We Need More, Not Less

I was recently approached by a Kenyan journalist who was bemoaning the fact there was so much activity in the local tech scene, but that so many weren’t making a lot of money on their startups yet.

It was an interesting moment for me, as I looked at last year’s iHub Research study showing 48 new companies out in the past 2 years (I’ll need an update for 2012 numbers). I look at the numbers of say 30-40 new tech startups in Kenya each year and I think, that’s not enough. We know only 10-20% will make it. Personally, I’m not happy with 3-6 companies each year getting through, we need more. I’ll be a lot happier when we see 100+ new startups, working out of all the new incubators and getting the investment and users/clients they need to grow.

In short, we need more, not fewer startups in Kenya.

It might be uncomfortable for some of us, as we’ve seen the increasing amount of activity and we’re not used to it. However, a growth in this space is exactly what we need if we are to fulfill our own potential for being Africa’s tech innovation hotbed.

It’s also a bit hard to see so many companies fail. This is normal though, it’s what we should expect. As long as the entrepreneurs are learning from what went wrong, then it can serve as a good lesson that makes them more investible in the future. It’ll help us get used to a much more rapid ideation >> creation >> failure/success model.

Here’s the full infographic from the iHub, updated for 2012 (click for full size):

Growing AfriLabs: 14 Labs, a Director, Research and Support

AfriLabs is a network of the tech hubs and labs across Africa. The labs serve as an accessible platform for bringing together technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in their city. Each lab shares a focus on entrepreneurs, Web and mobile-phone programmers and designers.

Bill has put together an excellent blog post on how we’re growing the AfriLabs network. We’ve moved from the original 5 to 14 labs and hubs across the continent.

iHub – Kenya
Hive Colab – Uganda
ActivSpaces – Cameroon
BantaLabs – Senegal
NaiLab – Kenya
MEST – Ghana
iceAddis – Ethiopia
Co-Creation Hub – Nigeria
iLab – Liberia
RLabs – South Africa
BongoHive – Zambia
Malagasy i-Hub – Madagascar
m:Lab East Africa – Kenya
Wennovation Hub – Nigeria

Applications are open, and we hope to induct more African tech hubs into the AfriLabs Association in the coming months. I hope to see Kinu (Tanzania), OutBox (Uganda) and Jumpstart (Zimbabwe) apply.

An AfriLabs Director

We’re looking for AfriLabs first director, someone who understands the tech hub models and is able to help build the network, connections to it from media and investors and be a general connector for everyone. It’s a challenging position that requires someone who is good at community building, and can speak well with international corporates, foundations and media.

The AfriLabs Director can come from any country in Africa, and the HQ for AfriLabs is wherever the AfriLabs Director resides.

Funding for this position has been provided by our partners at Hivos. We’re seeking further funding and partners as the AfriLabs network grows, so if your company or foundation is interested in working with (or promoting) technology spaces across Africa, do get in touch.

Research on Africa’s Tech Hubs

Since we started the AfriLabs network, tech communities in many countries in Africa have started their own spaces. These range in model and makeup, from incubation and training spaces like MEST Ghana to co-working environments such as ActivSpaces in Cameroon, and community spaces like the Co-Creation Hub in Nigeria. Governments have gotten involved with places like the Botswana Innovation Hub here in Gaberone, and some academic institutions are jumping in as well like we see with the Strathmore iLab in Nairobi.

The iHub Research team has started doing case studies on the labs, and have started a research paper on the Impact of ICT Hubs (PDF) (this first one on the iHub). They’ll need further funding in order to take this to some of the other tech hubs across Africa.

This is estimated to be a 3-year-long study on 15 selected ICT Hubs across Africa. The main objectives of the study are to:

Short-term objectives:

  • Investigate what factors make up the ICT Hubs model;
  • Understand the entrepreneurs/start-ups and the value of the ICT Hubs to their business ideas through a representative sample size representing the different membership tiers;
  • Assess the impact of the Hub to an individual member based on the different memberships categories;
  • Survey the factors that make the members to continue to use the space.

Long-term objective:

  • Compare the different Hubs/Labs and the unique factors in each that make it to work;
  • Study the Impact of the ICT Hubs on the economy’s development that is adoption of new technologies and innovations of employment leading to improvement in the living standards.

