As 2016 is already warming up, and the next major Coworking meetups are already are on the horizon, we look back to how far we have come so far in 2016. Presented at the last Coworking African meetup 2016, in Cape Town, Vanessa Sans of Social Workplaces gave a keynote exploring the coworking boom in Africa, titled: “Coworking in Africa-Facts and Figures”.
Vanessa discussed the steady growth of coworking worldwide, highlighting that the average coworking space has approximately 46% more members than it did two years ago. Today, there are about half a million people in total working out of coworking spaces. What’s even more positive, is that this increase in memberships and spaces has not led people to feel that they are in a more isolated work environment.
In Vanessa’s presentation, “Coworking in Africa-Facts and Figures”, she goes back to 2013, when the coworking scene in Africa was barely visible on the global coworking map. According to The Global Coworking Census, there were only 24 spaces at the time. Fast forward 2 years and there are now over 250 active spaces, comprised of both hubs and coworking spaces. All of this information shows us that the African movement is on the same track that Europe and the USA were 5 years ago, showing promise that coworking in Africa is not going anywhere.
Today, Egypt is leading the way with around 76 spaces, but we can guess that there may be more. Egypt is then followed by South Africa with 67 coworking spaces, in which more than half of these spaces can be found in Cape Town. In 3rd position is Morocco with 17, followed by Nigeria with 13 and Kenya with 12.
“Coworking in Africa-Facts and Figures”, not only outlines the numbers which prove growth and development but also explores the ways that coworking spaces have played a key role in Africa’s socio-economic development:
Still today there are several critical issues that Africa is working on overcoming, such as the lack of quality infrastructure and strong internet connectivity. Since 75% of the population is under the age of 30 there is now an entire whole generation of talent currently looking to get their career off the ground, thus these issues have become a priority for innovators and entrepreneurs in Africa. With a more connected and innovative economy growing rapidly in Africa, coworking has proven to be an essential tool for young entrepreneurs, allowing them access to valuable resources, skills, knowledge, and job opportunities.
In fact, thanks to mobile technologies, Africa is one of the most connected populations in the world, and coworking has provided the space and value system upon which local entrepreneurial communities can develop. Today, with more and more spaces popping up, the African coworking ecosystem is now prepared to connect to these other communities to strengthen, which also creates potential for global collaboration as well.
Overall Vanessa’s presentation outlines the steps the coworking movement in Africa has taken to get to where it is today, with a growing number of collaborative spaces that can now offer the proper conditions and infrastructure needed for professional growth in Africa. Today, the African coworking community sees open and collaborative spaces as the bedrock of various local ecosystems comprised of entrepreneurs who are shaping the future of modern, digital-friendly tech-savvy economies.
Paul Keursten, founder of the OPEN coworking network based in South Africa recently explored the various benefits that come from connecting coworking spaces. His presentation, “Opportunities and benefits of connecting spaces across the continent”, given at the last Coworking Africa 2016 meetup, looks at the role of entrepreneurship, connectivity, and also the implementation of virtual platforms aimed to help better serve their members.
The goal of connecting coworking communities is to “contribute to meaningful solutions and development” by constructing a platform that will be a living network that is both supportive and sustainable, much like a coral reef. This connection is sparked from a need to find solutions found within the current workplace culture. Today’s workplace is becoming increasingly defined by innovation, which is transforming not only the way that we work but also how we understand property models. In regards to physical space, connecting coworking spaces doesn’t only have social benefits, but also many environmental ones. A smarter use of space can save on energy, resources and breathe new life into neighborhoods.
When you nurture innovation and take action, this enables individuals to create natural productive communities. As Paul noted in his presentation, an important part of this connection is breeding innovation by creating diverse environments, or “connecting worlds” that include everyone from entrepreneurs to policy makers, who will inspire one another. Paul’s presentation also strengthens the point that coworking communities where trust, sharing knowledge exchange are easily accessible, are drivers of change. Through creating space for change, there is more room for innovation and job creation.
Another important aspect of connected coworking communities is that they go beyond individual success. A connected professional ecosystem strives to be apolitical, as competition is taken out of the equation. This dynamic allows for there to be a level playing field for all types of professionals. An active and equal community can work together to find build solutions to problems as a team, such as exploring economic, social, cultural, geographical, and professional growth.
