Just like in the California’s Silicon Valley, much of Kenya’s homegrown innovations are taking place inside small tech communities and social groups. The most well known is called iHub – a tech community that houses software developers, engineers and other creative minds.
The growing number of scalable solutions being locally developed has heightened interest in the sector, drawing the attentions of large multi-nationals like Microsoft, Google and Nokia. The Government has been quick to earmark the sector as a potential revenue earner for the country as it turns to such services to drive the economy.
The past two years have pushed Kenya to the forefront of the global stage in innovation, as local entrepreneurs develop products that can be scaled globally. The country is now enjoying a steady stream of income from software development earnings, with the amount being made by local companies having risen from around Kshs300,000 ($ 35,294) in 2009 to become a billion-shilling ($11.8 million) industry.
High levels of interest in this segment has pushed local entrepreneurs, university students and govermnent agencies to form innovation hubs around the country, with some of the most well known being the i-Hub, m-Lab, FabLab and NaiLab facilities.
These innovation hubs are mainly set up to cater for the technology community, serving as open spaces for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area.
Typically formed around universities where students drive new innovations, these spaces provide the tech community with facilities and the opportunity to focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers, designers and researchers.
Keen to tap into Kenya’s growing investments in software development and innovations centered around the mobile phone, the Government has eased access to start-up funds to spur investments in the sector. Recently, Kenya was been selected as the venue for the first of five incubation centres around the world that aim to promote a knowledge-based economy.
The m:Lab was launched to create new space for Kenyan developers to collaborate on developing applications for mobile phones. Kenya was selected as the world’s first venue for the centre due to the country’s rising profile as a software development hub.
The development means Kenyan SMEs in the sector can now access a Kshs1.4 billion ($16 million) kitty over the next two years to fund their growth. The kitty is a joint partnership between infoDev, a donor funded ICT for development agency hosted by the World Bank, the Finnish Foreign Ministry and Nokia.