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Smoke Signals From The Community Manager

Since its inception a decade ago, AfriLabs has grown into the largest and most diverse community of innovation hubs, innovators and entrepreneurs in Africa. The network has an ever-increasing coverage and membership, now standing at 292 technology and innovation hubs across 49 African countries with a broader community of over a million entrepreneurs, developers, innovators and startups. Over the years, AfriLabs has successfully impacted and served multiple stakeholders and clients by providing a wide range of services such as capacity building, research, networking and funding.

Over the years, AfriLabs has carried out research on African hub needs, capacity gaps and best practices needed to build successful African startups. Based on the findings, AfriLabs has designed a series of interventions including the AfriLabs Capacity Building Program (ACBP). ACBP is a 2 million Euro, 36 month intensive training program for hubs.

As part of the interventions, AfriLabs delivers a 3-day workshop focused on strengthening hubs and increasing their ability to support innovators and entrepreneurs in their communities on equipping hub managers and staff with practical knowledge needed in building successful startups.

SNDBX joined the AfriLabs network earlier this year and we recently got the chance to host other community members in Nairobi for the Eastern Africa leg of the Afrilabs Capacity Building Workshops.

The Eastern Africa leg of the ACPB workshop was well attended with hub representatives from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Somaliland and Ethiopia and as one of the newest members of the network, we were excited to have a chance to get to know our peers and even invited some of them to visit our hub at the end of the workshop. We also got to understand more about AfriLabs and how best to benefit from the organisation's resources.

The workshop content was top notch with stellar delivery. Day one focused on building investable startups. This session was facilitated by Stephen Gugu, a co-founder and director of Viktoria Ventures. Viktoria Ventures is a consulting and fund management firm, with a focus on entrepreneurial finance in East Africa. Stephen walked us through how to ensure that as entrepreneur support organisations, we provide end to end support to startups to give them the best chance of securing investment. Day one also included sessions on hub cycles and hub management and this was delivered by Francis Omorojie who runs Ennovate Hub in Tanzania. Francis shared tips on how to stay relevant within our ecosystems, lean management practices and how to lead our teams.

Day two focused on developing hub business plans and developing sustainable business partnerships. This was facilitated by Hilda Moraa, an award winning innovator, an author and the CEO and founder of Pezesha, a digital financial ecosystem for connecting MSMEs to capital. Hilda drew from her personal experience building companies and engaging partners and funders. She guided us in creating our elevator pitches and capped it all with giving away copies of her book, A Kenyan Startup Journey.

Day three was focused on ecosystem engagement. Nekesa Were the Director of Strategy at AfriLabs and our strategy advisor moderated a panel of heavy hitters including Dr. Robert Karanja, chairman of the ASSEK board, Victor Ogolla, Managing Director of Viffa Consult, Linda Kwamboka, entrepreneur in residence at Strathmore University, Jan Okonji, founder at Business Growth Hub and the resident startup expert at SNDBX and Manasseh Miruka, a small business specialist at Integration Consulting Group. Mwende Njiraini , an innovation, research and development manager at the Communications Authority of Kenya delivered a keynote address as a prelude to the panel. She spoke about the work being done by the CA to support local entrepreneurs including getting fibre costs down. Mwende was also a panelist during the panel session.

The panel discussed the role of policies in making or breaking enterprises in Africa. Dr. Karanja spoke about the vital role of national networks like ASSEK in ensuring that interests of Entrepreneurship Support Organisations like SNDBX were protected and that their role in catalyzing innovation ecosystems was acknowledged. Jan Okonji highlighted pain points for entrepreneurs that policies could easily address like fiscal aspects of startup support and enablement at each progressive stage of the startup and support for setups such as the SNDBX once success of the model is demonstrated. Victor Agolla highlighted the importance of using contextual data when designing policies and cautioned against copying policies that have worked for other ecosystems. Linda Kwamboka highlighted the important role of academic institutions in surfacing data required for making policies while Mannasseh Miruka shed some light on the role of development agencies in catalyzing innovation ecosystems, emphasizing that most of them looked for opportunities to support countries to achieve the SDGs.

Workshop participants received certificates to recognise their participation in the workshop and they later got a chance to tour Nairobi city, meet SNDBX entrepreneurs and visit our world famous national park.

Hosting our AfriLabs community was an incredible experience. Sharing experiences with our Eastern Africa friends reassured us that Africa is opening up with opportunities for us and our entrepreneurs. Local solutions and scalable businesses are being validated across the region and our work in supporting them is undeniably critical. As cross border trade becomes a priority for Africa and countries work to ensure ease of business and intra Africa travel, the role of spaces like SNDBX is to ensure that African excellence is delivered by our entrepreneurs and experienced by our customers.

We are grateful to the AfriLabs team for trusting us to host this event. We’re excited to be part of the community and we look forward to meeting even more AfriLabs members at our Annual Gathering in Abuja, Nigeria and online from October 25th to 27th this year. Please register and join us as we celebrate a decade of AfriLabs impact!

Lastly we would like to to express our gratitude to our SNDBX Start-ups who put aside their time to attend the ACBP workshop. They are a true embodiment of the Collaborative spirit of SNDBX. They are Ubabi Van Pooling, Meals Moto, Ur Drive, Drinks Zetu, Ride Safe and Kwenzi. Please use the links to find out the amazing products and services they are offering to their customers and their amazing stories on entrepreneurship.

This article was written by Kambo Matindi, Community Manager at the SNDBX, a one-stop-shop collaborative space that brings together 31+ different professional service experts who work together to help entrepreneurs to grow and scale and entrepreneur support institutions to succeed in their programs.

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