The African continent has the world’s highest rate of entrepreneurship, according to the African Development Bank. In this context, innovative, homegrown ventures are cutting across various sectors including education, commerce, FinTech, healthcare, agriculture, among others in a bid to offer a range of services to entrepreneurs, including workspaces, mentoring, technical tools, infrastructure, training, networking and access to funding.
According to the GSMA, an international trade organisation of mobile-phone operators, the number of tech hubs in Africa doubled to 618 in the years 2016 to 2019. In Senegal, the CTIC incubator, founded in 2011, has supported more than 170 startups, while in Ghana the Meltwater School of Technology (MEST) was created in 2008 and is considered to be one of the most dynamic tech incubators in West Africa.
In Zambia, where the new government was elected on promises to rebuild the struggling debt-laden economy by leveraging business-friendly reforms, entrepreneurs are seeking a new business haven, and are determined to create one for themselves with willing partners.
For this reason, Zambia’s renowned tech hub – BongoHive aspires to develop such innovative solutions via business incubation that provides training, internet access and office space to startups.
“BongoHive started on the premise that when we are able to provide a number of things, we can support the start and growth of enterprises. In the physical space, we know that having a high-speed internet connection that allows people to work, effectively leveraging internet technologies is key and also creates a real community of like-minded people that want to work together, collaborate, learn and teach one another, breeds new ideas and the growth of businesses,” BongoHive co-founder and Executive Director Lukonga Lindunda told Nkwazi.
“BongoHive started on the premise that when we are able to provide a number of things, we can support the start and growth of enterprises.”
There is no doubt that African innovation hubs have encouraged the growth of startups and tech innovation in countries like South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, among others.
Lindunda observed that the high level of interactions that takes place at BongoHive among investors, mentors, business partners and startups are a major component of an innovation hub and the maturity of the ecosystem.
BongoHive has worked with over 8,500 beneficiaries to drive startups in Zambia and helped give them an opportunity to realise their dreams.
A tech hub’s impact is partly determined by how many jobs they can generate, directly or indirectly. Their success is determined by factors including an economy’s maturity, public policies, the availability of skilled personnel and the general business climate.
Asked how BongoHive is faring in terms of its projects in various economic sectors in view of an increase in innovation hubs across the African continent, Lindunda said, “What we have noted over the years is that we have been seeing substantial projects focused on technology and its application in various industries and so you will see us work more in FinTech, insuretech, eggtech, agritech, among others.”
While the number of innovation hubs in Africa has increased to over 600, they still face numerous challenges, key among these being the lack of funding.
The Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD) has affirmed that innovation hubs are excellent training grounds for a value chain of businesses that will stand poised to benefit from the wider market of around 1.4 billion people within the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
“Most African countries are facing a problem of illicit financial flows and high debt burdens. Debt service will require a broadening of the tax base to support growth. Innovation hubs create an opportunity for African countries to widen their tax base through business startups, and formalisation of businesses outside the tax net,” CTPD Head of Research Boyd Muleya told Nkwazi.
Africa is certainly getting a lot of recognition as home to a youth-filled, tech-savvy population, as several fast-rising tech hubs are producing brilliant solutions to Africa’s unique problems in order to leverage heavily on these strengths in boosting its economy.
As more than $4.3 billion poured into African startups in 2021 which is 2.5 times the figure in 2020, Zambia will face stiff competition to become Africa’s leading tech-friendly hub as Nigeria, Tunisia, and Senegal have either proposed or passed startup acts designed to support tech innovation and encourage capital to stay within the country.
“We work across the value chain and entrepreneurs that we work with exist across a broad spectrum and there are people who have not thought of a business idea and when they attend some of our workshops or webinars, they are in a better position to decide how to start a business. And as they grow their idea into a startup business, they receive support to enable them to identify opportunities and also to avoid pitfalls that kill many businesses, whether it’s compliance, regulations or pricing,” Lindunda stated.