The final point of the presentation looked at the way in which connected coworking communities can also manifest themselves into virtual platforms. At OPEN, their virtual community allows members to have access to practical needs at affordable prices, such as room bookings, while also accessing a strong social network.
Another year, another chance to come back to life and work feeling refreshed. But just because we get the chance to shed our skin of 2015, doesn’t mean that we should forget all that we accomplished in 2015, like the first Coworking Africa conference in Cape Town, and the expansion of the Nairobi Garage in Kenya. As we are gearing up for the second Coworking Africa meetup, we would like to look back on some of 2015’s biggest moments, to get a feeling of the big things that will be accomplished this year.
Sure, frequent power outages and a lack of reliable internet connections might be inconvenient, but it certainly didn’t stand in the way of the African entrepreneurial community. With the help of coworking spaces, which serve as an affordable platform for reliable business practices, freelancers and entrepreneurs are now able to achieve professional autonomy, leading to job creation and economic growth.
Kenya’s, Silicon Savannah is a prime example of how innovative platforms and coworking spaces have garnered international attention and simultaneously shaped Africa’s tech incubator model, producing innovative concepts like mobile money and a global crowdsourcing app.
As a result, the Nairobi Garage was able to expand, opening a new space on December 1st, 2015. Looking to become “Africa’s largest coworking space”, manager Hannah Clifford explained that there was a greater demand for workspace in the region highlighting the rapidly growing entrepreneurial community.
In Egypt, a new coworking space joined the community, recently opening in Dahab. In fact, the project is not just a space, but also an inn, hence the name: Coworkinn, which caters to the growing population of digital nomads. With the rise of nomadic workers, this initiative offers professional travelers the chance to experience all the natural beauty the Sinai Peninsula has to offer, while also bringing economic and professional opportunities to the region.
On a global scale, Rise Cape Town, a Barclays Accelerator in collaboration with Techstars, is bringing an international fintech-focused accelerator to Africa. This 13-week intensive program is designed to take your startup to the next level. The program includes support from Barclays technology and “world-class mentorship”.
With the booming coworking communities of both Kenya and South Africa leading the way, the word has spread and there are now an estimated 200+ innovative spaces throughout the entire continent.
Later this year, She Leads Africa, a female-led entrepreneurship support organization will also be taking the lead by expanding their bootcamp program to 5 African countries. This initiative is custom built to support women entrepreneurs achieve their goals through coaching and various events.
And, of course, the annual Coworking Summit will return again this year. Calling all founders and managers of hacker, art and coworking spaces, the Summit is designed to cater to the needs of spaces and communities in the Mediterranean region. The event aims to better these spaces, helping them to become pillars of their community helping to support entrepreneurs, with the goal of creating new jobs, and breathing new life into their communities.
In February of this year, Coworking Africa will be hosting their second event in Cape Town. The meetup will be focused on continuing the conversation sparked at the premier African coworking conference, by exploring the growth of coworking in Africa.
The meetup aims to offer best practices, knowledge, and also give coworkers, managers and all interested individuals the chance to learn how to better collaborate across Africa. The event will also offer a co-creation workshop, that will be focused on helping space operators improve their business, by discussing performance, funding sponsorships and community management.
2015 was a big year for coworking in Africa, and this event hopes to make 2016 an even bigger one. Tickets for the upcoming Coworking Africa event in Cape Town can be purchased here.
Kresten Buch was in need of an efficient office space that catered to startups and also offered a professional working environment. Yet, there didn’t seem to be any available workspace in his area that could meet his specific needs, so he decided to start his own, and that’s how Garage coworking was born.
Today, Garage is a growing network, with 3 established spaces in Cape Town, Nairobi and Lagos. Each space has it’s own identity, which in turn has created an environment ideal for creating unique partnerships both locally and internationally.
Garage’s first space, founded in partnership with Google for Entrepreneurs, opened in Cape Town This made the Cape Town location the first tech hub meets coworking space out of the network. Eventually Kresten took over, and the first location became the official platform for the 88MPH accelerator program from 2012 to 2014.
