Innovators and entrepreneurs across Africa often face certain obstacles in turning their ideas into sustainable businesses. For Maha Khannoussi – Senior Program Officer at Flat6Labs Tunisia, being one of the first actors in Tunisia, came with many lessons such as the need to raise awareness about entrepreneurship in Tunisia. Flat6Labs provides entrepreneurs with access to world-class competitions and summits, and funding from regional and international investors.
âThe presence of regulations that slow or prevent startups from moving forward, coupled with funding challenges and a poor environment to create good business models, was difficult to navigate. But that necessitated the creation of the Startup Act, which has now been a source of inspiration for several other African countries, âsaid Maha.
The reality is that with the presence of such gaps within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, it is difficult for them to be successful. However, with the help of technology hubs, more innovators and communities get the right support and infrastructure to promote innovative solutions. During their travels, entrepreneurs like Maha and other members of the AfriLabs community have benefited from social and professional networking opportunities through which their businesses have grown exponentially.
Many entrepreneurs in Africa are starting businesses out of necessity without adequate experience or training in how to run their businesses. This is where organizations like AfriLabs come in, to enable innovators to be part of a larger community of individuals with similar goals and objectives. The opportunities they offer are also very important as they help young emerging entrepreneurs improve their business development.
AfriLabs has also opened doors for African startups to expand their footprint across the continent. According to Maha, AfriLabs has provided its hub with access to African leaders and opportunities to capitalize on learning from different organizations across Africa. âFor the coming year, we would like to work with more AfriLabs members on a more transnational collaboration,â she said.
Being part of the AfriLabs community has been a life-transforming experience for Vincent Kumwenda, CEO of Malawi’s premier technology and innovation center, Mhub. He explains that Mhub’s success is the result of the support from AfriLabs member hubs.
âWe were one of the very first members of AfriLabs and we have benefited enormously from it. When we started in 2014, we received a lot of support and inspiration from AfriLabs member hubs. We have also collaborated with tech beehives in Zimbabwe and initiatives with Sahara ventures in Tanzania. As a team, we learned a lot about the project and financial management, fundraising and many other things, âsaid Vincent.
With the right amount of support and funding, innovation hubs are a testament to the fact that entrepreneurs can start to build on a small scale and expand in any part of Africa. âLooking at the people in Africa, we saw many opportunities to work with young people to change the African narrative. In addition, we also saw opportunities to use technology and innovation to solve the most pressing challenges facing Africa as well as how we can start exporting our innovations outside Africa â , said Francis Omojorie, Ennovate Hub co-founder.
Ennovate Hub was born out of the desire to support emerging entrepreneurs by providing high-level business incubation and growth accelerator support to tech startups in Tanzania and across Africa. Of all the hub’s accomplishments, including launching a green energy startup and other innovative hubs, Francis explains that his most valuable experience has been the opportunity to be part of the AfriLabs community. âOver the past year, we have participated in AfriLabs’ capacity building program which has taught us a lot of key lessons about diversifying our business model. It gave us ideas on how we can restructure our business model and how we can strengthen ourselves as an innovation hub, âsaid Francis.
However, technology gives access to the world. Along with innovation hubs, digital transformation has enabled companies like Ennovate hub to foster growth during life-changing experiences such as the COVID-19 pandemic. âWe have built a culture of hybrid distance programs for our members, primarily online, to meet individual needs using online platforms. Fortunately, our community and stakeholders have been comfortable operating this way and we have been able to adapt to it, Francis said. Other startups have also been able to expand their operations and increase their impact in a rapidly growing environment.
Innovation hubs have enabled entrepreneurs to create exceptional business models, employment opportunities, enhanced financial services and much more.
âAs an organization, we have supported hundreds of entrepreneurs since our inception and this has created hundreds of jobs in Malawi. Thanks to our support, they were able to solve the problems in the community. Internally, we have also participated in the development of our systems, for example in election monitoring. It has been an interesting journey for me and I am grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of it, âsaid Vincent.
While commenting on how entrepreneurs can boost growth and social development in Africa, Maha underscored the need not only to be resilient, but also to join supportive structures such as accelerators and innovation hubs. Maha also says that one of her long-term goals is to launch venture capital funds dedicated to women entrepreneurs in Africa.
Africans have continued to keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive, despite the factors that hamper the growth and survival of small businesses on the continent. Entrepreneurs on the continent have the lowest levels of ‘fear of failure’, according to a report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, with only 24% responding that it would prevent them from starting a business and seizing business opportunities . The future is bright as the continent’s innovative and determined entrepreneurs intend to pursue even bigger business dreams.
âAt Mhub, we intend to reach more rural areas as they represent 80% of the population of Malawi. We also want to provide support to make our environment conducive in terms of infrastructure, skills acquisition and government support. We hope this will lead to changes, including government regulations, âsaid Vincent.
Innovation communities such as AfriLabs will continue to be the pillars of economic transformation, especially in Africa. These poles are at the heart of any innovation ecosystem because they bring together entrepreneurs, governments, businesses and development organizations to pursue a cause which is entrepreneurship.
Members of the AfriLabs community as well as key players in African innovation – ranging from hubs, start-ups, universities, investors, business organizations and development agencies – will come together and discuss the way forward for the innovation on the continent during the annual AfriLabs 2021. The picking. The theme of the AfriLabs 2021 Annual Gathering is “AfriLabs at 10: a decade of empowerment and inspiration for innovation across Africa”, and is scheduled to be held October 27-29 in Abuja, Nigeria. This year, which marks the 10th anniversary of Afrilabs, is a monumental milestone for the organizational network and should highlight the remarkable growth that the African technology and innovation ecosystem has witnessed over the years.
Learn more about the AfriLabs Annual Gathering at www.afrilabs.com/annualgathering/