What Traditional African Innovation Hubs Can Learn From New Corporate Innovation Hubs

It is over 10 years now since the first wave of innovation hubs started in Africa. It has been a bumpy ride with a lot to learn. With all the successes and achievements, Tech hubs in Africa still struggle to figure out their business models and how to sustain themselves. Not all bad, hubs still are the driving vehicles of digital innovations in the continent and landing space to anyone who wants to understand local innovation ecosystems. For some time now hubs have been championing the approaches and concepts for promoting innovations. The concepts of open office spaces, coworking spaces, products labs, hackathons, bootcamps, lean startup, design sprints, agile approach, Human (User) Centered Design etc were primarily introduced in Africa innovation ecosystems through hubs and know is common to see some of these approaches being replicated by small and large corporate companies. The main competitive advantage of the corporate is the investment and their existing clients.

the new frontier, the corporate sector in Africa; the telcos, banks, recruitment agencies, branding agencies, research agencies, and consulting firms have realized the power of innovation hubs; the culture, the programmes, the community, and the opportunity package*. Corporates are adopting strong features of the traditional Africa innovation hub by creating their own hubs; promoting coworking, creating intra-preneurs (entrepreneurs within the organizations), running designing sprints for new products, establishing product labs, championing corporate acceleration programs and some even starting their own internal investment funds to support innovative ideas internally.

Wake up Call, while this all is happening most of the traditional African hubs are still stuck in their old ways. Doing things based on hope and chances with a lot of maybes. They are not sure what works; membership fees, equity from startups or grants from donors. This is what they have adopted from the most senior hubs that emerged during the first wave. New hubs must know if they continue in that path they will definitely fail, based on facts and experience of the other hubs which failed before them. They need to move from the traditional sources of revenue to new sources of revenue; corporate consulting, generating data and insights, partnerships, angel investing, facilitation, partnerships etc. The biggest advantage the hubs have over corporate is the fact that they are not flexible and they don’t do things outside their comfort zone (core business).

What next? It is about time they also start to adopt the approach of corporate innovation hubs specifically on creating business models that work. The traditional hubs shouldn’t waste their time competing with corporate innovation hubs. They should invest in creating a unique value proposition that their corporate partners can’t live without. Values that will push corporate to engage and work with the hubs after assessing their opportunity costs. Traditional hubs need to do three important things;

1. Invest in themselves | They need to invest in their teams and communities. Stronger communities and flexible teams will ensure traditional hubs stay at the top of their game; constant innovating and creating solutions.

2. Designing Robust Programs | They need to create robust programs that ensure quality solutions are getting into the market and they are addressing the most pressing issues.

3. Building Strong Networks | They need to build strong networks of mentors and investors. There should be a pipeline of value from the moment someone starts to work on the idea until it goes to market.

In a paragraph, if you didn’t get anything from what I have been saying then take this away, corporate innovations hubs are; in the business of doing business and they are here to stay, they are focusing on the needs of the markets nothing is done by chance, they care only about numbers that matter* and they are focused, they choose a niche and stick into that until they become so good on what they do.

Thank you for taking your time reading the article. Let’s keep learning. Sahara Accelerator is kickstarting the new batch of its corporate innovation programme. If you would like to be involved in any way, please email: emmanuelsenzighe@gmail.com

PS| I’m available to catch up and talk about words with (*).