Erik Hersman, director of operations at the non-profit Ushahidi, today announced the launch of a network of startup incubators and tech communities throughout Africa. Dubbing the new venture Afrilabs, the network is meant to connect a thriving scene of tech entrepreneurs involved in such outfits as iHub in Kenya, Hive Colab in Uganda, ActivSpaces in Cameroon, Nailab in Kenya, and Banta Labs in Senegal. In addition to integrating incubators throughout the continent, Hersman and his colleagues are also in the process of starting an investment fund for seed capital investments "that are accessible to startups that come through the different labs," Hersman tells Fast Company.
"The association is for linking the spaces for learning, growth, and to provide greater mass for the entrepreneurs that we work with," says Hersman. Afrilabs will focus on connecting young entrepreneurs, web and mobile-phone programmers, designers, and investors.
Technology-focused startup incubators are now found throughout the developing world, but Afrilabs takes the idea a step further by creating formalized links between the incubators, rather than leaving them to function in isolation. While incubators in themselves leverage the resources of external institutions—such as universities, corporate mentors, and government agencies—linking the incubators means that each incubator also benefits from the resources beyond national borders, creating a fortress-like web of connections, support, and mentorship.
"My take is that we’ll end up having as many models as the unique city cultures that spawn them, mixed in with the ethos of the founders," said Hersman.
Afrilabs looks poised to grow a whole new batch of startups and they're already looking to expand their members—while the above named are the founding five incubators, "It's open to other labs and hubs and we need them to get in contact so we can get them plugged in," says Hersman.
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[Photos by Taylor Martyn]