Innovation, entrepreneurship, changing the world...whatever you call it, it can be a lonely journey if you plan on doing it all alone.
That is why according to an ancient African proverb you should only go it alone if you want to go fast, but if you want to go far you should go together with other people.
Luckily for all those of us who want to go far Impact Hubs are popping up all over our continent. Impact Hub is a global community of innovators, social entrepreneurs and game-changers that assists its members by providing co-working spaces, events, capacity building initiatives and collaboration opportunities with other engaged actors in the field.
That is why we are excited that we got the opportunity to chat to Africa Lead Nada Abshir about Impact Hub in Africa and how they are contributing to building a better eco-system for innovators and entrepreneurs across the continent.
In the last few years, Impact Hub has set up locations in different countries across Africa. How were these locations chosen?
Impact Hubs are initiated, run and owned by local entrepreneurial teams; founders from different countries identify with the work of the network and see the value of creating a space in their city. This means that we are deeply embedded in local communities and contexts where we operate. The network has grown to 80+ spaces around the world as a result of local people taking action and feeding into the larger global network.
What have so far been the biggest milestones of Impact Hub in Africa so far?
- 8 high-caliber founding teams established and spaces initiated in Burundi, Ghana, Mali, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, and Zimbabwe – three of them are open and five will open between end of 2016 and early 2017.
- Built initial communities of 400+ entrepreneurs, expected to reach 1,000+ by mid-2017 and keep growing.
- Supported dozens of entrepreneurs via programs and pitch events in collaboration with key actors such as Case Foundation, Cordaid, UNDP and Unreasonable Institute.
- Established a regional structure (Impact Hub Africa Regional Development Team) that capitalizes on regional opportunities through partnership-building, regional program development, regional brand building, and interconnectivity to increase value for Impact Hubs and their communities.
- Hosted a multi-sector regional event in Ethiopia exploring what it takes to enable resilient entrepreneurs to thrive
Which Impact Hub is the biggest in terms of membership numbers? How many members are there across Africa?
Globally, there are over 15,000 entrepreneurs in the Impact Hub network. In Africa, our newly established 8 Impact Hubs already count over 400 entrepreneurs among their members, or as a part of their larger communities. For example, Impact Hub Accra has 120 members and over 1000 sq m of space. Impact Hub aims to reach 1000+ entrepreneurs in Africa by the end of 2017. Further, we expect the network to grow to at least 12 Impact Hubs in 2017, based on the interest received from changemakers around the continent to establish Impact Hubs in their cities.
What gap is Impact Hub filling in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the different African countries?
Countries and sub-regions across Africa today face many of the same challenges, from high youth unemployment to beset education and health systems. Though entrepreneurs are developing innovative solutions to confront these and other pressing issues, growth and sustainability is often limited by a lack of access to supportive infrastructure. While once-off incubators and accelerators support entrepreneurs in many markets, they traditionally operate for a limited time and mostly in geographic and functional silos; lacking sustainable business models as well as infrastructure to provide the comprehensive support entrepreneurs need. Capacity support and spaces are crucial for early stage pipeline development before investors come in, but there is a dearth of this type of supportive infrastructure throughout Africa.
Impact Hub acts as an open platform for the entrepreneurial ecosystem and we traditionally work closely with other market players in a complementary manner. Our unique structure as both “hardware” (co-working & events space) and “software” (community, learning and enabling) generates a broad range of opportunities for collaboration with other engaged actors. Our communities are fertile ground for fielding quality candidates for established regional acceleration and incubation programs, our physical infrastructure acts as a host for mission-aligned initiatives, and our programming provides support for entrepreneurs that complements existing market offerings.
Drawing from lessons learned over 10 years of experience and 80+ thriving entrepreneurial communities for impact around the globe, Impact Hub is pioneering Africa’s first financially sustainable, regionally linked network of communities, workspaces and programming designed to support impact-driven entrepreneurs from idea to operations to scale. Our goal is to become a unique and enduring platform to catalyze momentum for innovative solutions by supporting entrepreneurs to collaboratively address shared challenges across countries, regions, industries, and sectors. We are distinguished by our ability to attract talent, connect actors and forge locally driven, diverse and enduring innovation communities that bolster entrepreneurial activity for the long term.
What are the biggest challenges that Impact Hub entrepreneurs face and how does Impact Hub assist them in solving those challenges?
