Lessons on Tech Hub Utility from the GES

GES-logoThe Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) brings together entrepreneurs and investors from across Africa and around the world annually to showcase innovative projects, exchange new ideas, and help spur economic opportunity. With Nairobi as the host city, the 2015 GES agenda focused on generating new investments for entrepreneurs, with a particular focus on women and youth. Kenya is a world leader in mobile money systems, like m-pesa, and a driver of innovation through technology research and incubation labs like iHub.

, Executive Director at AfriLabs summarized the key points from the event and takes the discussion to another level culminating in a call to the young entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Read her whole article at linkedin.com/pulse.

[…]

Although hubs serve as infrastructure to support the development of technology, entrepreneurship and innovation, not all hubs are startup factories with quantifiable and predictable outcomes. In fact, many hubs provide services, such as training and mentoring, which may be classified as public goods. These types of activities are notoriously difficult to monetize and embed in an “economic rationale”. Nonetheless, as the rousing dialogue suggested, we need to understand what value hubs add. Although I won’t try to provide a full answer here, I will share some preliminary thoughts as a platform for dialogue. Arguably, there are at least core four functions that hubs serve, for which external stakeholders engage them.

  1. Start-up Support. No surprises here. Most hubs intend to engage somewhere along the spectrum of start-up support. The maturity and needs of a hub’s tech/startup community and its raison d’etre will determine where it positions itself. However, there are lingering questions about whether hubs truly help birth high-growth startups, as is evidenced by this piece by Mark Essien, Founder of ng and a subsequent rebuttal by Michael Oluwagbemi, Founder of Wennovation Hub.
  2. Social Problem-solving. Think ICT for “x”— ICT for governance, development, m-health and the like. Although there’s a need to move beyond “there’s an app for that” thinking to examine the social structures that preserve the status quo, there’s no denying that tech can be a cross-cutting enabler of change. Check out this blog by Suvojit Chattopadhyay at the World Bank and this article by Thomas Carothers at Foreign Policy for sophisticated thinking on the role of tech in social change.
  3. (Spotting) low-cost innovation. Following from the above, there are lots of funders looking for the next Ushahidi, Sanergy, or Wecyclers and they expect hubs to be their eyes and ears on the ground, spaces that nurture such disruptors, and sources of innovation themselves.
  4. Content Distribution. Any hub community manager will tell you, probably with a hint of fatigue in her voice, that a big part of her job is managing requests to spread the word about any number of startup competitions, events, funding opportunities, research studies, and educational opportunities.

Surely, there are general product and service categories that I haven’t described, such as consulting, research, training, and facilitation. However, this is an arguably fair representation of the types of value that external stakeholders expect to receive from hubs. The problem here is that much of this activity is undercompensated, if it’s compensated at all, and performed by organizations that often lack adequate financial and human resources. So the question becomes, if there’s value creation, how much of it can be monetized? And who’s willing to pay? Perhaps more importantly, when we “widgetize” the value of hubs, do we de-emphasize their roles as conveners, nurturers, and purveyors of serendipity? […]

GES-Kenya-2015

photo: Tayo Akinyemi

Read the whole article at linkedin.com/pulse.

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