African Cities Need Tech Coworking Spaces

African techies need community spaces. In Africa it makes sense to have this be part coworking space and part business and idea incubator.

A little background

There is an emergent, yet disconnected, technology community growing in many of the major African cities. The digital connection happens, primarily through email lists or message boards, and from time-to-time there are local physical meet ups, like the recent surge in BarCamps and other non-traditional meetings. What isn’t available is a place to meet that is always available and is made to engage and grow the community.

The VC, investor and business communities in Africa are beginning to see the value and need for web and mobile applications and services. At the same time these same individuals and organizations have no real avenue for engagement with the distributed and independent developer community. What they need is a hub, a place to go to find the young talent, invest in it, and offer monetary opportunities that re-invest in local technology growth.

These hubs would be tech community facilities in major cities with a focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers and designers. It is part open community workspace (coworking), part investor and VC hub and part incubator. It is the nexus point for technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in that area.

What it is

These hubs are community spaces that are open to all web and mobile phone developers. They are owned and supported by the local tech community and organizations that care about seeing this community grow.

It is an incubator, with an in-house investor who acts as advisor, who also helps to vette new entrepreneurs and ideas. It primarily operates off of a micro-VC model (a la Y Combinator) whereby approved entrepreneurs are given support for 3-6 months of work to create and launch their product or service. In that time, they are also given the chance to pitch the completed product to other investors, and are given support on business, licensing and legal issues.

It is where the young and old, new and experienced developers can go to hang out, learn from each other and work on joint projects. There is a real focus on making this open and available at those odd hours which hackers are prone to want to work in. It has a free high-speed internet connection, electricity, and an upbeat and fun environment to work in. It is where the local tech guys and user groups do their monthly and weekly meetings.

It is a coworking space, where freelance developers and designers can rent space (daily/weekly/monthly) and share common meeting rooms for business meetings. They are provided with spacious desks, high-speed internet access, conference rooms, a kitchen, unlimited network printing and faxing, couches and lounging area.

What it isn’t

It isn’t just a business. The end goal of the Innovation Hub in Nairobi is not to make money and be more profitable. Instead, it is to grow a stronger technology community in African cities, one where developers, designers, VCs and businesses are all better connected and mutually benefiting from the growth.

It isn’t a place for an outside sponsor to slap their brand on and call their own. This steals ownership from the local tech community and defeats the purpose of the facility.

Examples in action

They look different in every city, they take on the personalities of the communities that support them, and
(full list of known coworking spaces around the world)

Open Innovation Lab in Cape Town

There are a couple South African coworking spots. The Open Innovation Studio just opened in Cape Town, and I know there are a couple other space like Habitaz in Johannesburg.

Independents' Hall

There are quite a few running around the US right now. The most famous coworking spaces are Independents Hall in Philadelphia (run by my friend Alex) and Citizen Space in San Francisco (run by Chris and Tara).

Colab Orlando - sign

In Orlando, Colab just opened, which I visited today to get a feel for the space. And just recently, my friend Mark Grimes opened up NedSpace in Portland, Oregon.

The Hub London

The Hub is a chain of coworking spaces, you can find one in Cairo. The image above is from their London facility.