Alon Lichtenstein is a Cape Town based entrepreneur who sees looking forward the key to success.
Experienced with building and packaging startups around the world, Alon is also the founder of HANGAR49 , a platform that aims to solve human problems using technology-based solutions, which he eventually takes to market.
We caught up with Alon to discuss the impact that technology and coworking space are having on the South Africa ecosystem, and what can be done to strengthen these new models of work.
The initial intention is a platform where corporates investigate R&D, or innovation using 3rd party aspiring founders in the market. Essentially corporates can login to pitch their problem anonymously. They would then then develop an ecosystem and would be presented with solutions.
So, that was my original plan for HANGAR49, but after coming back from traveling in the EU, UK and also the States, I was inspired by the opportunity of being more dynamic and actually creating these solutions, which were difficult to implement in South Africa.
The South African landscape is still relatively conservative from a business perspective, and the market there is in its nature, slightly smaller. While there are many aspirant individuals and projects, these applications don’t receive so much government support like they would in other major urban environments. In general the more commercial landscape makes it difficult to build up disruptive and innovative business at the moment.
Today South Africa is purporting to be smart and intelligent, which it is, but we are experiencing a bit of a brain drain, and still not enough capital distribution and a lack of resources.
Also, because of conservative tendencies in the business world, corporates are not taking advantage of technology and lean approaches to business or even being as tenacious as they could and need to be. I think that there’s a lot of rhetoric around this so we need to make a move to open up these platforms on a state level and a corporate one.
I think that there’s an interesting characteristic found within the regions freelancers, which is probably a result of the history, which is that they are progressive individuals who are not finding opportunity in innovative commercial settings, as they would like. As a result these potential change makers are still led towards to more traditional titles, and at the same time, the labor legislation is pretty sophisticated and there is a high level of protection for employees, which can also keep things stagnant.
Well, it’s a pretty new infrastructure, which is also incredibly progressive, but there’s also a lack of security in this type of environment. Yet the more traditional model can create stagnation in regards to expansion or contraction on need to need basis. Thus there is a strong support for coworking spaces currently growing, especially in South Africa.
South Africa is a first world economy and it is probably older and more sophisticated compared to others in Africa. Companies over the past ten years have seen the ways in which doing business today has become expensive and therefore view coworking spaces in an opportunity. As we are primarily focused on the service industry tech agencies, creative agencies are operating more from within coworking spaces, which is a far more flexible and enjoyable environment.
As an entrepreneur, why are coworking spaces so attractive to scaling up business and ensuring professional success? And would you yourself use the coworking space model?
What I would love to do is have a coworking space as a location, have corporates, who are part of a mid-tier business plan, who is probably in need of some technology in their back pocket. They probably wouldn’t have the cash flow to sit back and watch the business come in, so they would be more innovative and willing to hustle.
The coworking space platform would be perfect for this, as it is an ideal place to bring in fast moving, smart dynamic young people who understands technology and to help leverage these client’s businesses. To succeed today on a global level, you’ve got to embrace really smart tenacious thinkers, who will not get bogged down bound down by procedure, and bureaucratic rules and solutions to problems and obstacles in the business world will be able to emerge more naturally.
On February 5th the second Coworking Africa meetup took place at the Design Bank in Cape Town, bringing with it inspiring presentations from influencers and innovators from the South African community. In order to continue to develop we are sharing with you, our beloved community, the keynote presentations from the event.
Ian Merrington from one of South Africa’s oldest innovation hubs, The Barn, shared with Coworking Africa some important insights regarding growth and sustainability within the tech and innovation sector. His presentation “How Important is Coworking to the Creation of a Thriving Ecosystem of digital Entrepreneurs” begged the question: What can we do as a community to make these growing sectors self-sufficient and long lasting.
The presentation highlighted the most important steps innovators and coworkers need to take to create such a community, like functional infrastructure that also includes strong internet connectivity. Once this is established it is essential to nurture the environment, making room for personal connections productivity and open collaboration. Another important focus is to have a mix of tenants, establishing key partnerships, as the Barn has done with big players like Barclays, Bitcoin Academy, and Telekom.
