iHub a mecca for African ICT entrepreneurs

Technology is a necessity rather than a luxury in Kenya. It was the first Sub-Saharan country to establish a government open data platform. Kenyans use the application PesaPal for online shopping and payment of bus tickets, electricity and water bills. They transfer money with M-Pesa. This demonstrates the adaptability of Kenyan society to new technologies.

The iHub is a tech platform created in Nairobi in 2010. Since its inception this ecosystem dedicated to connecting, empowering and inspiring national and international entrepreneurs and creators has managed to physically and mentally mobilize more than ten thousand members and incubate more than 150 companies around a joint space at Bishop Magua Center in Ngong Road.

 

Those spearheading iHub like to describe it as “an open space for the community; for people who use technology to find solutions for social and economic problems” and “a place for the catalyzation of Kenyan ideas, and for the extension of African ideas”.

In the iHub UX Lab, the first laboratory focused on the users experience in Sub-Saharan Africa, specialists like Mark Kamau not only research consumer behaviour but study the needs of users before launching technology products, increasing their effectiveness by starting with the detection of real problems. In this way, the iHub UX Lab “provides a human approach, allowing the technology to connect with the people”.

“Our job is to support people’s ideas,” says Kamau.

“Africans in general, but Kenyans in particular, got tired of waiting for the government to do things, so instead of waiting, people now are thinking by themselves to solve their own problems,” says Kamau. “If you bring the information and the knowledge to the people, you can transform a country, and even a whole continent,” he says.

With free membership, the iHub’s community is made up of a huge variety of people and supported by different partners. Big companies likeGoogle,Intel andSamsung have also landed here and used iHub’s consulting services to understand African markets.

The iHub Research,iHub Consulting,iHub Cluster and iHub UX Lab is found in a four-storey building at the Bishop Magua Center. Other enterprises rent office space there too. One can also find M-Farm, a software solution and agribusiness company to connect and inform Kenyan farmers about market news. Ushahidi, a non-profit tech company that offers free and open source software for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers in situations of crisis like the Haiti earthquake or Kenyan election monitoring, is another one of the key enterprises found in the building.

Kamau is sceptical about the controversial ICT technopolis of Silicon Savannah. He says investing in this project “is like building a big football stadium without football players”.

He argues that the iHub “is actually the real Silicon Savannah ‘cause people are here and we are doing things to develop the community”. He explains that the important point of a tech Hub is to build the capacity and talent of people. To do this, iHub not only offers training to designers or master classes, but also does an excellent job empowering the poorest communities like they do by giving three months free training to the Kibera School for Girls.

“Africa has a lot of challenges and technology can play a big role helping solve some of its problems, but we have to really take that responsibility and move Africa forward by using technology to solve them,” says Kamau.

That way, one of the great creations brewed in the heart of the iHub is BRCK, a revolutionary wireless system that works without electricity for eight hours, and that can also be a traveling mobile hotspot, solving the constant blackouts that happen in many parts of Africa.

The iHub BRCK.Sebastián Ruiz.

The iHub’s commitment is to opening the community and extending their network to other African tech hubs, like KinuHub in Dar Es Salaam and the HiveColab in Kampala, by giving technical support through the umbrella of AfriLabs and learning from others’ experiences. And there’s no doubt that iHub’s future looks promising.

 

Gemma Solés i Coll holds an M.A. in Social Science of Development South of the Sahara (URV) and graduated in Philosophy (UB). She specializes in artistic and cultural trends and urban dynamics in Africa. She serves as chief editor for the music and performing arts section of Spanish online magazine WIRIKO, of which she is the founder.

Head image: Mark Kamau.Sebastián Ruiz.

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