Innovation plays an ever-increasing role in growing Africa’s emerging technology ecosystem. In fact, A study by Briter Bridges and AfriLabs identified at least 1031 innovation hubs as operational across Africa as of October 2021 and the interest to establish new ones is widespread. These hubs range from incubators and accelerators to co-working sites supporting transformative economic growth and development in the region through innovation and entrepreneurship.
The Briter Bridges and AfriLabs study notes that the most populated ecosystem is Nigeria, with a total of 164 hubs operational in the country, of which 149 are local and 15 international. South Africa and Kenya follow suit with 100 and 90 hubs respectively. North Africa, the study says has witnessed fast growth in the past half-decade, with Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco alone counting over 200 hubs. The majority of these organisations are situated in the largest business centres of each country, with Lagos counting at least 54 hubs, followed by Nairobi with 51 hubs, Tunis with 42 hubs, Cape Town and Cairo with 39 each, and Accra with 26. We are in 2022 and these numbers could even be more.
In countries like Kenya for example, NEAR Foundation, the Swiss non-profit that oversees the governance and development of the NEAR protocol opened a regional hub in Kenya dedicated to blockchain innovation back in May. Digital payments leader Visa also opened its first African Innovation Studio in the country in April.
Wasoko (formerly Sokowatch), an African B2B e-commerce startup is the latest company to join this bandwagon. The firm which leverages technology to transform the informal retail supply chain has announced the official launch of the “Wasoko Innovation Hub” in partnership with the Zanzibar government. Located in Fumba Town, Zanzibar, the new Hub will focus on building world-class tech solutions that will drive Africa’s e-commerce industry for years to come, becoming home to over 500 visionary engineers, product managers, UX designers and researchers from Africa and across the globe.
The Wasoko Innovation Hub is the first private-public partnership between an African tech startup and the Zanzibar government for “Silicon Zanzibar” – a new government initiative to attract and relocate tech companies from across Africa to the island. As part of the launch, Wasoko becomes Silicon Zanzibar’s first anchor company and official private sector ambassador.
In addition to strengthening Wasoko’s operational efficiency, the new Hub will specialise in developing tools to personalise customer experiences, improve delivery metrics, expand financial services’ options as well as collect key data and insights from across the value chain. Over the next 10 years, it is expected to secure over $15mn worth of investment providing hundreds of Zanzibaris with a wealth of employment and career opportunities.
“As a Pan-African tech company, Wasoko has been looking for a location where we can bring together the best talent from across the continent and beyond to innovate and develop new products and services for our customers. While we considered more traditional centres such as Dubai and London, we were ultimately committed to the belief that technology for Africa should be built in Africa.” Daniel Yu, CEO and Founder at Wasoko, says.
The Wasoko Innovation Hub will be part of Fumba Town’s current redevelopment scheme led by German engineering firm, CPS, which is constructing hundreds of modern residential and commercial units along a 1.5km stretch of ocean shore and is located only 15 minutes south of the Abeid Amani Karume International Airport.
The location will become the main hub for Silicon Zanzibar, which will streamline the issuance of work visas to skilled tech workers from across Africa and beyond to relocate to Zanzibar. Zanzibar is renowned as one of the world’s top tourism destinations, with direct flights to over 20 destinations across Europe, Middle East, and Africa. In order to further attract tech companies, the government will also offer strong incentives under the country’s existing Free Economic Zone program including an exemption from corporate income tax for ten years.
“No longer will tech companies need to open offices and move their people to Dubai or London to manage their operations in Africa. We are providing an open and enabling environment for all tech companies and their team members to be based in Zanzibar—one of the world’s most attractive destinations — allowing everyone building tech for Africa to be based in Africa. We are excited to officially partner with Wasoko and other tech companies coming to Zanzibar to co-create policies and initiatives that will transform Zanzibar into a leading tech centre for the African continent.” Mudrick Soraga, Zanzibar Minister of Investment & Economic Development, adds.
The launch of the Wasoko Innovation Hub marks the latest milestone in its rapid growth journey, which saw the startup named as Africa’s fastest growing company by the Financial Times in May 2022. This followed its $125mn Series B equity round in March – the largest venture financing round ever raised for a non-fintech startup in Africa. Since its launch in 2016, Wasoko has delivered 3 million orders to over 75,000 informal retailers across Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal.