I am the first to admit that I am quite tech-unsavvy. Totally under the rock. Feel nothing for gadgets. I am not on Instagram, whatsapp, etc. Do not use a smartphone. Tune out when folk spew tech-speech.
So this post is venturing into unknown territory. Possibly into a minefield.
Oh well…here goes…
Many people, even tech-unsavvy me know of iHub but ask folk what it is exactly and not many can give sentence long answer.
In my 2015 quest to at least move a step out of from being under the rock I paid a visit to iHub which is located on Bishop Magua building on Ngong Road.
Practically Kenya’s Silicon Valley.
Through my conversations with folk who work at the iHub and members, I sought to get the essence, the spirit of the space.
My walking “tour” began on the second floor, through to third floor and finally fourth floor. There are many tech companies in the different floors.
Sat at Pete’s Coffee. Rose is real and cool. Drank the House Coffee, freshly brewed, just as good as kahawa tungu ya Mombasa. Drank it sugarless. Got buzzed.
Many working tables and chairs. There is a seven-sitter sofa with a coffee table. A ping pong machine. A bookshelf with books that look like no one has ever opened. 4 rocking chairs which seem out of place prpos. Signage on the walls declares the piper payers: Hivos, Omidyar, etc. A wall with everyday Nairobi street signs which feels like an attempt at Watu-nizing the space.
The crowd on the fourth floor is young, nerdy-looking, no suits, no ties, every pair of eyes glued to a laptop with earphones in ears. The atmosphere is sterile, deathly quiet. Very male-centric. Too few women.
Apparently iHub was born out of Ushahidi money.
So let’s define Ushahidi. Long story short it is traditional 9-1-1 call in text form. SMS-based platform for missing persons, emergencies, elections. Helps with crowd-mapping, helping engineer response. Started in Kenya, has gone global.
So from Ushahidi, techies felt there was need for a community for and by techies. That was five years ago.
That idea has birthed:
iHub research – which researches on tech ecosystem in the East African region. Focus is on Education, Hatespeech. Funded by foundations. Great in theory but lacking in dissemination of information deduced.
UXLab – which works on quantifying user experience, testing apps on users. So it is a great space for techies.
IHub consulting – this is where community meets opportunity. iHub using its clout can pitch for big jobs then subcontract to community members. So it is a great space for techies.
BRICK – Long explanation. What I got – UPS for the bundus.
mLab – mobile apps creation space, mobile apps testing space. Home of M-vitus. So it is a great space for techies.
Having gotten this for dummies break-down my immediate thoughts were:
– Kenyan techies are quite well sorted by iHub.
– Funding this, funding that, funding, funding and more funding. There is clearly a lot of money in tech in Kenya.
– What are the actionable tangible useable in real life things out of iHub?
– How does MKenya wa kawaida relate to, benefit from iHub?
– It appears to me that five years into the iHub experiment at first glance there is not much to show for it.
Word on the street has it that iHub started as a community but with time it became individualistic and cutthroat. That obviously has diluted the original ethos. Coupled with techies getting poached by corporates thus killing the ‘open-concept’ of the space
(Techies, before shooting, please free to enlighten me further…)
Chatted an entrepreneur who has had company up and running for two years. It specializes in men’s fashion, making accessories and shipping them to USA.
Entrepreneur joined iHub three months ago and a chance conversation there has lead to getting kick-start funds of over a million bob. With that Entrepreneur plans to set up own plant to make the fashion accessories.
Entrepreneur reckons what iHub offers is the networking opportunity available and the sense of shared experience which gives hope and aids smooth-en common challenges.
Entrepreneur raised a valid point upon my asking why he only joined 3 months ago – how can you be part of something you do not know?
Entrepreneur also pointed out that not everyone can be a techie and even as tech is embraced there is need to make tangible things, need to grow real industries, need to get off the tech bubble and into the real world.
Food for thought, no?
GOD BLESS KENYA!
(P.S – all images courtesy of iHub or Google.)