by Duncan Gathege
iHub Research is conducting an on-going research to understand the unique factors that make up ICT Hub models across Africa. The objective of the study is to understand the models of the Hubs/Labs, its entrepreneurs and the sustainable impact of these Hubs/Labs in spurring innovations that improve livelihoods. Little inquiry, if any, has been done to understand the various ICT Hub models developing all over Africa, and how such factors influence the entrepreneurs in the spaces. iHub Research aims to fill this dearth of information.
African continent has been largely relying on agriculture-based economy all along. However, studies have shown that the use of ICT has transformed many economies towards a knowledge-based economy, in which the production and dissemination of knowledge leads to economic benefits and enriches all fields of human endeavour. iHub Research, through the study of ICT hubs in eight countries: (iHub-Kenya; Activspaces–Cameroon; Hive Colab–Uganda; Iceaddis-Ethiopia; KLab-Rwanda; MEST-Ghana, BongoHive-Zambia and KINU-Tanzania) have explored the theme of Open Innovation that is used by these hubs to enhance African entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Open innovation is defined as “the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively”. This paradigm assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as they look to advance their technology (Chesbrough, 2006). On the other hand, Bwisa (2010) argues that entrepreneurship may loosely be defined as “the process of identifying viable opportunities and profitably exploiting them”. Entrepreneurs are creative, innovative and alert to spot opportunities in the environment and exploit them for profitability and growth. The core aspects of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs are creativity and innovation.
From these studies, it is revealed that all these ICT hubs are promoting open innovation in similar ways especially through events within the spaces. For example kLab through Demo Night”, iHub through events that nurture an enabling environment and collaboration between technologyentrepreneurs. At KINU, open innovation is promoted through brainstorming sessions with their community members to encourage openness between them through idea sharing while at Iceaddis it’s through the Social Innovators Mentors (SIM) project. At Activspaces’ it is based on a landscape of abundant knowledge and crowd-sourcing to the members of the space while Hive Colab promotes open innovation through initiatives such as cross-hub exchange programs whereby it has collaborated with Nigeria on different kinds of meet ups such as mobile app. At MEST, open innovation is promoted through exchange programs among schools for information sharing while at Bongo Hive it is through various events such as hackathons which encourage people to work together and the crowd-sourcing platform especially for women in tech.
It is also evident from these studies that major breakthroughs in promoting open innovation have been achieved e.g.:
- Through mobile revolution, ICT innovations are delivering home-grown solutions in Africa, transforming businesses and driving entrepreneurship and economic development. For example M-Farma startup company from iHub, is a mobile Information Resource Center that focuses on delivering real time information to the farmers on current market prices, weather alerts and agro-supplies within the location, bringing farmers together in a collaborative forum.
- Governments have critical roles to play in creating the enabling environment in which innovations and investments can flourish while serving as a lead client in adopting new innovations and technologies emanating from these hubs. For instance, kLab is located at ICT Park owned by the Rwandan government and the hub also works closely with the director of the ICT chamber under Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
- Effective use of ICTs will require cross-sectoral collaboration and a multi-stakeholder approach, based on open data and open innovation for sustainable success. For example, SEACOM has also donated free internet for a year to KINU- 30mb of free internet capacity to help improve the speed and quality of KINU’s internet connectivity, which will in turn improve the efficiency of the start-up ICT enterprises they develop.
- Internet bandwidth has grown tremendously with thousands of kilometers of fibre optic cables having been laid across the continent which has in turn changed lives and driving entrepreneurship due to collaborative technology hubs.