Supporting Organizations

Initial funding to get AfriLabs off the ground was through Hivos, who also supported the iHub back in 2009 before anyone believed that a tech hub in Africa could really work. They continue to support the ecosystem through funding the AfriLabs Director position (mentioned above).

One of the organizations that has really stepped forward to help give seed funding to the new tech hubs is Indigo Trust. They recently convened a meeting in London where they flew in a number of the managers from these facilities to meet and talk about what would be needed. This was the same type of discussion that was had in Nairobi with another group of tech hub leaders at the Open Innovation Africa Summit.

Google, Omidyar Network and infoDev have also been strong supporters (monetarily as well as other resources), with multiple hubs and labs. We seem to have reached the point where there is enough critical mass in the number of tech spaces, and enough support for them from corporates and foundations.

AfriLabs serves as a great vector for all of this to come together, applying resources to help liase and coordinate the communications and events between the tech hubs, and at the same time providing that larger target for media, investors, corporate and funding partners to find the initiatives in each country.

The Ground is Barely Scratched: Pivot East 2012


(Thanks to @zulusafari for the images today)

“The ground is barely scratched”, quipped Rebecca Wanjiku, a local tech infrastructure entrepreneur and iHub advisory board member, on stage today at Pivot East. And she’s right, there are a wealth of opportunities in the region. When asked “Why are there so many apps being built in Kenya?”, Kenya’s Permanent Secretary for Info and Comms Bitange Ndemo said, “Because we have so many problems to solve.”

While the iHub might be about innovation, Pivot East is about finding the tech startups with high-growth potential in the region and putting them on stage in front of investors, media and businesses. It’s about finding “what’s next” in East Africa’s vibrant mobile tech scene. Chances are, the best of these startups are providing highly innovative and disruptive solutions.

The startup scene in East Africa has moved wildly beyond where it was even two years ago when the iHub started. Those trying to raise funds for a new company have all of the resources they need at their disposal, including spaces to work with fast bandwidth, mentors and investors that cover the funding spectrum. If the last couple years was about building the ecosystem, this year is about the startups proving themselves and building products.

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Day one of Pivot East is over, and we’ve had a lot more fun than we should be allowed to have. How to find out more and follow for day two tomorrow:

Overall Thoughts

It’s interesting to see how this Pivot East is different than last year’s Pivot 25 (by the way, we changed it to Pivot East so that our friends in South and West Africa could use the brand to do their own events). It seems like the bar has risen, that the pitches are better delivered, that the ideas are a little more sound and business plans are more thought through.

This makes sense, as there has been an influx in pitching and hacking competitions over the last year and people have seen the bar from last year and want to do better themselves. On top of that, the startups in East Africa have had a lot more face-time with investors, who provide pressure to think more deeply about the important questions related to running a business, not just building a cool product.

My friend Michael Duarte, of Duarte Design – the team behind some of the most impressive presentation designs in the world, spent 3 days with the Pivot East finalists last week helping them to hone their decks and tell a story that would resonate with the audience. It’s worked wonders in the way the decks look, as well as the confidence that the startups have when they pitch.

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This year we’ve put the investors into the same area as the judges, allowing both to ask questions and grill the startups. This has turned out surprisingly well, allowing the people with the most interest to ask pointed and meaningful questions.

We’ve had some fantastic pitches thus far, but it’s only day one, so we’ll have 10 more hit the big stage tomorrow. Exciting times!

Fireside Chats

Intermixed between the pitches are “fireside chats”, our fancy term for panels of real movers in different parts of the industry. We try to keep them lively by bringing a good moderator in, and this year TV personality Eric Latiff from KTN has proved to be an outstanding one, making sure we’ve got some lively commentary and tough questions being asked.

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One of my favorite panels was when we had Bob Collymore, CEO of Kenya’s Safaricom on the same stage with Hakim Moi, the CEO of Zain South Sudan. It was a real treat to hear the difference in the way an incumbent mobile operator speaks about their market versus a new one in Africa’s newest country. There’s a lot of opportunity in both countries, but they come from completely different edges of the spectrum.