Already 15 years old, The Barn covers the basics, and today they strive towards developing a globally competitive tech and innovation sector, that will ultimately enable sustainable economic growth, in addition to an increase in job opportunities.
As the coworking movement has greatly advanced, there are more options than ever before that we can use to develop a strong ecosystem. With the right mix of tenants, support and specialized hubs Ian shows up the elements he predicts will creative a thriving collaborative ecosystem in 2016!
As the tech community in Africa continues to rapidly grow, various accelerators, coworking spaces and hubs are joining the movement to offer the next generation of entrepreneurs a place to call home. Afrilabs, is one of the biggest networks helping the movement to mature.
Comprised of 40 technology hubs in over 20 different countries, Afrilabs aims to build innovative infrastructure that will help this budding community to reach its full potential.
Michael Oluwagbemi, Chair of AfriLabs, as well as Executive Partner at LoftyInc Allied Partners Limited and operator of Wennovation Hub accelerator platform in Nigeria, spoke with Coworking Africa about why it’s so important to connect innovators and entrepreneurs across Africa.
Technology is the heart and soul of the « Africa Rising » story. This has been driven primarily by the introduction of mobile, development of cloud-based tools, and an increasing access to social media and networking platforms. All these have been positive for Africa’s mobile-first generation, and have an increasing effect on not just careers and economies, but even governments and the political sphere.
The workspace is the tech community nod to the overwhelming need for human contact and interaction despite capability to build and work virtually. Yes, we may not need massive skyscrapers, and boring cubicles and paneled offices any longer to be a company, but you still need human interaction and collaboration to solve massive social challenges.
Hubs provide that physical space, a thriving ecosystem for innovation that is replacing the tearoom with the geek space. They also provide much-needed infrastructure like internet, video conferencing tools, mentorship and access to funds at much lower cost due to the shared service concept.
AfriLabs is an organization of organizations. We are here to support innovation centers and hubs that support their local economies. These platforms need our support so they can, in turn, support entrepreneurs and start-ups. In between our 40 members, we support hundreds if not thousands of startups every year.
AfriLabs has been focused on knowledge sharing to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of our members. We’ve held webinars, international gatherings and workshops to address the most pressing needs of our member hubs in order to be a sustainable and effective champion of economic development in their localities.
We’ve rolled out products like Hub in a Box, a toolkit for sustainable hub development, and Manjaro, a tool that hubs can tap into to generate additional revenue. There is also the AfriLabs Terminal, a platform where verified startup data can be sourced. In addition to these developments, we are also on the cusp of launching programs like Passport and XChange, that will permanently change the face of intra-Africa economic cooperation. This platform is already ahead of what the regional bodies and Continental Africa Union is proposing.
While some countries are naturally further ahead than others, every hub presents an opportunity and we like to deal with them as unique subset of the continental innovation landscape.
The collaboration challenge is sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and was instituted to engender collaboration in multiple innovation spaces in Africa, with the goal of developing solutions to unique problems leveraging design thinking. For example, IceAddis developed solutions to the lack of mapping data due to the paucity of something as basic as address infrastructure in Ethiopia. The project has begun to yield dividends and we hope to replicate this challenge in Southern Africa later this year.
Engagement. Since we are a supra-national organization of organizations, there is an inherent flux in our membership focal points as the natural churn in the organizations that underly our own persists. Our challenge is to ensure that we remain the most relevant organization of hubs and that their staff and leaders continue to seek us even as they change offices and seats.
We believe that we need to support our entrepreneurs with more growth capital that speaks to their needs. To this end, we have been examining the possibility of setting up a replication fund, this unique concept will ID unique business concepts and support them across the eco-system with direct funding and acceleration support through our members.
Technology has found a natural home in Africa’s thriving youth population. This technologically savvy generation will soon take over government, companies and families across the continent. The best days of Africa are ahead of her, and we’re excited to be part of this future at AfriLabs.
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.