As I was getting ready to head to Ethiopia last week to speak at a conference, one of the main things on my agenda was to see IceAddis. To my surprise, I also found out of a new community-based tech hub, called xHub, that’s about to go live. Here some of my thoughts on both.
IceAddis is renowned in the African tech hub community for their amazing design. This is for good reason, as they sit on the EiABC, the architectural and design school at the university. They’ve been part of the AfriLabs network from early on, and one of their co-founders, Oliver, was kind enough to pick me up and take me to see the space.
There is a semi-finalist from Ethiopia in this years Pivot East event, for the first time ever, and it’s not surprising that they came from IceAddis. In fact, I ran into one of the founders in Addis, and I’m excited to see a company from a new country in this year’s event.
Online Hisab (Ethiopia): Online Hisab is a cloud-based accounting package for Ethiopian SMEs, who are looking for an affordable and easy to use accounting solution.
I’ve never been a fan of seeing tech hubs or labs showing up on university campuses (as I’ve never been a fan of government run/setup ones). The team at IceAddis confirmed why. Due to the amounts of bureaucracy inherent in the system, it makes doing anything almost impossible. Their space was fairly empty when I came through, likely due to time of the day, but this also might be due to location in town or due to being on campus.
One really great thing I got to see was their maker space, which is only used by the architectural school, but they do some amazing things with it and it holds great promise. Now, if only Ethiopia would bring some consistency to component and equipment import regulations.
xHubThe moment I stepped into the hotel in Addis Ababa, I was met by one of the local tech guys, Kibrom Tadesse who started telling me about this new tech hub that he was planning called xHub. I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it, and on Saturday he arranged for me to be picked up by his business partner and primary driver behind the space, named Tedd Tadesse (his brother-in-law).
I wasn’t sure what to expect, to be honest, and was thinking that they might be better served by joining with IceAddis. However, after talking at length with Teddy and seeing the location, I changed my mind and realized that there was indeed room for both spaces in the community. The community badly needs a space that is enterprise and entrepreneur-focused, that is welcoming to the business community.
First, the xHub space is amazing. The building that it’s at and floors it can take up are just what you’d expect from a top-end community tech hub in one of Africa’s major capitals. If they can wring a deal out of the landlord for the roof space, it’ll be the best event space on the continent.
The plan is to get the community involved in the build-out, design and use of the xHub right away, and have the space in a usable fit and condition with 4-6 weeks. I’m excited about it, and I know the community is as well, as I talked to a number of young entrepreneurs and coders later that day.
Thoughts on the Addis Tech Community
After a lot of discussions with the tech hub leaders, a few tech entrepreneurs, over a dozen computer science and engineering students, and then experiencing the internet in Ethiopia, I came away with a few thoughts.
- The tech community in Addis is smart, hungry and realizes the potential of the country they live in. It felt a little like Nairobi in 2005, where there was this growing desire to get connected (faster), build businesses and show up on the global stage.
- The infrastructure of connectivity in Ethiopia is constrained by government monopoly on telcoms (mobile) and internet, so they really struggle for good service.
- Due to their foreign currency trade restrictions, investors aren’t keen to work in the market too deeply. This means funding and access to other markets are hard.
- With the size of the local market (some 80 million people) they realize there is a home market, and some of the businesses are honing in on the b2b and public-sector opportunities.
I’m curious as to what will happen next. The tech hubs seem like the best vector, since they provide a nexus point for activities and people finding each other. Being in a country where government control is so heavy, these tech hubs have to work with the government, and I hope that this will open doors and increase the flow of capital into the startups rather than constrain them.