Internet Access Part 2 of 3

For the majority of Americans when we think of tech hubs, Africa isn’t the first to spring to mind. But that is something that we would like to change. Recently the continent has had some amazing spurts of open innovation, with more than 45 collaborative hubs now open.

These have not come without some challenges in the development of information technology here in Africa. Even though global Internet penetration is now estimated at about 32%, it’s far lower for most of Africa, where only around 11% of the population has continuous access to the Internet through a computer or mobile phone. Within the continent, too, there are enormous divides. While countries like Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa are leading the way with nearly 30% of their populations online, Ethiopia is still estimated to have less than 1%. But all that is about to change: Internet usage in Africa has been growing faster than on any other continent over the past decade and the pace only looks to increase in the coming years.

So what exactly is a tech hub and what do they do for the African continent? Well they train, connect, and encourage innovation for starters. Here’s a closer look at a couple of them:

Meltwater I a nonprofit who started a school in Ghana to train the next generation of tech entrepreneurs–and then help to fund their projects. Meltwater graduated its first 20 students in 2010 and 20 more last year. These graduates are then eligible to use seed funding of between $30,000 and $200,000 to develop software businesses that will reach both Ghanaian and global markets.

One example of a recent startup to come out of Meltwater is Dropifi, a web messaging platform which helps companies better analyze, visualize, and respond to incoming messages from contacts. Last fall it took top honors at the Accra Startup Weekend.

ActivSpaces was one of the first tech hubs in Sub-Saharan Africa; it serves to engineer socially responsible investment and the incubation of African small and medium-sized enterprises. One thing Cameroon has going for it is a ballooning population of young people–40% under the age of 15–many of who are rapidly beginning to go online and become engaged.

One example of a project out of ActivSpaces is Bisou, a motion-activated streetlamp. When motion is detected, the light comes on and a piece of music or a public service announcement can be played, helping out parts of cities that can’t afford to keep the lights on all the time, but want to reduce crime.

iHub has just won $150,000 in funding from Google to expand its operations. Acting as a more traditional incubator, iHub seeks to connect entrepreneurs with funders. Membership is open and free to those who work in programming, design, or research, but different levels of membership open up different opportunities.

iHub supported the creation of M-Farm, a mobile-phone service that delivers real-time information to farmers on current market prices, weather alerts, and agro-supplies in their area. It also brings farmers together to buy or sell their products in groups, helping them to gain access to larger markets.
M-Farm enables farmers to carry out a cost-benefit analysis before deciding where to sell their products, with voice controls in both English and Swahili.

Co-Creation calls itself a pre-incubation space, where work to inspire creative social tech ventures takes place. It recently launched Ideas 2020 a crowdsourced platform to gather citizens’ ideas to improve Nigeria ahead of the year 2020, when the country is expected to be one of the largest 20 economies in the world.

CcHub is also supporting Budgit, an online platform that uses infographics to make the Nigerian government budget easier for citizens to read and understand. The platform was born out of the Hub’s training series, which focused on good governance. Budgit went live in September last year, posting 100,000 hits in its first month online.

And there are more on the way. A pilot program funded by Google in South Africa called Umbono has just started taking applications for its six-month fellowship, training entrepreneurs and then connecting them with funding sources.

This piece originally appeared in Fast Company: A New Silicon Valley? Tech Hubs Spring Up In Africa


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