Addis Ababa tech hub takes off
- Published on 12 July 2012
Mushrooming across Africa is a growing network of innovation hubs and IT centres, and the Horn of Africa is no different.
Established just over a year ago in Addis Ababa, the ‘iceaddis’ innovation hub is already shaking up the technology scene in Ethiopia.
Located on the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building, Construction and City Development (EiABC) campus in Ethiopia’s capital city, iceaddis makes its home inside four renovated shipping containers giving the centre an edgy, cool feeling that resonates with its members.
“We are not just focused on ICT but are also on green technologies and supporting sustainable technologies,” explains Markos Lemma, coordinator at iceaddis.
Launched in May 2011, the hub recently celebrated its first anniversary and, according to Lemma, while still not completely developed, iceaddis has already established a strong foundation.
“Over the last year we have a hosted a lot of tech events, upwards of 35. While Ethiopia has a small tech community they don’t really have a home so now we call ideaddis the home for techies,” confirms Lemma.
Lemma and his team help host interest groups as well as specific technology events and have seen attendance figures reach 500 people at some of the more popular events.
The interest and commitment shown by the ICT community has only confirmed one of the central reasons for investing in a technology hub in Ethiopia. Iceaddis is the very first ICT hub in Ethiopia and came about as a result of the fact that there was no innovation space available to developers, techies and other interested parties to come together and work on their ideas and projects.
Lemma is himself an ICT graduate and has seen firsthand the need for an innovation space like iceaddis.
“Normally the people coming to us are students or people who want to start a company but either don’t know how to do that or simply don’t have the financing.” He points out that iceaddis is focused on helping entrepreneurs develop the skills to build a product or business and also achieve a strong link between the academic institutions and industry to assist in developing those products.
The iceaddis model features a three tier membership system not unlike their neighbours at the iHub in Nairobi, Kenya. White members are the 500 virtual members who currently make up the majority of users; these members have access to the online forums and resources and are invited to events depending on their online contributions.
The second tier is made up of the so-called green members, who currently number 30, and pay a small fee for a 12 week membership. This allows them access to the lower floor of the hub, which is made up of a collaboration lounge as well as computers and other research material. Green members are vetted before receiving membership and over the three month period they are offered mentorship and skills training; at the end of the period they are required to report back regarding their time at iceaddis and their plans for the future.
The final tier of members is referred to as the red members. Red members pay a monthly fee and have access to all of iceaddis, including designated office spaces as well as access a business coaching program; they can also make use of the ideaddis consultants to receive professional support for their projects. There are, at the moment, only three red members.
The hub has recently added to the services it is able to provide with the opening of a prototyping or fabrication lab. This will assist members with creating physical products that can be demonstrated and exhibited to prospective investors and organisations.
“One of our goals is to incorporate as many services as possible, so recently we started a prototyping or fabrication workshop where people can actually print their models. We are planning on approaching more people with this and give them access to the facilities and services,” confirms Lemma.
The innovation hub is just one of many springing up across the continent and, for that matter, across the world and iceaddis is already developing relationships with hubs globally. “We recently held the Zero Awards, which is a green architecture competition and it was launched in conjunction with icecairo in Egypt and icebauhaus in Germany,” he explains.
The interaction between these three labs is known as the stranger triangle and is part of Lemma and his team’s plan to develop strong working relationships with other hubs, allowing for ideas and innovation to be shared worldwide. “It’s not just internationally that we are focused though. We are also now working on opening a new innovation hub in Jima, south west of Addis Ababa. It will be located at the university there, it’s still early but we want to expand around Ethiopia.”
The ICT community in Ethiopia faces a number of challenges as its looks to continue its upward growth cycle, none more so then the lack of adequate infrastructure. However, Markos Lemma and iceaddis are committed to finding solutions instead of letting the situation slow them down. “What we are trying to do is come up with solutions, the infrastructure problem is in the way it is but as a result there should be some great solutions emerging from an innovation hub like iceaddis.”
In a country where internet penetration is around 0.7%, Lemma believes that innovation can and must emerge to negotiate those issues. He points to a possible solution in looking at how to use SMS technology more effectively as Ethiopia has some 40 million mobile subscribers. As he says, “we take the issue of infrastructure as a challenge rather then a big problem. This is an innovation hub so innovation should emerge regardless of any other problems.”
It is no surprise that iceaddis faces challenges and obstacles as he heads into the future but the goals the hub has set itself remain attainable and real thanks to the hard work and enthusiasm of the Ethiopian tech community.
“We want to be the leading innovation hub in Africa and we have all the necessary elements to achieve that,” concludes Lemma.