What has the iHub achieved?

In March 2010, Kenya’s tech Community came together for a unique event; the opening of the iHub. After many years of discussions and Bar Camps on what was ailing Kenya’s tech community, the presence of an innovation hub was deemed as key.

During those discussions, techies said that one of the  reasons they hadn’t ventured beyond their employers was because they had no space that could serve as an office space or a reference point. If you need a contract, it helps if you are not a briefcase entity.

There are other reasons why the iHub exists but for the sake of brevity, I will deal with one; the relationship between the iHub and the devs, creatives or anyone who is a member. For the sake of consistency I will call them all techies.

For the original stories in 2010, you can read this piece by @whiteafrican or this piece I wrote on the iHub blog those days.

There is so much urban legend on what the iHub is or is not, for some, its an incubation centre, and they expect to see businesses growing from there, which is wrong, its not an incubation hub. For some its a hub for idlers who just want to download movies, porn etc  others think all the iHub does is play foosball while others think its a place for events. Whatever you think, that is still ok, it is the discovery process.

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I usually talk about the iHub a lot and people share with me a lot of questions and the common question usually is; “What has the iHub achieved? Where are the businesses growing from the space?”

Usually I go on and on and in some cases I just keep quiet. You see, there are the arrogant types who think others can not develop anything and there are the genuine ones who want information and are concerned, and those are the ones I am concerned with.

To demonstrate the concept of the iHub, I usually use the analogy of the market. In this case, you can take the open space to be the open air market and the iHub operators as the market administrators or kanjo.

In a market, you have different characters; there are those who will compose a song to attract more users, there is the mama who will give you random stories just to make sure that you buy from them, there is the music seller will blast the music just to make sure you know where the music is. For the clothes line, you will get the man who has won a woman’s dress and is shouting bei this and that.

You will also have the seller who is quiet and since they can not shout, they will collaborate in teams such that if you sell tomatoes and I have Oranges, you can always tell your customers to buy from me and in return I will do the same. Then there is the one who makes a deal with the guys selling paper bags and providing parking, once you park your car, the guy provides you with info on where you can get a good deal, but that is because he will get returns at the end of the day.

This is innovation and invention. Whatever works, the goal is to make money.

Then there is the other person who doesn’t bother with innovative ways and just sits back and waits for the people to come. At the end of the day, these people will probably be complaining that that market sucks while the others will be singing on the way home.

For the admin, the least they can do, is to make sure that the market is clean and is relatively secure. They can also license some events like crusade or wholesale promotions, just to attract people who do not usually come to this market.

Now, with the analogy in mind, whose responsibility is it, to make sure that the people who are in the market reap the benefits and flourish? Ideally, if you came in selling one item or smaller quantities, you should graduate with time, which should be commensurate with your hard work.

When I was growing up, there was a proverb that “mwana wi kio ndagaga muthambia” which loosely translates to hard work is always rewarded. I can’t tell you the many times my mother used the saying just to make sure I did extra work at home :)

Back to our iHub story, if there is the space that is supposed to help you grow, should I question the administrators on the success rate or the techies themselves? Ideally, once you move from the iHub, your business should be incubated, elsewhere, in your bedroom, office space or an incubation hub.

I have had a chance to interact with the techies at iHub and I noticed that it is a cultural problem, the era of instant gratification, no one wants to work hard and earn their stripes. You have space, the success or lack there of is in your hands.

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Yes, there is a responsibility to attract high caliber people capable of growing businesses but if the people come in and the process of growing the idea or business does not start or vest, who do you blame or question?

If you use the market analogy above, you will realize it is not different, once you get an opportunity, you become innovative and inventive, depending on your personality, and at the end of the day, you can say if it was a good day or not.

I have not asked about the achievements to the iHub, I will leave that to @whiteafrican to do a post on that.

When you think of the techies at the iHub, what kind of business people are they, in relation to the market analogy above?

For the business side, look out for the next post.

 

6 Comments What has the iHub achieved?

  1. Josiah Mugambi

    The market analogy :) . I like.

    Someone I know, once described the iHub as a ‘tech coffee shop’ (or bar): people meet, connections are made, ideas and contacts exchanged, a few heated debates.

    Maybe some weeks or years down the road, people who met at an event at the iHub, or were seated across each other at the co-working area for weeks, start their company. That’s really the essence of the iHub, a nexus point.

    I plan to do a post (as part of my blogging reboot), on how I view tech ecosystem and the place the iHub occupies in it.

    Josiah

    Reply
  2. Gladys

    Hi Becky,
    This is great especially the Market analogy. In addition the market also promotes the location and everyone believes the iHub is a must visit site!. However many times I wish the techie would respond more to you observation as quote.
    “I have had a chance to interact with the techies at iHub and I noticed that it is a cultural problem, the era of instant gratification, no one wants to work hard and earn their stripes. You have space, the success or lack there of is in your hands”"

    Reply
  3. Ssembonge

    I think the iHub is a good idea and it means different things to different people. However, this post sounds very defensive unlike what I am accustomed from reading in your blog.

    IMO, if the iHub is paying for itself, i.e. generating revenue (and income), then there is not much to discuss. But if it is a bottomless money pit, then it becomes harder to define its achievements.

    I copied the statement below from your previous post. Is this still the goal?

    In short, iHub will nurture the talents and link them with people who have succeeded in techprenuership. After the business grows, the techie will need space and will probably move on, giving space to other upcoming techies.

    - See more at: http://www.ihub.co.ke/blog/2010/01/nairobi-innovation-hub-ihub-innovation-in-motion/#sthash.rQdp5MbF.dpuf

    Reply
  4. Gareth

    Hi Becky,

    For me, this is the most important para:

    “I have had a chance to interact with the techies at iHub and I noticed that it is a cultural problem, the era of instant gratification, no one wants to work hard and earn their stripes. You have space, the success or lack there of is in your hands.” because it’s exactly what I’ve witnessed in many of the places I’ve visited.

    It’s deeply perplexing, because I come from a mindset which says “if you’re in an environment which is harder to succeed in, you need to work that much harder to succeed”.

    I think that if you say the role of the iHub is to propagate “silicon savannah”, then it should be doing more than you talk about above. Most of it is about fostering the right people and culture and habits, and actually excluding the people who don’t buy into that culture or expectation.

    If the role of iHub is to be a meeting place, then I think that has been accomplished, but, from my perspective, much of the hype and original inspiration for it not.

    My 0.02c – I’m trying to be more vocal from now, so thought this was something that needed to be said ;-)

    gareth

    Reply
  5. Coders4Africa

    We have been asked that we simply tell them, here are iHub Achievements since 2010:

    455 Total events
    835 Total jobs
    12135 Total members
    152 Total companies
    1145 Total blog posts

    Reply
  6. Pingback: OA News: September 30 – October 7, 2013 – oAfrica

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