Ethiopia: Tech Hubs for Innovation, Development

‘Tech hub’ is a buzzword usually used in discussions about technologically advanced cities. Although, different scholars define it differently, generally a tech hub (startup or incubator as some prefer to call it) is understood as a community – informal or otherwise – that brings together young talents to foster innovation.

Tech hubs create a suitable environment to specifically encourage and support young entrepreneurs through experimentation and facilitation of material and moral support. They also help innovators form network with other like-minded individuals and enterprises.

The hubs also make it easier for entrepreneurs to meet investors in order to get their project funded. Simply speaking, tech hubs are spaces or regions where people with an idea to solve problems cluster together and become part of the economic infrastructure of the community. In such places, things happen faster and ideation and product development are streamlined. It is like gathering everyone needed to change ideas into reality by putting them in the same room/geographic region at the same time.

Tech hubs educate and encourage new talent and ways of thinking; they provide a space where high-tech business growth can be accelerated and in turn, bring prosperity to the community. At the end, the success of a tech hub can be at least partly measured by the number of products that have been commercialized or companies developed because of its existence.

The world’s best-known tech hub is Silicon Valley in the California State of the US. The world’s biggest technology companies such as Facebook, Apple, Alphabet (Google’s Parent Company), Netflix and Intel, many of which were founded by creative youngsters, are located at Silicon Valley.

In recent years, London has emerged as a successful tech hub, and many tech startups and established global tech players are clustered in the east of the City. Singapore – while relatively small – is also quickly becoming one of the world’s major players in terms of technology startups. In Africa, Cape Town is taken as South Africa’s home to tech innovation, even earning the nickname ‘Silicon Cape’.

Startups societies or tech hubs are very recent phenomena in Ethiopia. For instance, the very first startup group, Iceaddis, was established in May 2011. The expansion is also very slow as the number of such incubators is finger counted.

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The xHub Addis is also another hub society, which was founded in 2013 as an extension of the Center for African Leadership Studies, a leadership development and communication training center established in 2012 by Tewodros Tadesse. The hub was a result of Tewdros’ and his colleagues’ conviction that the only true solutions to Ethiopia’s problems come out from the minds of innovative young Ethiopians.

Melaku Tekola, Communication Director of Centers for African Leadership, indicated that the xHubs Addis, as in the case of other startups around the world, was launched to empower local young people with the tools and environment needed to amplify their ideas through technological entrepreneurship.

“Basically, we stir up the growth of young technology startups. We first bring innovators together. Then we coach and mentor them so that they utilize the best of their potential. We help them to convert the ideas in their minds into a program or project design.” Melaku, added. “Finally, we set of connections for their proposal in different organizations. As a result, there are many successful technologists, investors and leaders who were once our members and end up establishing their own organizations. Generally, we provide three or more basic services for free; working space, internet connection, networking activities and mentorship and coaching for our members.”

According to the Communication Director, Ethiopia’s economy has been growing and must be supported by entrepreneurs’ innovations that would help create jobs for the large number of university graduates in the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) from the increasing number of public and private universities.

The hub is also organizing weekly and monthly events focusing on leadership, entrepreneurship, marketing, business plan development and communication and presentation skills. The trainings are provided by professionals, university professors, and entrepreneurs from the country and around the globe.

“So far, we have trained about 6000 individuals and 70 organizations on leadership in eight different countries. Initially, we were interested on the aforementioned fields of studies. But in March 2016, we have included social entrepreneurs and currently we are working to solve various social problems. Last month, we have been engaged in some activities to bring solutions for maternal mortality. Our next target is to come up with a solution for the increased traffic accidents in Ethiopia.” he noted.

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Melaku also mentioned that the hub has formed strong partnership with the government since its establishment. “They attend our events and discuss possible solution for specific problems. This shows that we build trust and we really want to appreciate the government offices we have worked with for longtime such as the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. We are also planning to scale up our activities,” said Melaku.

Abrar Abdo and his five friends were among the successful members of xHub Addis. He heard of the hub after the completion of his first degree at Addis Ababa University. During his stay at the university, he along with his friends used to have discussions on the management/ administrative problems at their campus. That is why they came up with software in their final thesis that solves the problems they identified in campus management.

“After graduation, we wanted to share our ideas in the market. But we did not have any of the elements needed to achieve our goals like working space, finance and knowledge,” he said adding, “Because of our commitment, we started looking for a help. Finally, we came across xHub Addis. They promoted our idea, mentored us and introduced us to interested organizations. Then, we managed to sell our products and make money.”

Elias Tadesse, Manager of xHub Addis, indicated that the hub has established partnership with other domestic and international hubs. The number of hubs in the capital is less compared to the potential. “We have connections with different hubs in the world. Especially, we work together with the hubs in South Africa. We currently have a strong link with the Kenya hub society- iHub. Using our network, we have now started the movement so that Addis Ababa hosts the East African Hubs meeting,” he added.

The hub is planning to expand the working space, members and fields of studies in the future. Responsible government bodies need to encourage such hub societies to utilize their immense economic importance in reducing unemployment and supplementing scientific innovations.

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