Located in Woodstock, the first Garage is a major part of a neighborhood that is now considered to be one of the more creative districts of Cape Town. An established cornerstone of the South African coworking community, the Cape Town Garage primarily supports tech, mobile and web based startups as well as entrepreneurs. Although they do not necessarily require tenants to be married to a particular profession, they do specialize in those working within the tech sector, and thus can offer relevant support.
Riding on their success in Cape Town, Garage expanded in 2012 and opened their second space in Nairobi. With 800sq meters of space, including meeting rooms, and hangout spaces, Nairobi Garage also offers all the professional amenities needed for growing businesses. As the space in Nairobi is larger than its sister spaces, there is also more room for bigger teams and SMEs. Their most recent space opened in Lagos in 2014, which is co-owned by L5Lab.
All three spaces meet the needs of their varied communities, yet they are united by the fact that they cater to the freelance and startup community, which is making major steps in the tech, mobile and web industries. While each area is unique, all spaces have shared a common set of obstacles.
Aside from the fact that professionals struggle to find affordable space to work, many SMEs in South Africa suffer from frequent power outages and a lack of a consistent and strong internet connection.
Garage Space manager, Dante Roets, stressed in his presentation at last year’s Coworking Africa conference that “coworking spaces have become the most viable homes for tech businesses across Africa”, due to their ability to overcome these obstacles. Through a partnership with WorkOnline, Garage Cape Town was able to stabilize their internet at a high bandwidth for a low cost.
In Lagos, the space found themselves having to pay extra attention to promotion, as coworking is relatively unknown in Nigeria. Yet, the hard work has paid off and there is now a growing demand and the space aims to become the largest coworking platform for entrepreneurs in Africa. After installing a generator to reduce the harmful effects of power cuts, coworking is minimizing the loss of work and simultaneously empowering workers.
It’s safe to say that professionals all throughout Africa face unstable internet connections and power outages, thus it is essential to start building an international network of spaces. The more spaces can collaborate, the easier it will be to overcome obstacles currently faced by the community. In addition to offering regional support, networks also have a better chance at securing international partnerships through supporting one another.
Interview of Yaw Owusu, Managing Director Gateway Innovations Ltd – Accra, Ghana
I founded Gateway Innovations Ltd to plan, develop and manage Ghana Cyber City. I co-authored the book Modernizing Commonwealth Governments, which outlines the role of startup incubation and technology parks in transforming Africa’s IT economy. I have appeared on ENCA and SABC TV (South Africa), CCTV (China), Bloomberg TV (United Kingdom) and CNN iReport (USA) to discuss developing smart cities in Africa. I worked for General Electric and IBM (Washington) and Goldman Sachs in New York before relocating to Ghana to work full-time on the Ghana Cyber City venture.
Ghana Cyber City is a business innovation hub, comprising workspace and data center for innovative companies; new age condos for knowledge workers and executives; and a commercial center for technology retailers such as Huawei, Samsung, Apple. In collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Airtel Ghana and corporate partners, the project would incubate African startup firms. Located next to the University of Ghana at Legon, a high demand and strategic area of Accra, one of West Africa’s biggest commercial hubs, the Ghana Cyber City offers an innovative environment and a vibrant business and social community to its corporate, retail and residential tenants. Ghana Cyber City seeks to develop the infrastructure that will facilitate development of more African innovations such as mPesa (mobile banking), esoko (online marketplace for agricultural producers and buyers), mPedigree (protecting the integrity and safety of medications in African markets), etc.
Africa indeed has substantial infrastructure deficit for which the continent needs to invest more than $90 billion a year to address, according to the International Monetary Fund. The African Development Bank, in partnership with the African Union Commission, recently launched the Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) to facilitate investments in four areas, including Information technology and energy, critical to building Africa’s infrastructure.
Coworking and startup hubs serve as infrastructure (training center, incubator, accelerator), to support tech, entrepreneurship and innovation. Coworking can be a powerful platform to discover and nurture young entrepreneurs seeking affordable avenues to transform smart ideas into commercially-viable and profitable businesses and smart community development initiatives.
