10 African innovation incubators to watch

The term business Incubation is often heard in the hallways of science and technology companies across Africa.

Innovation Hubs and other tech focused communities are playing a key role in lifting Africa's technology global appeal. (Image: The Innovation Hub)

Entrepreneurs are using technology to develop ideas to introduce products and services to compete within the continent’s burgeoning ICT marketplace.

With the level of challenges that tech start-ups face in competing within the broader technology space, business incubation, funding and other resources have emerged as focal points for industry regulators and governments.

A number of technology-focused collective communities or Hubs, described as Innovation Hubs, Technology Labs and/or Science & Technology Parks, have emerged with the objective of fuelling innovation and building business.

These tech-driven initiatives are often membership-driven and rely extensively on the concept of cooperation, mutual benefit and strength in association.

So what initiatives are available to those wanting to establish a technology business?

In this list we explore several high profile communities from across Africa, listed according to criteria that includes online presence,  level of service/s, impact on socio-economic development, size, focus, cost and length of time in existence.

The Innovation Hub (South Africa)

The Innovation Hub’s status as Africa’s first internationally accredited Science and Technology Park. It is a subsidiary of the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency, an agency of the Gauteng Department of Economic Development.

The Innovation Hub covers several key sectors including IT, Biosciences, Green Technologies and Industrials.

The organistion is home to 47 businesses. These are made up of fledgling companies who utilise the Innovation Hub’s Business Incubator Program, including access to complimentary Wi-Fi connectivity and mentorship, as well as businesses looking to invest in commercial space to benefit by being part of a networked community of peers.

The Innovation Hub is behind the launch of ground-breaking initiatives including the Gauteng Accelerator Programme, an initiative designed to build entrepreneurial skills in the biosciences sector.

It also breathed life into the Open Innovation Solution Exchange, a web-based platform that connects innovators with solution seekers to tackle service delivery in government and increase competitiveness in the private sector.

Botswana Innovation Hub  (Botswana)

Established in 2006, The Botswana Innovation Hub is focused on key sectors including ICT, bio-tech, energy and environment, as well as mining. The Hub came about as a result of the realisation of the Botswana Excellence Strategy which had as its foundation a national strategy for diversification of the country’s economy, job creation and the pursuit of a knowledge-based economy.

Several companies and partners have registered with the Botswana Innovation Hub, including Southern Mapping Company Botswana(Pty) Ltd., the University of Botswana, as well as a citizen-owned startup company called Kaelekae, focused on the provision of mobile phone-based platforms for social networking and marketing.

This Hub is run by a board of directors, chaired by Mr Daniel Neo.

AfriLabs (online networked)

This network organisation was established in 2010 to promote the growth and development ofAfrica’s technology sector.

This community is behind the successful implementation of the Apps4Africa competition and is also credited with the establishment of Hive Colab as the leading open collaboration space in Kampala, Uganda.

Hivos, an international development organisation, is listed as a partner of AfriLabs.

At present the AfriLab network comprises 14 hubs and labs acrossAfrica.

BongoHive (Zambia)

Lusaka-based BongoHive is a technology and Innovation Hub set up in May 2011, established to provide an area for the local tech community to network and engage each other.

BongoHive has collaborated with a social media management and content creation agency called C1RCA1964 to facilitate and advertise the relevance of Tweet Up Fundraiser. This initiative aimed at grouping online resources and people to help raise funds for important causes, including HIV prevention.

It is also home to Bantu Babel, an African language translation app, developed by Randon Hacks of Kindness hackathon, the Peace Corp Innovation Challenge hackathon held at BongoHive in December 2012.

According to its website, its activity is focused on three key aspects including innovation, creativity and sustainability.

Membership is free, however members must agree to specific development methods used at Lusaka’s Innovation Hub.

Co-Creation Hub (Nigeria)

Described as a social innovation centre, the Co-Creation Hub is focused on the strategic use of social capital and technology to boost Nigeria’s economy.

Bosun Tijani is the Hub’s CEO and co-founder. He leads a team of specialists in the rollout of programmes including Tech-In Series, Developers Parapo and the Nokia-CcHUB Growth Academy.

Seedstars Lagos, part of a global initiative launched by Swiss company, Seedstars SA, is hosted by CcHUB and is focused on identifying the best start-up in fast-growing areas.

Ideas and skills application seems to be a core focus of CcHUB, which, as its website proclaims, has been covered in the media for the desire to house “Nigeria’s next great idea”.

Ebene Cyber-City (Mauritius)

The Ebene Cyber-City is an established technology and business focused community within Ebene City, 15 km south of the capital Port Louis.

The Cyber-City features the Ebene Cyber Tower 1, a twelve-story commercial building and represents a core component of the government’s plan to develop ICT.

Cyber-City falls under the Business Parks of Mauritius Ltd. (BPML Group), a government-owned infrastructure development company. One of the objectives of the BPML is to cement the country’s status as a regional centre for excellence for ICT outsourcing.

The technology focused region has also hosted a job fair in 2012, the Cyber Tower Job Fair.

i-Hub (Kenya)  

According to Wikipedia, i-Hub has been called the “unofficial headquarters of Kenya’s tech movement”

It is also described on its website as “part vector for investors and VCs and part incubator” and there is emphasis on its role as an open space for the country’s tech community, with particular reference to providing startups and entrepreneurs access to VCs, seed funders and local businesses.

i-Hub states that it has 10596 members and 152 companies on board, many of whom are positioned within Kenya’s developer community.

The initiative is reported to have supported the creation of the mobile phone service M-Farm, designed to empower farmers with real-time information.

Its partners include Intel, Google, Samsung, amongst others.

Outbox Hub (Uganda)  

Defined on its website as a “technology incubation, collaboration space and innovation hub”, The Outbox Hub features Google for Entrepreneurs as a sponsor and is focused on supporting the establishment of mobile and web businesses, steering entrepreneurship through incubation and acceleration.

It is targeted at developers, designers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and investors, and provides mentorship, network and investor sourcing, as well as access to professional services.

Startup companies within the Outbox community include Kola Studios (developer and publisher of Social Mobile games for the web, smartphone and tablet devices), CodeSync (a developing one-stop music store for African musicians) and Beyonic (software development and consultancy firm).

iLab (Liberia)

iLab Liberia is a non-profit computer laboratory that provides access to technology and IT expertise to benefit the country.

This initiative is focused on information sharing and also hosts tech events and network facility through which tech enthusiasts can engage with each other and ICT professionals.

This Lab was co-founded by John Etherton, the lead technical consultant for iLab Liberia, and Kate Cummings, Executive Director.

There are a host of collaborators affiliated to the iLab, including Google, the Georgia Institute of Technology and UN Volunteers.

IceAddis (Ethiopia)  

Ethiopian university-based innovation hub, incubator and business accelerator IceAddis is based on the idea of combining innovation with collaboration and entrepreneurship.

It has been established to foster collaboration between stakeholders in the country’s developing ICT space, including academia, technology industry, the government and wider private sector.

IceAddis is reported to have more than 500 active members, a community of budding entrepreneurs and developers who leverage off the Hub’s mentorship and training programmes.

For example, a CCTV news report profiled a smartphone app, developed by Yonathan Gosaye, that is aimed at assisting tourists with information about Addis Ababa, events, historic sites and more.

Chris Tredger, Online Editor