There are over 1000 innovation and technology hubs across Africa. From buzzing co-working spaces to access to specialized support, contacts and tips and tricks, in many respects their offering makes them the backbone of digital innovation ecosystems.
Their leaders increasingly recognize the power of collaboration and in many country contexts hubs have started aligning priorities and agendas under the umbrella of national associations or networks. A national innovation network, therefore, is a country-based membership organization representing the collective interests of innovation and technology hubs.
Make-IT in Africa had the privilege of working with Seedstars and Pangea Trust on a program to accompany national innovation networks on their journey to maximum impact ecosystems.
First stop: Getting the basics right
Experts at Seedstars and Pangea Trust gathered leaders from 16 networks at the Afrilabs Annual Gathering 2022 in Lusaka to flesh out what makes these networks go round. Open, honest, peer-to-peer conversations touched upon organizational challenges and ambitions for their national ecosystems. Through a co-design process, participants coined the 5 core pillars of national innovation networks in the new national innovation network framework.
These early conversations culminated in a diagnosis tool now available for all young and aspiring networks out there, accompanied with maturity scales that describe to networks where their organization stands and where to go next. With the basics’ ducks in a row, leaders of 8 networks (Association of Startup and SMEs Enablers of Kenya, Tanzania Hub Network, Kenya’s Association of Country-wide Innovation Hubs, Cameroon Hubs Network, Ghana Hubs Network, Nigeria’s Innovation Support Network and Startup Uganda) journeyed on to work with coaches on their strategic priorities and improved business and fundraising plans.
"KmerTech and Silicon Mountain joined the program because we were individually looking for ways to grow our respective networks. We ended up really pinpointing the broader issues in our ecosystem and starting to reflect a plan for growing one [merged] network. Being part of the program allowed us to understand and frame our challenges and provide a frame to start solving our challenges. Above all, connecting with other national hub networks and other partners was a learning curve and great opportunity for partnerships."
-Steve Tchoumba, President, Cameroon Hubs Network
Second stop: Learning from those ahead
Seedstars curated and hosted a series of candid conversations among African networks and with inspiring networks outside of Africa. Case in point: a dialogue series with Community Enterprise Association Ireland (CEAI). Among other accomplishments, CEAI has developed a framework that provides a professional ISO standard for the 350+ enterprise hub, co-working and remote working locations nationwide that play a pivotal role in supporting start-ups, SMEs, multinationals and remote workers across the public and private sectors.
Third stop: Following in the footsteps of the best
Last but not least, the networks were invited to think big in Estonia, the world’s most digital nation. Together with the Estonian Centre for International Development (EstDev) and Garage48, Make-IT in Africa gathered a delegation of 14 representatives of private sector-led African national innovation networks from Eastern, Western and Southern Africa to participate in Estonia’s largest startup conference, Latitude59, and gain valuable insights into the networks behind the Estonian startup ecosystem.
“The opportunity to witness first-hand the work and passion of the startup scene in Estonia has left a strong impression on me. This experience has been a truly rewarding. It serves as a tangible reminder of the importance of connecting with like-minded individuals, embracing collaboration, and fostering growth. By nurturing these connections and seizing the potential for mentorship and reciprocal learning, we can fuel our personal and professional development.”
-Joan Mwangi, Pangea Trust, Kenya
A shout out to all participating networks for their drive and commitment to a more collaborative and integrated digital innovation ecosystem in Africa. We are eager to see where your journey takes you next.