A particularly interesting challenge was voiced by Bob Collymore on the difficulties of large mobile operator’s on the innovation front. He’s interested in having a “Director of Innovation” in the organization, someone that comes from the outside and on the edge, who can work directly with him to ensure that not only Safaricom, but the rest of the people and organizations within their sphere are thinking broadly about disruption and creating ways for new, small and innovative companies to better interact with each other.

The iHub in 2012: Freelancers and Presentations

iHub Advisory Board Retreat

This weekend the iHub Advisory Board met with the managers (Tosh and Jessica) to discuss the future direction of the space and what our focus should be for the coming year. The meeting was facilitated by my friend Peter Durand of Alphachimp Studios, who is in town as a part of the PopTech Lab.

The iHub Advisory Boards is made up of 5 people who come from the Nairobi tech community, and represent the community when important, or difficult, decisions have to be made. They are:

  • Riyaz Bachani, Wananchi executive, now in charge of Wazi WiFi
  • Josiah Mugambi, Co-Founder of Skunkworks, works at Nokia Siemens
  • Rebeccah Wanjiku, Tech reporter and founder of Fireside Communications
  • Conrad Akunga, Blogger, co-founder of Mzalendo and highly respected software architect
  • Erik Hersman, Tech blogger and co-Founder of Ushahidi

Looking at 2012

Our overall focus has always been that we should look to serve the tech community first, and that everything else would come from that foundation. As we stepped back to look at what’s happened in the last (almost) 2 years, we tried to identify what worked and where there gaps were.

We first worked through the a “business model canvas”, putting our minds together to find out if we all saw the iHub in the same way, and if what we were doing was what we should be doing. As you can see in the diagram above, we tried to list out all of our partners and community members, then map how we add and receive value from each of them.

A key point of discussion was how do we add value to not just the 250 green members who can come in and use the space, but also the serve the needs of the other 6,000 white members in the “virtual” community. We’ll have more thoughts and announcements on this over weeks and months ahead.

Going Deeper by Improving Freelancer Skills

We delved deeper into this, separating the types of individuals between the startup types vs the freelance types. One of the biggest gaps we’ve found is that there are many freelancers, some of whom are working on a startup on the side, but need the funds from their freelance activities to pay the rent.

Our questions became:

  • How does the makeup of the iHub green membership reflect different levels of what’s needed for projects to be done? In other words, are we diverse enough?
  • How can we help get freelancers more projects?
  • How can we help them become better at delivering on their projects?

In order to do freelance work, you often times have to team up with others who offer the skills that you lack. We’ve noticed that we’re primarily developers at the iHub, with some designers sprinkled in, but don’t have enough project managers or quality assurance types. So, our first order of business is to make sure we’re letting the people with these other skill sets know that they’re welcome to be a part of the iHub community too.

A gap that our sector has in Kenya is that companies who want to get a software project done don’t necessarily want to go with just any freelancer. We’ve discussed for some time the way the iHub brand can be used as a vector to find freelancers, but we’ve shied away from doing anything more than connecting people through the job board or through referrals.

The iHub is now looking into doing the following (and for this, we need some community feedback and help).

  • Standardize a process for clients to interact with iHub freelancers, using the iHub brand as a vector for business needs to be solved by the technology community.
  • Creating a way for developers, designers, project managers and QA people to collaborate and form teams to work on client projects. To be on the “shortlist” of freelancers, each would have to pass a test to make sure they are at the appropriate level.
  • Bring in a very specific and targeted type of mentoring and business skill training to focus on the individuals in this program, so that we can get a better culture of on-time delivery, communications and quality of work.
  • Put in place a system, upon project completion, for clients to rate the team, or individuals, who do the work. This would be tied to iHub member’s profiles, and anyone who under-delivers would be dropped from the pool of freelancers.

If you think you have the skills necessary to be on the initial shortlist for paid project work, and are a member of the iHub, let me or Tosh know as we think through this process. We’re looking for 5-10 people to explore this new area with us. Specifically, we’re also looking for a leader with great project management experience.

What YOU Do

As we stated at the beginning, the iHub is about doers not talkers.

Our final takeaway was on communication by the green members on what they’re doing. To this end, we’ll be putting together a schedule for each of the 250 green members to do a 5-minute presentation, followed by a 5-min Q&A. There will always be a quorum of the iHub Advisory Board present, as they’re the ones who make the final decision on who gets and retains membership. It will also be in front of the other community members who would like to attend so that there is a better understanding in the community of what each of us do.

We’ll subscribe a very tight template, likely 15 slides that automatically progress, much like Pecha Kucha (or Ignite talks). You won’t be required to give up competitive details, this is more for you to give us an overview of what you’re working on, how the iHub is helping with that, and where the gaps are that you need assistance.

Look for more details on this in the near future, and be ready to sign-up for one of the slots. If you don’t do a presentation, you will lose your green membership.

Final Thoughts

The iHub has been operational for 1.5 years and we’re about to celebrate our 2 year anniversary in March. This cushion of almost 2 years has allowed us to do a lot of experimentation, and we’re still in the process of gathering feedback from the community to get a better understanding of how the iHub is doing and what we can do better.

As that information comes in, we’ll do what we always do, and that is double down on what works and throw out what doesn’t. It would help us greatly if you take part in this feedback process, run by Hilda Moraa out of the iHub Research arm.

Finally, a HUGE thank you to everyone who makes the iHub possible!

Pivot East: East Africa’s Startup Pitching Competition

Mark your calendars, buy your tickets, submit your applications!

We’re ramping up to the Pivot East pitching competition, where the best startups in East Africa come to show what they have, pitch their startup to investors, media and the judges for a chance to win the prize money.

Pivot East will be held at Ole Sereni Hotel in Nairobi, June 5th and 6th. Last year we had over 100 applications for the 25 slots, and we’re expecting even more after seeing how well Pivot25 did last year (writeups by TIME Magazine and CNN). Last year we saw startups from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, and this year we’re hoping to see some from South Sudan and Somalia as well.

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Categories

As last year there are five categories, each of which will have five startups that will pitching in them. If you think you have a prototype, a deck and a business plan to wow everyone with, let’s see it. Applications are open.

  1. Financial Services
  2. Business and Resource Management
  3. Entertainment
  4. Mobile Society
  5. Utilities

Getting more information

Pivot East is put on by the m:lab East Africa, an incubator for startups in the mobile apps and services space. All profits go to support the facility. This year support comes from Samsung, and we’ll be announcing a few more big names in the coming weeks. If you’d like to be one of them, contact us.

If you have any questions, we’re having a meeting a Baraza at the iHub on Monday the 6th of February from 2.30pm to 3.30pm. If you’re a startup wanting to know more, or are media or an investor, come by and talk to the organizing team.

[Note: for more on last year’s here is my blog post retrospective.]

UPDATE:
The Pivot East Team will be coming to Uganda on the 20th February 2011 at Makerere. You can book your tickets for the event on the link below:

http://pivotuganda.eventbrite.com/

Infographic: Mobile Phones in Uganda 2011

The iHub Research team has been at work pulling together the mobile phone stats for Uganda and putting it into an infographic. It’s good to see the 41% density of mobile phones and impressive numbers starting to show up from the 1 million users of Uganda’s MTN (60% market share) Mobile Money solution.

So far they’ve done Kenya and Uganda, next up is Tanzania (I believe), so keep an eye on the iHub blog for more.

IPO48 Nairobi Startup Finalists 2011

I’m at the final pitches for the 2011 Nairobi IPO48 event that’s been happening non-stop over the last 2 days. This year it’s being held at the iHub, with 12 companies working through ideas, prototypes, business plans and finally an investment for the winner. In total, they’re offering:

  • 25.000€ (3.3m Ksh) in funding after 48 hours
  • Mentorship from serial entrepreneurs and professionals
  • Great media exposure for your startup
  • Find talented people that want to join your startup

If you want a quick rundown of who the 12 finalists are, and what their apps do, check out Afrinnovator’s writeup. You can also watch quick 1-minute videos on each of them on YouTube.

The 2011 Winner: Tusquee Systems with their SchoolSMS app (which also won their category at Pivot25)!

Runners Up Ghafla! and 6ix Degrees will win an additional 15k Euro investment (more on Afrinnovator).

Kenya Startup Events


It’s only 2 months since Pivot25 and now we’re on another startup event with Human IPO back in Nairobi for the second year. The Tandaa $690k startup grants for techies have gone out to 15 companies. We didn’t have any of these events going on. None.

This is important for a number of reasons:

  • Kenyan entrepreneurs are getting experience in pitching their ideas.
  • Techies are finding out the hard truths about themselves as business people, and that technology alone doesn’t make a business.
  • Local and international mentors are giving the entrepreneurs much needed insights and wisdom.
  • Investors and international media are being catered to, they’re getting a chance to see the Nairobi startup scene up close and personal.
  • Design is being taken a little more seriously (though a lot more needs to be done).
  • It brings an angel and early-stage investment mentality to Nairobi that hasn’t really existed before.

In short, we need to continue with local startup competitions. The more people who learn how to think through, build and pitch their ideas, the more likely we are to continue our upward growth in mobile and web innovation. It’s only by a lot of practice, lessons learned and hard knocks that we’ll see more success stories.

The finalists in these competitions represent a small percentage of the people who apply, but don’t make it. It’s a pure numbers game, where we’ll see the 10-15% succeed and most fail. Again, that’s okay, it’s how the startup game works.

We’re only half way up the mountain, and startup competitions are only part of the equation. There’s a lot more work to do if we want to see more success stories. Thus we need the whole technology community in East Africa to continue supporting the events and the people behind them, but also get involved in the startups themselves, whether for mentoring, business or investment.

What makes the iHub work?

I often get asked what the iHub is, what happens here, and why it has worked. Often followed by the question of whether or not this model could work elsewhere in Africa. Here are my thoughts on the matter.

The iHub is Nairobi’s nerve center for technology; a place where we can grab coffee, create apps, find funders and build businesses. It’s where the community of web and mobile programmers connect with each other, businesses, the government and academia.

[TLDR version: Championed by credible people, alongside advisors from the community. Experimental mindset. Strong connections to corporates. Strict community focus.]

A brief history

Juliana, Erik and David

There was a discussion at Barcamp Nairobi 2008 about how valuable it would be for the Kenyan tech community to have a static space of our own. No one would fund that idea. My organization, Ushahidi, decided that we liked it the idea enough that we would fund it. It fit with our overall thoughts on being “open”, it would serve as Ushahidi’s home in the region, and most of all, we thought we could use our good fortune to find and help the next startups in Kenya.

Thus, I moved back to Nairobi in 2009, with funding from Ushahidi via Omidyar Network and Hivos, to build the iHub. I quickly selected a space, and picked the energetic and gifted Jessica Colaco as the Manager. In March 2010 we started work on the space, and in June it was open for use.

Though we had provided funding for the first 2 years, the iHub is an independent Ushahidi initiative. Meaning, that it runs outside of the normal Ushahidi operations and organization. Though the Ushahidi team has full access for the space, we have a very light footprint, and use it the same way everyone else in the community does. We knew that even though we were the most neutral of parties, with a ton of local credibility, trying to “own” the space would fail – just as it would if it had been named the “Google iHub” or the “Nokia Innovation Hub”. It had to be owned by the community, and that meant name and usage both.

The community

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At the heart of all that happens at the iHub is the community. They designed the room layout and logo, run the network, hold events, built the website, create the house rules and drive the direction of the space. The management of the space is there to provide basic infrastructure support, a foundation, which the community then builds on to make the space what it is today.

What’s important to understand is that we come from this community too, we are it. We knew it could work because it was ourselves we were building for. When people ask me if I could do the same thing in another city, I respond that it would be questionable. A space like the iHub needs to be put together by someone from that community of techies who understands at a basic level the needs and has the credibility within it to make it happen.

As the iHub grew, we realized that all of the administrative duties, mixed with community interaction, were too much for one person. Thus we brought on Tosh to be the community manager, where he is in charge of working with people, memberships and events. His job is to aggregate, translate and enable the communities needs.

The advisors

That “being part of the community” was what drove me to start looking for a small team of advisors who could help make decisions, especially early on. This iHub advisory board was made up of 4 influential and highly credible technology players from Nairobi, plus myself. The greater community could appreciate that they were being represented well, and it provided a small enough team to move quickly.

Initial roles for this team were to make the final decision on build out design, logo and name, as well as figure out how to deal with an influx of members in a tiered membership model if the need arose (and it did, quickly). With over 4,300 white-level members, this team is also responsible for making the decisions on who gets green-level membership, the people who ultimately get to have free and unfettered access to the iHub facility.

The design

IHub Nairobi Incubator 3D

The design of the space was very important, and we were lucky to have Fady Rostom and Kwame Nyongo to lead the design team. They spent a lot of time listening to the ideas and thoughts of the advisory team before they started drawing, and it shows in what was built.

We needed a place that was open, and could be flexibly turned from community commons to event space. We wanted a subsection of the space to be rentable desks, for pre-incubation and co-working activities. At no time was a coffee shop not included – it was seen as core to the vibe and culture of what would happen here. We’d need a secure server room, and plenty of ethernet and electrical points, both inside and outside.

Most of all, the iHub needed to be a place where Kenyan techies were proud of. A place that was uniquely ours, and that we could show off to our visiting friends from abroad. It had to have the feel of being any high-tech community space in the world, with a Kenyan flavor. And it is.

The sustainability strategy

Early on we had no idea how we would pay for things beyond the first 2 years. We projected costs, but didn’t know where the revenue would come from. We had some ideas, but instead of creating a grand plan, we decided to take a very experimental approach, iterating on what worked and killing ideas that didn’t fit.

Right now the iHub has revenue coming in from red members (co-working desk rental), events and the new research arm. Events and desk rental were obvious and worked from very early on. The R@iHub arm didn’t come into being until January of this year, and was very much a big experiment – which appears to be working marvelously well. Jessica’s background is as a technology researcher, and she’s built a brilliant team around her to focus on this. Already we can see that 50%+ of future income will come from this initiative.

The other experiment was taking lead on the m:lab, a space the same size as the iHub which sits one floor beneath us. It’s an incubator. It plays the iHub’s foil, where upstairs is about community, openness and fun, the m:lab downstairs is about professional tech companies building quality products and making it into the market. We took the lead on the consortium behind this, and it is seen as a sister-facility to the iHub, with many shared services between the two.

The corporates

Both the iHub and the m:lab have strong corporate partners. Early on, before the first brush of paint was dry in the iHub, we had started talking to big technology corporates who call Nairobi home. Large tech corporations need an active dev community, and the dev community needs them. Luckily, Kenya is geographically well-positioned for some great companies to make it their home in the region, which worked well for us. We also happened to know a number of them personally, which sped up the discussions and interactions considerably.

We didn’t want to just have corporate partners who were sponsors. We made it very clear early on that their money was less important to us than what value they could add to the space that would help the dev community, but that it was a 2 way street. If we couldn’t facilitate a strong value back to them from the local tech community, then it was a no-go.

Fortunately, despite our lack of a clear idea of exactly how things would work, or what our metrics of success would be, we found some great patners. Nokia, Google, Wananchi and Microsoft are corporate partners with the iHub, and downstairs we have MIH, Nokia and InMobi working with us.

A small aside here, which isn’t corporates, but we’ve also nurtured strong connections with the Kenyan government, though we take no money from them. This also applies to academia.

Final thoughts

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By the end of 2010 people were already claiming that the iHub was a model for technology engagement, aid stuff (gah!), etc… in Africa. I thought that was a premature statement, it was an experiment and it still is. The success of the iHub has come from a strong foundation of advisors and community members who understand their city, their peers and their region.

The success of other tech hubs across Africa will be based on leadership credibility, and ability to engage their community.

Much of the iHub’s success comes from a community that works together. In that spirit of “harambee” that is so much a part of our Kenyan life. While there is always healthy competition, we would rather work together and celebrate each others success, and ultimately help each other along with the knowledge that if more of us succeed, then we all benefit.

I hope to see many more labs and hubs across the continent, and we’re seeing them grow too, in Cameroon and Ethiopia, Uganda and Nigeria. Though some of them will need financial assistance to get going, like Ushahidi did with the iHub, they’re organic growth is what makes them viable.

iHub: 3000 Members and 1yr Old

[A HUGE thank you to the team who put this video together: Ahmed Deen, Michael Kimani, Norah Kithaka, Bob Muchiri, Barbara Muriungi and David Muthami.]

It’s this week that we’re celebrating the iHub’s one year anniversary, and oh-so-much has happened in this last year… What started out as a little idea and an experiment has blossomed into a full-fledged community hub and a model for labs and hubs around the continent.

By the Numbers

  • There are a total of 3,036 members in the iHub community.
  • There are 1,236 Developers
  • We have 876 Creatives amongst us
  • We have 235 Green members
  • We’ve held 70+ events in the last 12 months, ranging from hackathons to investor pitches to product launches.
  • At least 12 companies formed off of relationships made in the space.
  • We have 4 outstanding corporate partners (Wananchi, Google, Nokia, Microsoft)
  • 3 companies found funding through investors that came through the iHub.
  • 2 funding partners who took a gamble (Omidyar Network and Hivos).
  • 1 iHub Foosball championship team. :)

What’s next?

2010 was big, but 2011 is going to be huge! I don’t have time to cover everything in detail, but here are the top items.

  • The new m:lab incubator with space for 7 companies, a training room and a mobile testing lab for all devices and operating systems. Will be open in April.
  • The Pivot 25 event on June 14-15th. Pivot 25 is an event bringing together 25 of East Africa’s top mobile entrepreneurs and startups to pitch their ideas to an audience of 400 people, with a chance of winning monetary prizes and increasing awareness of their work to local and global investors, media and businesses. In East Africa’s hot mobile market, this is a way to find out “what’s next?“. All proceeds go to support the m:lab.
  • A new research arm, dedicated to facilitating local technology research capacity building and to conduct local qualitative and quantitative research in Africa.
  • Advanced programming and business training and mentoring. Starting in April, a mentoring program with some of Kenya’s leading tech programmers and business minds.
  • The Afrilabs Association has been founded, and the iHub is a leading member of that, where we’re sharing what we’ve learned to help others across the continent build their own hub or lab. We’re also looking to grow an Afrilabs Seed Fund, which we’ll share more with everyone about as it gets solidified.

An iHub Party!

To celebrate this, we’re putting on a big party today, March 11th. Due to size of the space, it’s invite only and for Green members who have RSVP’d in time. We’ve got Just A Band coming in, a cool party atmosphere, food and the best cake in Nairobi. Plus, those who get to the iHub on time (and are on the list) get an iHub zawadi.

Big thanks to Nokia for sponsoring the gift, Google for sponsoring the after-party drinks at Capri7, and to Microsoft, InMobi and Ushahidi for covering some of the additional costs on food, drinks, etc.

The Afrilabs Association

In 2008 a couple of tech guys sitting around a table after Barcamp Nairobi first discussed the idea that eventually would become the iHub. In January 2010 there was another group, this time of people trying to setup their own labs, hubs and coworking environments in other countries across the continent.

It was there that the idea for Afrilabs was born: an association of these facilities across the continent. The association is for linking the spaces for learning, growth, and to provide greater mass for the entrepreneurs that we work with.

The labs serve as an accessible platform for bringing together technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. Each lab shares a focus on young entrepreneurs, Web and mobile-phone programmers and designers.

Spaces and Models

The founding 5 member facilities are the iHub in Kenya, ActivSpaces in Cameroon, Hive Colab in Uganda, Nailab in Kenya and Banta Labs in Senegal.

There aren’t many spaces like this across Africa, and there were even fewer a year ago, though we hope that more will quickly be added from many other countries. Already we’re hearing about new spaces popping up in Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, with planned ones in Tanzania and Ghana.

We’re all experimenting with our models. Some are pure coworking, some incubators, others provide freelancers a chance to act as a collective agency, while some serve as a community commons where tech serendipity happens. My take is that we’ll end up having as many models as the unique city cultures that spawn them, mixed in with the ethos of the founders. And there’s room for many more, even in the same city.

Why Afrilabs?

The Afrilabs Association serves a few purposes:

  1. Provide an association that is easily accessible by lab and hub managers, where they can learn from their peers, understand the different models and connect easily.
  2. Provide a bigger target (continent vs country) for attracting outside investors for the entrepreneurs in the labs. Possibly with an Afrilabs fund, accessible only through the filter of an entrepreneur’s local lab.
  3. AfriLabs seeks to build on this common vision and further promote the growth and development of the African technology sector.

I’m excited to see the dawn of this new open and accessible model of coworking, incubation and community spaces for Africa’s tech industry. Not only will the labs receive greater visibility, but businesses and investors now have a channel to more easily source talent and investments within Africa’s tech community.

If you run a tech lab or hub in Africa, or are putting together one, make sure you contact Afrilabs.