While lack of access to finance is certainly a big issue for entrepreneurs, capacity development support and access to markets is another major challenge to address, to facilitate access to financing. If there is an investment-ready enterprise, there will be investors ready to invest. However, the challenge is getting a larger number of entrepreneurs to investment-ready stage. There is a significant need to support entrepreneurs to develop their idea, build a prototype and get it to market, and only then, when they can prove the market value and business case, will investors be ready to take a chance on them. Access to finance during ideation stage (seed funding) and the mentorship and coaching to help the entrepreneurs get to market is the main challenge on this continent.
This is the value that Impact Hub and similar ecosystem builders bring; our pipelines are heavily sought after by investors but as a community of hubs, makerspaces, incubation programs and accelerators, we do not always monetize the value we bring to investors. Many would say ecosystem builders’ lack of sustainability is a big issue in this space in Africa. Impact Hub is about creating impact-driven, financially viable Impact Hubs so we aim to be part of changing that dynamic.
Which sectors (e.g. agriculture, health, poverty-alleviation etc.) are most popular amongst Impact Hub entrepreneurs?
There is no single profile of a member as Impact Hubs build diverse, cross-sectoral, impact-focused, entrepreneurial communities that include entrepreneurs, freelance experts, values-aligned organizations, investors, etc. Currently about 67% of our global members' activities focus primarily on social or environmental impact returns and 33% on financial returns. Impact Hubs look for diversity and a mix of players that make up the ecosystem.
However, we recognize that entrepreneurs throughout the continent play a critical role in leveraging innovation and building impact-driven businesses that contribute to addressing social challenges, whilst also generating economic benefits. From our communities in Africa, we know that certain themes are prevalent; the similarity of social issues across the continent means that there is some regional alignment in the ventures and initiatives undertaken by entrepreneurs in Impact Hub communities in Africa. These include, amongst many others, youth engagement and employability, health and agribusiness. Exploring how entrepreneurial action can contribute to solving the persistent issues in these and other sectors in a sustainable and locally relevant way, leveraging cross regional networks and ultimately contributing meaningfully to greater social inclusion and human development is foundational to what Impact Hub stands for and what our communities seek to achieve.
Amongst your members, do you see any particular business models as having a great track record in achieving positive impact?
We have no one-size fits all model - Our members are so diverse, both geographically and particularly in the stage they’re at. Local Impact Hubs support their members with a variety of resources that strengthen their business models, which are applicable to their specific context. Local Impact Hubs have access to a pool of resources and tools from the global network to achieve these ends.
What are your top 3 tips for Impact Hub members to get the most out of the Hub experience?
- Be open and attend community events - best way to test your idea, get feedback and to network
- Travel the world and take full advantage of the benefits of being a part of a global network - from gaining relevant business and cultural insights of that region/country to having a home away from home.
- You don’t need to reinvent the wheel - get in touch with members that are working in a similar field to you, collaborate with them or, for those who have successfully grown their ventures, discover their key lessons learned in their journey. A third of all of our members have found their business partners inside of the Impact Hub network, so there is a lot of value to tap into
Where do you see the biggest opportunities and challenges for Africa in the next 20 years?
This is a broad question to answer - there are books written about this! But Youth employability is one that holds both tremendous opportunities and staggering challenges. With approximately half of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa being under 18, there is enormous potential for economic growth and social development, but to realize this, we need to start building the right investments into human and social capital for youth. Without this investment, the future will be bleak.
We need to start building the right investments into human and social capital for youth in #Africa. #Impacthub
Young Social entrepreneurs often face big challenges in securing financial and strategic support, partly due to their lack of experience and skills. Yet Africa is a continent that faces numerous complex socio-economic challenges, while 65 % of the continent’s population is below 35 years of age. In order for Africa to successfully address it’s many challenges more young entrepreneurs need to succeed. What are the best ways to empower young social entrepreneurs?
- Providing them access to a community of like minded peers, mentors and other key local resources
- Providing them access to capacity support that allows them to grow their skill set and alongside that, their ventures
- Creating the space for young social entrepreneurs to network, and learn from, the journeys of more experienced entrepreneurs.
- Impact Hub’s key strength is convening great minds and facilitating positive change - throughout the world, we create the infrastructure, communities and programs to achieve these ends. We rely on changemakers across the globe to co-create the reality of a more just and sustainable world.
Thank you Nada for sharing your time and insights with the Rise Africa Rise community. For community members who are interested in learning more about Impact Hub here are a series of interesting articles.
Now go and sign up to become an Impact Hub member at a location near you!