Over the past two years, there are over 130 hubs opened across Africa, which translates to a 40% growth but they are still not enough. Most of these hubs receive their technical and financial support from foundations, tech, and teleco corporates. For example, Google and Facebook have been instrumental in rolling out new Lagos centers with both corporations having Launchpad and NG_Hub. These tech-hub labels vary in their operations with the majority being community centers for aspiring entrepreneurs to hang around like-minded innovators and technology dreamers.
Google and Facebook’s hubs also provide technical and financial support to upcoming startups. For instance, Facebook’s hub will house workspaces, event space, and host digital training programs such as Accelerator Program, Fb Start, and SheMeansBusiness. Additionally, they will offer $20,000 grants in equity-free funding. For Google, its LaunchPad Accelerator Africa Program will offer grants amounting to $3 million to over 60 startups across the continent on top of the mentorship and technical support programs.
Another form of support is the end-to-end model, which is attributed to the early equity investment, community, and technical support. For example, MEST, which is in Accra, has now grown to have hubs in Cape Town, Lagos, and Nairobi being their next destination. However, Afrilabs’ chairlady asserts that there is need to have more hubs across Africa to about 90 hubs across 30 countries. The best encouragement to achieve enough startup hubs is for the local corporates to follow Facebook and Google’s efforts in opening more hubs, which can offer networking and training opportunities for startups. MEST Africa’s Aaron Fu declares that the current demand across Africa is to have more and different hubs because the market growth will soon demand specialized knowledge with an example of the UX/design center or a Fintech hub.
One major blind spot overseen by many is the lack of a close link to academic centers of innovation the way Stanford University has close connections with Silicon Valley in California. Therefore, to address this fear, it is crucial to involve support of the local private sector, which will have the opportunity to gain from sharing the innovation risks. An entrepreneur-in-residence at MIT Media Lab, Julius Akinyemi’s perspective is that the absence of a complete environment and exchange of skills and ideas across African tech hubs requires solutions. These solutions will involve the private sector through the R&D to fuel innovation, which will result in more trust for startup companies to access funds to invest and as a result generate local wealth.
Western countries have gained from institution’s innovation in developing new products and market. Africa needs to loop in this perspective in order to pace up.