Dan Evans visited Hive Colab last year while I was in Uganda:
Based on the maturity and business viability of many of the small tech firms that we have met with over our data collection visits, and the modification of many incubators’ business models, we completely understand the thought-process behind this “pivot” in strategy. For example hubs that we have previously visited like iceaddis and iLab in Liberia, and HiveColab in Uganda have all scaled back their original lofty aspirations. These hubs originally planned for a multi-tier membership model, charging rent for office space, and acquiring equity of the companies that were the most mature. Based on these assumptions, they thought they could be self-sustaining in a short period of time. All have scaled back their expectations and operate more as collaboration spaces for the local tech community and offer technical training and mentorship.
I think the biggest problem for African tech hubs that aren’t called iHub is figuring out how to keep the lights on and stay sustainable. iHub’s sustainability model is unique because Kenya’s technology ecosystem demonstrated its maturity way before the iHub was ever an idea. The sudden burst of global success that was Ushahidi certainly helped contribute to iHub’s future success.
Additionally, the major outlier for Kenya’s tech and incubation success are the talented individuals behind iHub and Ushahidi projects. Replicating their unique contribution to Kenya’s successful ecosystem is not an easy proposition.
That said, I don’t think it is a problem that the hubs have lofty ambitions. The ambitions just need to be realistic about the environment they are working in. It took several years for Kampala’s tech scene to know what a technology co-working space was. When we started Hive Colab, we didn’t expect immediate success and we struggled and continue to struggle trying to find a sustainability model that will work. Without grant support from the likes of Hivos Foundation and Indigo Trust (who also support various hubs on the continent) I think we would be in a much worse condition.
For now, most of the hubs are going to have to wait for Africa’s indigenous startups to mature before they can contribute financially to the sustainability of the hubs they work out of. How long this will be is hard to guess, but my money is on the 3-5 year horizon. Some markets might get there sooner which will help the ecosystem overall. A rising tide lifts all boats.