Technology is the heart and soul of the « Africa Rising » story- Afrilabs

Technology is the heart and soul of the « Africa Rising » story- Afrilabs

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.

The African continent has one of the fastest growing technology sectors in the world. Can you tell us a bit about the development of tech in Africa and why it plays such an important role in the growing professional sector?

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 emergence of hubs and coworking spaces has served as platforms for the growth of African tech. Why is it so important for there to be physical spaces, rather than simply doing everything digitally? What do hubs give professionals that they might not have otherwise?

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.

Can you tell us about some of the startups and initiatives that have been born out of Afrilabs?

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.

The network consists of 40 hubs across 20 countries. How does your network meet the needs of unique communities? What types of support/programs do you offer and do you change your methodology to meet the needs of communities that might need more/less guidance compared to more developed ones?

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.

You offer something called the “collaboration challenge” can you tell us a bit more about that? And what types of projects have been a result of this challenge.

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.

What have been some of the challenges Afrilabs has faced while building up these professional communities?

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.

Are there any areas in the African professional ecosystem that you believe need further support? What areas would those be, and how do you plan to offer guidance and knowledge?

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.

As a major player in the growing tech community, do you think that this will be a major part of the future of Africa’s professional ecosystem, and what do you see for the future of work in Africa?

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.


Amanda Gray 

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