By Leila Charfi, Director, Innovation Partnerships, Microsoft 4Afrika
Just over a year ago we launched Microsoft 4Afrika, an Initiativedesigned to accelerate Africa’s economic competitiveness by investing in Africa’s youth and small and medium businesses in three areas - skills, innovation, and access to affordable smart devices. From the start, we recognized that partnerships with likeminded organizations were critical to the success of this initiative. One of our first such partnerships is a strategic cooperation agreement with the iHub in Nairobi and m:lab East Africa, which in the past year has together provided technical training to 520 startups, SMEs, entrepreneurs, & developers – helping them become fully fledged businesses. Over the past year we have entered into similar agreements with CcHUB in Nigeria, DTBi in Tanzania and AfriLabs, the pan-African hub network.
If you’ve been a closer follower of the African innovation landscape, you will realize there has been a shift in recent years from investors seeking innovative solutions from established independent software vendors toward investing more aggressively in developers and start-ups. Why? They are innately innovative, nimble, have potential for tremendous growth, and are using one-of-a-kind solutions to address local problems.
So if you’re an innovative startup or a developer with big ideas, here are my top reasons for signing up with an innovation Hub– also, check out the video here for more!
We all know the saying, ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’, often quoted to illustrate the importance of networking. There is great truth in this, especially when it comes to the exciting and dynamic technology industry. And there is no better place to do this than at the vibrant iHub in Nairobi. According to its founder, Erik Hersman, “The iHub’s mission is to catalyze and grow the Kenyan tech community. We do this by connecting people, supporting startups and surfacing valuable information to the community, whether they’re engineers, web designers, investors, government or academia. At our core, we believe that just by putting smart people in a room, good things happen. This has been proved true over and over again for four years now, it is a place where companies spring up, products are funded, people get connected and where innovation thrives. The iHub was born of an idea by the community, and it should be no surprise that it grows due to that same community’s drive and ambition.”
2. Support and resources
Innovation hubs provide direct access to companies like Microsoft, meaning that developers get access not only to a range of tools to help them develop their products, but one-on-one time with experts that provide invaluable feedback and strategic guidance. For example, Microsoft Developer Evangelist and , John Kimani @kimanigakingo on Twitter is at the iHub every Wednesday to provide technical support to developers and answer their questions. And the best thing about people like John is that they are not just there to do their ‘job’ – they’re genuinely passionate about helping people and seeing ideas turned into reality.
One great example of how this kind of support can help developers, comes from Catherine Kiguru, Chief Innovator of Ukall Limited. Catherine is a successful developer who launched her own startup focused on providing mobile HR solutions that address the challenges that business face who employ large and diverse workforces in multiple and often remote sites. She says the collaborative environment and the support she received from Microsoft, ranging from mentorship to resources and testing, have been instrumental to her success. “(The support from Microsoft) has been very instrumental, both in mentorship and in providing us with the right working environment… and in providing us with the resources we actually needed to develop the product and get it out.”
Coding way into the night at your desk all alone in the dark isn’t very glamorous or motivating. Far more appealing is sitting in a trendy, light and colourful space surrounded by like-minded people and everything you could possibly need to be successful. From its bustling coffee shop to foosball table, bean bags, and outside canteen area, the iHub also enables people to maintain some form of social life while they make their development dreams come true. And, there’s a strong chance that by socializing with some of the greatest tech brains around, they’ll walk away with enough inspiration to burn the midnight oil back at home – even if it is at a drab desk, in the dark!
We fiercely believe in the potential of African innovations, and the developers, entrepreneurs, and youth that are driving them, which is why we’ve chosen to support startups by working with innovation hubs. In addition, we believe that open spaces for innovation and collaboration can help nurture this potential, which is tightly aligned with 4Afrika’s goal of helping accelerate Africa’s economic development and improve its global competitiveness.
So, if you are in Kenya and these reasons sound like good ones to you – or if you need more convincing – I urge you to get down to the iHub and see what the space has to offer (you can also follow iHub on Twitter here). And if you aren’t in Kenya, find out more about an innovation hub in your country at the following links:
Afrilabs (pan-African network with affiliates in Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia)