Imagine a thriving entrepreneur community with over 14,000 tech members inspiring one another, working together, and building some of the best ideas on the continent. Welcome to iHub in Nairobi, Kenya.
As you enter the mid-level rise building, there’s a quiet buzz that fills the air. Nothing seems out of the ordinary with a bank on the entry floor level and a large, spiraling staircase up 3 floors. But if you listen and observe for a moment, you begin to see many young people in t-shirts with laptops sporting bumper stickers going up and down the elevators as they discuss ideas, projects, code, and research. Entrepreneurs are here.
iHub started as a community initiative by the team at Ushahidi. Ushahidi is an open source data management system that collects data from the crowd and visualizes what happened, when and where. It’s used worldwide, it’s free, and it was made in the heart of Nairobi—effectively becoming the catalyst movement for entrepreneurship in East Africa.
iHub brings the community together complete with an entire floor space dedicated to coworking and incubating ideas, but it doesn’t stop there. Floor by floor, iHub has vertically integrated, literally. With a research wing, UX design and development arm, and various labs dedicated to building out mobile ideas, social impact ideas, and more.
The deeper into the building you go, the more fascinating it gets. Now there are companies lining each hallway that were hatched within iHub’s walls. M-farm provides immediate market information on a mobile device to farmers. Brck is a lovely device that provides self-generated wifi access anywhere in the world (definitely going to take this on our next bush-camping excursion). And large brands now live within these walls like Frontline SMS and the GSMA.
It was inspiring and exciting to see a more developed entrepreneur community within Africa. It’s truly a self-generated community not being propped up by anything other than local entrepreneur demand. The by Africa for Africa mantra is strong here. And this particular hub is entirely tech-focused, which is exactly what Nairobi has become, the tech center of Africa.
In discussing with a few CEO/founders of various companies within iHub, it seems clear that the Venture Capital community is yet again Africa-shy and it’s something that the entire continent can continue to focus on. We believe to address this, African startups will need to show a strong track record of success. As large exits begin to take place in the near future, many VCs will more readily and willingly look to African startups as a viable investment option.
Another opportunity that we see is cross-collaboration between national startup hubs in Africa. iHub is by far the strongest tech hub and startup hub anywhere on the continent. But collaboration between smaller nations and communities like Zimbabwe could have the potential of growing the Harare community leaps and bounds. And imagine the potential if investment, ideas, and knowledge were collaborated between some of the more established regions like East Africa and South Africa. Something for all of us to think about as opportunities to work together matriculate over the coming years.
If you have the chance to connect with an entrepreneur or company connected to iHub, take it. From our interactions with them, they’re world class people who have incredible hearts to impact their local communities through entrepreneurship. What an inspiring place.
(photo via jens vinsrygg)