Corporate partners and universities can play a key role promoting innovation in Ghana and Africa. Case study: The Accra-based Gateway Innovations, the managing company of the Ghana Cyber City venture, has partnered with Airtel Ghana and MIT Global Startup Labs of Cambridge, Massachusetts to develop Airhub, to promote technology entrepreneurship and develop startup ventures in Ghana and Africa.
The Coworking Africa 2015 summit is a good avenue to start the process of linking promoters, managers and patrons of startup hubs, coworking spaces and technology parks together.
There would be more than 600 million Africans between the ages of 10 and 24 by 2050, up from 344 million today. By 2040, over 1.1 billion Africans will be of working age, surpassing India and China (Source: McKinsey). There’s going to be an explosive growth in coworking communities across Africa in the coming decades as the youth population increases, income levels continue to grow, more young Africans acquire higher education and become more tech-savvy and entrepreneurial-minded.
A smart or cyber city is characterized by the integration of technology into a strategic approach to sustainability, citizen well-being, and economic development. Africa is making strides in the following areas:
Just last week Africa had its very first Coworking Conference in Cape Town. Coworking operators and experts from around the world gathered in South Africa to bring know-how from the international coworking community and start an important conversation about the development of coworking in Africa.
In addition to a line-up of inspiring talks, from spaces like Mozambique’s Cowork Lab and Hub Dhaka from Bangladesh, we also came back with some facts and figures that can help the community understand the development of coworking in Africa.
Rapid Economic Growth
There are over 1 billion people in Africa, spread across 54 different countries, and around 70 percent of the population is under 25, which means there is a lot of potential for a rapid growth in industry. As the coworking movement is still carving out its role in the European business sector, it seems that Africa is not far behind.
As one of the world’s fastest growing economies, there are now over 100 million people active on social media and very much in tune with digital trends.
In 2013 Coworking in Africa was hardly known, with just 24 spaces on the map. Today is a different story, with over 100 spaces from Kenya to Cape Town, the global coworking community is becoming more dynamic with the inclusion of African coworking spaces.
South Africa Leading the Way
With 42 coworking spaces and 23 active tech hubs, South Africa is leading the way when it comes to the development of coworking. Currently, more than half of these spaces are based in Cape Town. Like coworking around the world, the majority of these started out small, but their the word is spreading, and big names like Google, Skype and StartupGrind are looking to lend the African community their support.
Addressing the Challenges
While knowledge about coworking steadily increases, the African coworking community is still very much aware of the various obstacles they must overcome, like the lack of quality infrastructure and the availability of a stable internet connection. According to a presentation given by Cape Town Garage, which also has locations in Nairobi and Lagos, many coworking spaces face the same challenge across the continent.
Some of the main issues are ensuring that prices are cost-effective for members, as well as the promotion of coworking.
While the alternative workspace has dramatically increased in popularity, it is still relatively unknown in countries like Nigeria. Thus education is still a priority. CTG explained how they attempt to address these issues faced by many spaces, they also mentioned that power-cuts are still a problem. But with the installation of a generator, the Garage group has found ways to prepare for this as not to compromise the member productivity.
The Future of Coworking in Africa
While there are always challenges, they certainly don’t cast a shadow on a bright future. Paul Keursten, co-founder of Open, an established shared workspace in Cape Town, highlighted in his presentation the richly diverse community in Africa that aims to overcome these obstacles.
Keursten highlighted how coworking spaces can become destinations for the African and international community, which will ultimately help bring local neighborhoods to life. With this idea, the African community is learning how to add value to their buildings, through revitalizing spaces, and enabling cross-pollination between educational institutions, property owners, accelerators and coworkers. A diverse community that is connected, will then be able to promote the concept of coworking on a broader scale, bringing benefits to each player through the value system of the sharing economy.
Other organizations, like TechStars see this growing interest in coworking spaces and accelerators as a ripe opportunity to introduce various wealth management systems, such as a comprehensive banking infrastructure, in a mostly cash-based economy.
For those of you who could not make it to the very first Coworking Africa conference, we have uploaded all the statistics and presentations, including interviews with coworking operators from all across Africa, like The District in Egypt and Bantuhub in Congo, Brazaville.