By Hilda Moraa and Wangechi Mwangi
(Download the report here)
This research aimed to understand the impact of the ICT Hubs to entrepreneurs. An ICT hub is a space where technologists congregate to bounce ideas around, network, work, program and design to bring their ideas to fruition.
The first ICT Hub of the 15 hubs to be profiled within this study series is iHub, Nairobi’s innovation Hub for the Technology Community. The study found that 100% of the entrepreneurs appreciate the iHub space as it has been a conducive and innovative co-working space that drives continuous networking through the events, community meet-upsthat leads to collaboration and partnerships, sharing skills and knowledge through teamwork among others.
This is likely because most of these talented entrepreneurs having graduated with no formal job opportunities, have had their talents and skills nurtured and housed under these hubs. Overall, the entrepreneurs believe that the iHub can further sustain this co-working spirit by building more capacity through communal projects and active virtual member interaction among others.
The iHub Study
The first part of the iHub study described the various factors that make up the iHub model which you can download at this link. The second phase of the study was aimed at assessing the impact of that model to the entrepreneurs. After our initial pre-test findings, we made necessary amendments to our methodologies and we settled on a mix of methodologies: in-depth interviews, observation, and interactions were used for the Green and Red members, as those members were more easily available since they work from the space. Focus groups with the start-ups were also used.
E-surveys and phone interviews were used for the white members since they access the iHub services and community virtually, and it was harder to find them due to their busy schedule and the fact that most of them are not based within the iHub space.A total of 25 members: n=15 (60%) Green members, n=5 (20%) Red members and n=5 (20%) White members formed the sample population. A criterion was used to select the sample size based on the period they have been on the space, have attended at least 2 events and are working on different aspects based on their skills set.
As mentioned earlier the key objectives of the research was to investigate what factors make up the ICT Hubs model and how the model itself impacts to the entrepreneurs in the space, that make them to actively continue to use the space. In the coming months, the study will also focus on other initiatives in the eco-system such as innovations at high level of education and upcoming local tech companies’ in order to measure the innovation in the country, which will then be replicated to other hubs, and initiatives around Africa.
In the long run the research will aim to do a comparative study to identify what unique factors came out of the different hubs that make them successful creating an impaction on the economy’s development that is adoption of new technologies and innovations of employment leading to improvement in the living standards.
This research revealed how the iHub started, the impact of the iHub on the individual entrepreneurs, the kinds of members using the space daily or regularly (whether they are freelancers, people working in start-ups, people developing start-ups or employees of other companies who work at the iHub), how often they come to the iHub, what they do on a daily basis, whether the members skills are improving and how, what they appreciate about the space, the challenges they have faced while using the space and the overall changes they would like to see this year in the iHub.
The research was also specific in trying to understand how the entrepreneurs are working in their start-ups, what they are working on, whether the start-ups started before or after joining the iHub, where the team members met, the size of the teams, whether they have clients, investors, or mentors and how they make their money. It also gives more insights on the challenges that they have faced, the lessons that they are learning while working within their teams and from the community as well, how the friendships and connections that the members are forming while in their start-ups are affecting their start-up, the scale of growth of the entrepreneurs and the start-ups based on the growth parameters that they are using to determine this growth. Also key was the factors that make the entrepreneurs continue to use the space as illustrated below:
How the iHub Community Uses the Space
The iHub Community
The respondents appreciated the community, which stood to be a core aspect of the iHub. The community has a mix of skills to share and collaborate and many partnerships have emerged, potential clients referred, and friendships formed. Other significant factors included :the events, Internet connectivity, community, open culture, open innovation through the community sharing skills and working in teams, and the iHub physical space above all, have been significant factors of the iHub model that have added value to the entrepreneurial spirit at the iHub, and the wider technology community in Nairobi.
This research aimed to inform current and future African Hubs/Labs on the community’s opinion of areas of positive impact and areas of improvement for the Hubs/Labs. The study looks at the principles and organizational model adopted in existing African ICT Hubs to understand the impact of the Hubs on the entrepreneurs. Bearing in mind that the Hubs/Labs vary in implementation structure, there are numerous lessons to learn from each other for the benefit of the community of entrepreneurs that drive the spaces.
In addition to this report, the research team has formulated an internal report for the iHub that will help them to address specific key issues and targeted feedback raised by the members. The researchers will have a formal meeting with the iHub management to present the internal report.
This study is just the beginning of better understanding innovation in Africa. Simultaneously as African Governments and private sector stakeholders invest in ICT-related investments and infrastructure, there is a need for active participation from different ICT stakeholders to work on making local innovations a reality and accelerating them to the market through an ideal environment and favorable policies to encourage open innovation and entrepreneurship.