Innovators and entrepreneurs across Africa often face certain hurdles in developing their ideas into sustainable businesses. For Maha Khannoussi – Senior Programme Officer at Flat6Labs Tunisia, being one of the first movers in Tunisia came with a lot of lessons such as the need to create awareness around entrepreneurship in Tunisia. Flat6Labs provides entrepreneurs with access to world-class competitions and summits and funding from regional and international investors.
“The presence of regulations that decelerate or retain startups from advancing coupled with funding challenges and a poor environment to create good business models were tough to navigate. But this necessitated the creation of the Startup Act, which has now been an inspiration to several other countries across Africa,” said Maha.
The reality is that with the presence of such gaps within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, it’s difficult for them to succeed. However, with the help of technology hubs, more innovators and communities are getting the right support and infrastructure to promote innovative solutions. In the course of their journeys, entrepreneurs like Maha and other members of the AfriLabs community were provided with social and professional networking opportunities through which their businesses have grown exponentially.
A lot of entrepreneurs in Africa start businesses out of necessity without adequate experience and training on how to run their businesses. This is where organizations like AfriLabs come in, to allow innovators to become part of a larger community of individuals with similar goals and objectives. The opportunities they provide is also very important because it helps young and emerging entrepreneurs improve their business development.
AfriLabs has also opened doors for African startups to expand their footprints across the continent. According to Maha, AfriLabs provided her hub with access to African leaders, and opportunities to capitalize on the learning from different organizations across Africa. “For the coming year, we would like to work with more AfriLabs members on more cross-country collaboration,” she said.
Being a part of the AfriLabs community has been a life-transforming experience for Vincent Kumwenda, CEO of Malawi’s first technology and innovation hub, Mhub. He explains that the success of Mhub is a result of the support from member hubs in AfriLabs.
“We were one of the very first members of AfriLabs and we have benefited tremendously from it. When we were starting up in 2014, we got a lot of support and inspiration from member hubs in AfriLabs. We’ve also collaborated with tech hives in Zimbabwe and initiatives with Sahara ventures in Tanzania. As a team we’ve learned a lot about the project and financial management, fundraising, and a lot of other things,” said Vincent.
With the right amount of support and funding, innovation hubs are a testament that entrepreneurs can start building small and scale up in any part of Africa. “Looking at the population in Africa, we saw a lot of opportunities to work with young people to change the narrative of Africa. In addition, we also saw opportunities to use technology and innovation to solve the most pressing challenges that Africa is facing as well as how we can start exporting our innovations outside Africa,” said Francis Omojorie, co-Founder Ennovate Hub.
Ennovate Hub was born out of the desire to support emerging entrepreneurs by providing top-level business incubation and growth accelerator support to tech startups in Tanzania and across Africa. Of all the hub’s accomplishments including the launch of a green energy startup and other innovative hubs, Francis explains that his most valuable experience was the opportunity to be part of the AfriLabs community. “In the past year, we have participated in the AfriLabs Capacity Building program which has taught us a lot of key learnings about diversifying our business model. This gave us ideas about how we can restructure our business model and how we can strengthen ourselves as an innovation hub,” said Francis.
Notwithstanding, technology provides access to the world. Together with innovation hubs, the digital transformation has made it possible for companies like Ennovate hub to foster growth during life-changing experiences such as the COVID-19 pandemic. “We built a culture of hybrid programs remotely for our members mostly online to accommodate individual requirements using online platforms. Gladly our community and stakeholders have been comfortable running that way and we have been able to adjust to operating this way, said Francis. Other startups have also been able to scale operations and increase the impact in a fast-growing environment.
Innovation hubs have made it possible for entrepreneurs to create outstanding business models, employment opportunities, improved financial services, and much more.
“As an organization, we’ve been giving support to hundreds of entrepreneurs since we started and that has gone ahead to create hundreds of jobs in Malawi. Through our support, they’ve been able to solve community problems. Internally we’ve also been involved in developing our systems for example in election monitoring. It has been an interesting journey for me and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it,” said Vincent.
While commenting on how entrepreneurs can stimulate growth and social development in Africa, Maha emphasized the need to not only be resilient but also join supporting structures such as accelerators and innovation hubs. Maha also states that one of her long-term goals is to launch VC funds dedicated to women entrepreneurs in Africa.
Africans have continued to keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive, despite the factors hindering the growth and survival of small businesses on the continent. According to a report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the continent’s entrepreneurs boast the lowest levels of “fear of failure,” with just 24% responding that it would stop them from starting a business and seizing business opportunities. The future is bright as the continent’s innovative and determined entrepreneurs have plans of pursuing even bigger business dreams going forward.
“At Mhub we intend to reach out to more rural areas because that makes up 80% of the population in Malawi. We also want to provide support in making our environment conducive in terms of infrastructure, skill acquisition, and governmental support. We hope that this drives some changes including government regulations,” said Vincent.
Innovation communities such as AfriLabs will continue to be the pillars for economic transformation, especially in Africa. These hubs are the core of any innovation ecosystem because they bring together the entrepreneurs, government, corporate and developmental organizations to ultimately pursue one cause which is entrepreneurship.
Members of the AfriLabs community as well as key players in African innovation – ranging from hubs, start-ups, academia, investors, corporate organizations, and development agencies – will convene and discuss the way forward for innovation on the continent at the 2021 AfriLabs Annual Gathering. The AfriLabs Annual Gathering 2021 is themed “AfriLabs at 10: A Decade of Empowering and Inspiring Innovation across Africa,” and is scheduled to hold on October 27–29, in Abuja, Nigeria. This year being the 10th anniversary for Afrilabs, serves as a monumental milestone for the organizational network and is set to illuminate the remarkable growth the African Tech and Innovation Ecosystem has witnessed over the years.
Learn more about the AfriLabs Annual Gathering at www.afrilabs.com/annualgathering/