, an NGO start-up supported by and working with Ennovate Hub in Tanzania.
'For example, access to transportation, education, and health is all now increasingly online,' he continues. 'As a result, tech hubs are incredibly important in the African entrepreneurship ecosystem: they play a vital role in supporting entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurship ecosystem. However, they also need support themselves,' the Executive Director acknowledges.
As part of the ecosystem support provided under the International Trade Centre's FastTrackTech Africa initiative, a capacity-building workshop for 60 tech hub leaders from 19 African countries focused on how to operate effectively and offer value-added services as a support organization.
'The sustainability question comes up often, and there is no one answer,' explains Simunza Muyangana, co-founder and director of entrepreneurship at BongoHive, Zambia's well-known first tech hub, and workshop co-leader.
'Many tech hubs are supporting entrepreneurs in their early stages, and the reality is that many enterprises cannot afford their services,' Muyangana continues. 'This means, most tech hubs are starting off with clients who cannot afford their services.'
Muyangana suggests that tech hubs focus on clients - whether donor, government or corporate - who are willing to pay entrepreneurs to come up with innovations that respond to that client's market needs, thus paying local start-ups for market-relevant tech solutions.
'If tech hubs are to be self-sustainable, they need to make a profit and respond to the market,' Muyangana concludes.
There are currently some 680 hubs across the continent, and they vary considerably. Some offer fully integrated services, while others focus on specialized solutions.
BongoHive, for example, takes a sectoral approach, seeking out where opportunities exist for technology to address the challenges in those sectors, and supporting new start-ups in that sector. It is also increasingly offering innovation consulting for corporate clients - a growing niche.
The workshop focused on strategy development, business models and communicating success to funders.
'Funders need to see a return on their investment, whether this is job creation or offering Sustainable Development Goal solutions,' explains Muyangana.
Mwanyika, who attended the seminar, agreed that tech hubs must be more agile and service-oriented to thrive: 'The workshop showed me that tech hubs can be both an incubator and an accelerator. Or two hubs could partner to offer a hybrid programme.'
Mwanyika believes that it is crucial to understand that theory of change is applicable to tech hubs: 'To really succeed, you need to clearly define your goals and objectives, and strategize right from the beginning.'
The FastTrackTech initiative offered a critical platform for tech hubs on how to strengthen their roles in the future and help newcomers to the sector.
'New tech hubs need knowledge and capacity training. Perhaps we could expand these webinars to universities, where many students are considering opening their own start-ups.'
FastTrackTech is an International Trade Centre project implemented in 2019 and financed by Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands Trust Fund IV.
Through targeted coaching and training as well as matchmaking with potential clients and investors, FastTrackTech is committed to support digital entrepreneurs who aspire to international growth in Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Mali, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia.