This Is Where The Next Great Ideas Are Coming From

Danielle Beurteaux

This quarter’s The Digitalist features the neighborhood of Kilimani in Nairobi, where the hot tech of Kenya is centered. Kenya’s iHub tech incubator has helped 150 startups get launched and funded.

Why are there so many hot tech centers in various African countries?

One reason: Local innovators are solving the problems that are under the radar (or are no longer substantiative issues) in developing countries. They deal with real problems every day—lack of consistent energy supply and Internet connectivity; lack of or a fragile financial structure; basic infrastructure problems. These entrepreneurs are searching for and creating solutions for big, practical issues that affect many across the continent instead of waiting for foreign companies to do it for them.

Also, local governments, NGOs, and entrepreneurs are very active and involved with creating, funding, and sustaining entrepreneurial activity as part of economic development initiatives. The World Bank has a map that shows tech hubs across the continent. Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Uganda and Kenya are in the lead (although the map was last updated last fall, so it’s probably changed since then).

Kenya isn’t the only busy tech country. Here are some more to watch.

South Africa

Johannesburg and Cape Town are both centers of startup activity. Johannesburg has incubator JoziHub (“dedicated to creating sustainable change in Africa,” according to its website), and IBM recently announced a $60 million investment in a research lab and tech hub in the city (which will be the company’s second on the continent; the first was in Nairobi).

Cape Town boasts universities, access to investment money, and many startup incubators (and some stunningly beautiful beaches—what entrepreneur wouldn’t want to call this city home?). The city was also recently chosen as a “French tech hub.” Local startups will work with French companies.

Rwanda

Aggressive government support and a connected population are trying to make Rwanda a center of tech activity. The government installed 4,500-plus kilometers of fiber-optic cable and launched a $100 million investment fund for startups, part of the government’s “Vision 2020” plan, which is modeled on Singapore’s service structure—President Paul Kagame has talked in the past about how he wants to replicate that model in Rwanda. The country was recently ranked by Rand Bank as a leading investment area.

Nigeria

Nigeria has a growing tech startup market, with fewer in number but not in force. The country also has a population large enough to potentially sustain a growing company. One standout: Lagos-based Interswitch, a digital payment and commerce company. It’s said to be about to either do a dual London (LSE) and Lagos IPO or an outright sale. Either way, the company is said to be valued at $1 billion, which would make it the first “unicorn” in Africa.

Uganda

Some entrepreneurs in Uganda are focusing on hyper-local solutions, while also trying to create employment in a country with a high unemployment rate. To help with the local startup economy, SEACOM recently announced the expansion of high-speed Internet to Uganda, including Kampala tech hubs hivcolab and outbox. Google launched the company’s first high-speed Internet network last December in Kampala as part of its Project Link.

Want more on Africa’s developing tech industry? See Witnessing The Digital Revolution In Africa.


Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.