In 2011, Buni Hub, Kinu Co-Creation Hub and Mara Space where the only players in Dar es Salaam with actual physical spaces to support urban entrepreneurs. The concept of working on startups and nurturing ideas was a new concept and each of these three hubs were testing which model works.
They piloted different programs and activities to support entrepreneurs and develop entrepreneurial communities in Dar es Salaam with focus on technology and innovation.
Things have changed a lot now; most global innovation ecosystem reports and maps still consider Tanzania among the countries with few spaces to support entrepreneurs. That was a fact a few years ago but it isn’t anymore.
With spaces cutting across sectors, locations, and communities they serve, Tanzania innovation ecosystem is among the most diverse innovation ecosystems.
From Data Labs, Arts Spaces, Living Lab, Community Spaces, Makerspaces, Creative Spaces, Incubators, and Accelerators; Technology Hubs are distributed across the country even in extremely rural areas.
The innovation ecosystem has evolved to have a specific focus on female entrepreneurs and innovators with programs targeting young and adult women on innovation, tech and entrepreneurship.
The existing players such as SheCodesForChange and 'Apps and Girls' also continue to inspire more girls and young women in tech and leadership. Apps and Girls are working closely with Niwezeshe Lab another space in Dar es Salaam.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="800"] Ndoto Hub[/caption]
Some of the spaces such as Kiota Hub at Tumaini University, Data Lab at the University of Dar es Salaam and AMCET Hub at the Al Maktoum College or Engineering. They work directly with academic institutions which bring about better collaboration between academia and the ecosystem.
Data Lab priority focus is on data and how it is used to create impact. Kiota Hub helps to transform students ideas into early-stage business and AMCET Hub helps to build skills and capacity of the students by equipping them with in-demand skills.
The space of coworking is also growing; with new co-creation spaces, co-offices and even co-living spaces emerging. Seedstars have launched the first Seedspace in East and Central Africa in Tanzania.
The hub serves entrepreneurs from across the region. With world-class facilities; working spaces, meeting rooms, guests facilities, small event venue etc. Sometime later this year it will launch a co-living space for entrepreneurs in the same building. The concept might be the first time being implemented in East Africa.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="800"] Meeting With Maryam at Seedspace in Dar.[/caption]
The good news is that the growth is not witnessed in Dar es Salaam alone. In a city like Iringa already they have three spaces serving the community. Spaces like RLabs Iringa and Mkwawa Community Art Space also in Iringa.
They serve the community at the grassroots level. Providing opportunities for youths to improve their livelihood and explore new opportunities with improved life skills. Mkwawa uses arts as a tool to empower young people.
You also have spaces like Kilihub (Anza) in Moshi, Twende Makerspace in Arusha, Elimu Lab in Sengerema, Zanzibar Technology Business Incubator (ZTBI) in Zanzibar and Sokoine Agribusiness Incubator in Morogoro.
Also, new programs to support post revenue entrepreneurs are coming in. Sahara Accelerator is a venture and corporate-backed accelerator with a special focus on support post revenue startups and developing corporate innovation programs including accelerators.
The accelerator is currently housing three startups and supports virtually 12 startups. The accelerator is currently implementing three corporate sponsored acceleration programs; e-Kilimo Accelerator, Lishe Accelerator, and Inspire100.
Previously, the accelerator also hosted Amua Accelerator and Mawazo Challenge. The approach is different from Dar Teknohama Business Incubator (DTBI) which incubate startups by offering them physical office space and technical support. DTBI was the first to be established as a business incubator in Tanzania.
The ecosystem is also filled with events and meetups; Google Startup Grind, FinDisrupt, Sahara Header-File, Bits and Bytes, COSTECH STI Conference, HDIF Week and the Sahara Sparks event driving the growth of the ecosystem.
Sahara Sparks this year will host AfriLabs which is the network of technology hubs across the African continent. The event is organized in parallel with AfriLabs Annual General Meeting (AGM).
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="800"] Panel Discussion During Sahara Sparks 2017[/caption]
Corporate companies are also coming into the ecosystem with some starting their own innovation spaces to groom new ideas, the most recent is Smart Lab from Smartcodes.
Telecom companies are also getting more involved with the ecosystem by working with entrepreneurs and innovation spaces, co-implementing programs and activities. Products such as Tigo Backup, Twende, Jamii Micro-Health Insurance, Visomo and Mpaper shows there are positive signs of collaboration between startups and telcos in Tanzania.
Tanzania Bora and Mulika 255 play a crucial role on innovation in areas of youths on arts, governance, leadership, and journalism. They are disrupting the sectors by coming up with innovative approaches of engaging youths in discussions, creating new young leaders and developing new skills. On skills, there are also programs such as The Launch Pad and Buni Internship Program.
Nafasi Arts Space, Kokoten Studio and Bongo Hub (Community) are among the players that champion arts in the ecosystem who are based in Dar. Another space is FASDO, Faru Arts and Sports Development Organization which works with communities in Temeke. The space work with youths in Temeke improving their livelihood through arts and sports.
Making is also growing, the only makers we used to have was STICLab. Now we have the Robotech Lab, Projekt Inspire, and Buni Mini Makerspace. More kids are getting into making. These programs inspire the new generation of makers and scientists.
STICLab played a crucial role in the implementation of the RefabDar project and the making of the first electronic waste 3D printers in Dar. They have also been selected to host the Africa Open Science and Hardware Summit.
We are also not doing so bad in areas of drones and mapping; Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Tanzania and other partners are doing different mapping exercises in Tanzania.
The drones sector is also growing with drones used in different projects; mapping lands, assessing flood risks, delivering medicines etc. Companies like Zipline and We Robotics are already in the country to explore the opportunity.
Overall, things are happening in Tanzania and they are happening at a faster pace. What are the gaps and how we can address them?
- Sustainability: The major problem facing most of these initiatives if not all is sustainable models that will ensure they continue to operate and offer sustained value to the community and the beneficiaries of the programs. Some of the hubs especially the earlier ones have already closed the doors and no longer functioning. It is vital we think about sustainability before evening starting these programs and interventions. The best to ensure that is through learning from others and ensure a sustained value is created from the initiative, you pilot.
- Collaboration: Many stakeholders work in a silo, they don’t share information and they don’t create a pipeline of value to their beneficiaries. Most of the programs and activities are designed with players in the ecosystem. They don’t think on how to leverage value to other partners in the ecosystem which results to duplication of efforts and reduced quality of the programs and activities.
- Funding: It is a big issue to beneficiaries (entrepreneurs, innovators, tech enthusiasts etc) and organizations that support them; hubs, incubators etc. Lack of grants, AI and VC funds to support the ecosystem in multiple sectors hinders innovations to emerge from sectors which are less funded. There is a need to have more investment firms structured to meet the needs of the local ecosystem.
- Skills: Talents are needed, we need to invest more in people. We need to improve the quality of our education system. Our Universities need to invest more on skills development program. They need to engage more with other partners especially the industry to learn what is needed and how they can provide that to the students.
- Research and Development: There are less researched ideas and businesses in our ecosystem. There is no connection between commercial products and services with scientific researches. Scaling becomes a problem, investment becomes a problem since there is no clear data or information about the businesses. On the other hand, all the research from academic institutions doesn’t cross the campus gate.
- Policies and Regulations: We need to intentionally incorporate discussions around innovation as part of our national agenda and try to make it align with other agenda such as industrialization agenda. Innovation is a cross-cutting issue we cannot afford not to prioritize it.
- More private sector involvement: We need more local companies to embrace and support innovation ecosystems. To work with local innovators and entrepreneurs and collaborate with other stakeholders in the ecosystem.
We have come so far but there is a lot of work that needs to be done from here onwards. Congrats to all those who are doing the amazing work to support the growth of our ecosystem.
This article first appeared on Jumanne's medium account and was shared here with his permission.