Building Capacity For Innovation Hubs in Africa, Recap of DIY Toolkit Session For Hub Managers.

The DIY Toolkit Version 2.0 for Hub Managers is a tool designed to help innovation hubs in Africa to build strong communities of innovators, design programs with impact and build strong management teams.

Part of Tanzania’s Innovation Week 2020, Sahara Ventures organized a session for innovation hubs manager’s from 30 different innovation hubs these include; Tech Hubs, Makerspaces, Labs, Co-Creation Spaces, Accelerators, Incubators, Living Labs, Impact Labs, etc. The idea was to share the experience with these hub managers and help them improve their internal systems and process to better serve their beneficiaries.

The DIY Toolkit Version 2.0 is grouped into three categories; The Community, The Program and Activities, and The Management Team. The three categories are the pillars of any innovation hubs based on our experience of running and managing innovation hubs in Africa.

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The Three Pillars of The Innovation Hub

The Community, These three pillars strategically align together; the nature of the community is what informs what kind of programs or activities you should carry and the type of programs and activities you carry informs the kind of skills you should have in your team. For example, a hub that supports post-revenue businesses will potentially have an investor readiness program and investor readiness experts (mentors) to help the entrepreneurs.

From the session, we used the community canvas, upgraded version of the value proposition canvas, and the empathy map canvas to help the hub managers to have a better understanding of their community members. It was a “wow” moment for some of the managers honestly admitting it is the first time they think that deep about their members. 55 percent of the hubs that attended serves more than 100. From all the hubs that attended on average female community members make 47 percent of the members while only 1 percent of the members being people living with some kind of disability. Hence, there is work that needs to be done on inclusion.

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The Community Unique Value Proposition Canvas

The Program and Activities, the second part of the session was mainly focusing on programs and activities carried by the innovation hubs. This session was aiming at helping the hub managers to rethink and restrategize on how they design, implement, evaluate and assess the impact of their program and activities. The session was also looking at how hubs can build strategic partnerships that will create a pipeline of support for beneficiaries.

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Startup Pipeline Support Curve

The exercise helped the hub managers to reflect at which stage of the growth curve are they supporting the entrepreneurs, their process of identifying them, the kind of services they offer to them (aligning with their program and activities), the definition of success, the value offered and how they complement with other hubs and strategic stakeholders in the innovation ecosystem. This exercise was very important also in addressing the issue of copy-cat and overlapping of activities and support gaps within the ecosystem. We clearly saw the gap in terms of support of post-revenue and growth-stage businesses.

From the session, almost 50 percent of the hubs focused on short programs and activities of less than 3 months. Also, even though 75 percent of the hubs responded “yes” to the question of whether they are measuring outcomes of their program only 20 percent were able to explain how mostly using online surveys. It is very clear that hubs need training on monitoring, evaluation, research and learning (MERL) or at least tools to be designed to help them measure and reflect on their program and activities. Also, there was no clear strategy on how they work with other hubs. Most of them rely on social media as their main communication channel with other hubs according to their response.

The Management Team, from the session we also reflected on the teams that run and managers innovation hubs focusing on their roles, the type of skills they should have and how to leverage networks of experts and mentors in the ecosystem. We also discussed how to distribute your human resources within your innovation hub based on the nature of the programs and activities you carry.

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The Ideal Innovation Hub Management Team

From the session, we also explored platforms for the hub management teams to learn new skills and get exposed to new opportunities. 54 percent of the people who attended from the innovation hubs have less than 2 years of running or managing a hub. 70 percent of them are undergraduate students with a strong background in ICT and Management. Only a few of those specialist skills such as Legal and IP Issues, Marketing Strategy, Product Design, and Testing, less than 5 percent. This also reflects the skills gap we have in our innovation hubs. The good news was all the members who attended the session were ready to learn new skills and a good number of them relying on Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) as a go-to place for learning new skills.

What are the things that clearly stand out?

  • There is a need for more inclusion and diversity in the communities that are managed by hubs especially urban hubs.
  • We need more capacity building programs for hub managers.
  • There is a need for a strong Monitoring, Research, Evaluation and Learning component in the hubs.
  • There is a need to revisit hubs' roles in the ecosystem to better fill the missing support gap.

Thank you for all those who made the session possible, especially the hub managers who attended. Let’s continue learning and build a stronger ecosystem in Africa.

The presentation from the session can be accessed here.

Written by

Entrepreneur, TZ Patriot, Loves Tech, Founder saharaventures.com, Project Management Consulting firm, Co-Founded saharasparks.com and Sahara Accelerator.

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