Inside 7 of East Africa’s Hottest Tech Hubs

by Jonathan Kalan, February 20, 2013

Part 1 of this three-part series offers a look at 7 of East Africa's most popular coworking spaces for tech startups, investors, and innovators, shown in the slider above. 

  1. iHub, Nairobi, Kenya
  2. m;Lab, Nairobi, Kenya
  3. kLab, Kigali, Rwanda
  4. Kinu Hub, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
  5. TanzICT, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
  6. Nailab, Nairobi, Kenya
  7. 88mph, Nairobi, Kenya

Click here to see the original photos on Picasa Web.

Back in 2010, when by a fortuitous string of events, I crash landed in Nairobi, Kenya, there was just one place I was told to go.

“You’ve got to see the iHub,” at least half a dozen implored me.

So, I did. And now, almost three years later, I’m still here. I drank the Kool-Aid (also known as Pete’s mouth-watering espresso milkshakes), and settled in to enjoy the company of a rotating cast of good friends and creative entrepreneurs; in a place where I can keep my finger on the pulse of technology in east Africa.

Lately, I often see people wandering into the iHub for quick tours- eyes lit up, mouths agape, marveling at the sight of dozens of young Kenyans and a handful of expatriates building companies, applications, ideas, or, occasionally, just downloading torrents on one of the fastest internet connections in town. Just last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt strolled through for a peek.

There is good reason for their marvel. Since iHub, one of Africa’s most prominent collaborative workspaces and tech hubs, opened in 2010, more than 90- yes, 90- hubs, labs, incubators and accelerators have sprung up across Africa, spanning more than 20 countries, hoping to replicate iHub’s success.

From Dakar to Dar es Salaam, Lusaka to Kampala, and across the African continent, these new collaborative workspaces and ICT hubs are emerging as beacons for the ICT hopes and dreams of the continent.

Why Hubs?

In a region with a near-total absence of true “3rd spaces”- physical spaces like coffee shops, libraries, and internet cafes, Africa’s “hub boom” has emerged to fill the gap, fostering openness, access, collaboration, education and sharing in the region's tech community, while offering nodes for international exchange, where people like Eric Schmidt can drop in to get a sense of what’s going on.

Crucially, they address the ecosystem's essential need to grow startups beyond ideas. There is no shortage of entrepreneurs with great ideas on the continent, yet many lack the knowledge and skills to build and scale companies. Through workshops, accelerator programs, incubators and mentorship, these hubs are helping to building local capacity.

Here's a look at the hubs in East Africa, which come in all shapes and sizes. Some are funded from governments, other from donors or private owners, yet all are leaders in the global hub “movement.” 

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Jonathan Kalan is journalist and photographer specializing in technology, innovation and social development in emerging markets. A graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, he has traveled to over 43 countries and collaborated with NGO’s, social enterprises, technology start ups, and media companies, and was a Diageo Africa Business Reporting Awards 2011 Finalist. He is currently based in Nairobi, Kenya, where he freelance for various media outlets including BBC, Huffington Post, and CS Monitor, and also serves as Sandbox Network's Nairobi co-ambassador. He can be found on his website and on Twitter at @KalanThinks.