In just over a week, the iHub will be five years old. It is exciting to see how far we have grown since the idea was born at a Barcamp back in 2008. During some of the initial brainstorm meetings in early 2010, we wondered if we would even be able to fill up the community space on the 4th floor. Two months after opening, it was full. A year on, iHub Research started, as well as the m:lab (working then with eMobilis, University of Nairobi and the World Wide Web Foundation). A couple of years later, our User Experience Lab and Consulting initiatives started. In the last twelve months, together with Sanergy, Ushahidi and BRCK we have started Gearbox, which will be a design and rapid prototyping facility strategically located in the industrial area of Nairobi.
The iHub is many things. It is an amalgamation of different initiatives that are geared towards catalyzing the growth of the Kenyan tech community. It has done this by acting as a connector, allowing world captains in business and technology to meet with aspiring entrepreneurs, as well as developers, engineers, investors and founders. Through our initiatives, we have been working with individual entrepreneurs and startups towards their establishing or becoming successful companies. The iHub has surfaced information that isuseful to startups, corporates, and other organisations and people in the tech ecosystem. In most cases, this is made easily available, accessible and digestible as we believe in creating a new centre of knowledge, with insights from our ecosystem, for the local and global technology community. The iHub is not merely an incubator (that’s what the m:lab does), or a co-working space (that’s on 4th floor).
While looking at the future and in what direction the iHub might head, it is tempting to spend time planning out each and every detail. I however like the idea of havinga compass rather than a map to guide our journey, keeping us focused on what we stand for and what we want to achieve. Our ultimate goal is to continuously fuel an ecosystem of innovation and technology that allows people to create enterprises that creatively solve problems around them using technology, while shaping the way African innovation is viewed by the world.
A lot of great work has been done over the last decade by many people and institutions, including the government (infrastructure and policy) as well as various organisations. Last year, I spent some timethinking through our startup ecosystem specifically looking how well we do in these five ingredients: people (talent), culture, density, capital and the regulatory environment.
As more (tech) companies come up, with many (hopefully) growing and scaling regionally and beyond, there will be an increasing need for highly talented people who can work in these companies. People are at the core of any successful company across the world and any country that diligently invests in its people (particularly for a young population such as Kenya’s) is bound to reap huge benefits sooner or later. We want to play a significant role in this. The main thing is that we want to help develop top-notch talent that can start or help build successful tech companies that can scale regionally and globally.
We will continue to support startups throughout their innovation journey, connecting them with opportunities through our initiatives. After all, the iHub is for all parties in this ecosystem that are involved in this entrepreneurship journey of taking an idea from concept to a company. Some of these include individual developers, designers, creatives, researchers, scientists, engineers, technologists, as well non-tech people looking to launch startups. The iHub will continue connecting these people and startups with individuals and companies providing professional services, corporates, investors, academic institutions, public sector players as well as development and international organisations able to provide support crucial support in growing their ideas and startups into successful companies. We want to be at the forefront of igniting the growth of successful company after successful company.
A lot discourse has taken place online and offline on the availability (or the lack of) of start up financing.We will continue to develop relationships such as the one between Chase Bank and the iHub, in line with one of our core values: collaboration. Access to capital is critical for the growth of some of these young companies. As this partnership commences, we look forward to easier connections for these companies with organisations such as Chase Bank. With partnerships such as these, Chase Bank and other organisations will also be able to tap into the creative juices and smart, innovative minds of the iHub community, resulting in new and innovative uses of technology and ways of financing tech start-ups. There’s also room for innovative ways of providing for and raising early-stage funding, which we hope to help set up in the not too distant future.
5 Years from now
Frankly, we can’t be too sure of how the iHub will look like 5 years from now (same entity? a campus of companies? a university? who knows.). We couldn’t even have guessed in early 2010 what the iHub would be today. What I am sure of is that if we keep to our commitment, our core mission of catalysing the tech community growth, creating opportunities for people to change the world that they live in, we will have not only achieved what we set out to do, but we will also be on a path for continued innovation and growth.