Our recently launched Launch League Hub Meet-ups with the UK-South Africa Tech Hub, give the floor to hub leaders, entrepreneur trainers and programme managers to learn and connect together. They share their experiences, accomplishments, lessons learned, and best practices.

For our May meet-up, we explored business models, sustainability, partnerships and lots more with Dirk Bischoff, founder & CEO, Hatch Enterprise UK; David Ogiga, co-founder, Sote Hub Kenya and Nicki Koorbanally, CEO, mLab South Africa, with Michelle Matthews, our programme director, hosting the panel discussion.

5 Things We Learned From the Best Practice for Entrepreneurship hubs meetup.

South African tech hubs and incubators, just like their continental peers, are facing mounting problems getting the resources they need to support our emerging entrepreneurs. Revenue diversification, private and public partnership development, and ultimately financial sustainability remain common challenges in the ecosystem; especially in the past year since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. As mentioned in our [2020 Tech Hubs Survey](URL), only one tech hub out of the 11 surveyed saw a rise in revenue.

At the same time, the number of hubs across the country is booming and hub managers are going to need to be creative in generating income to ensure that they can continue to provide support to entrepreneurs and surrounding communities.

This meet-up offered up a great opportunity to learn from each other on how to not just survive but thrive too.

1. Take care of the community first

Community is a central element in building ecosystems to drive collaboration with innovators and entrepreneurs creating tangible solutions rooted in local partnerships and networks.

  • Understand and take care of your local communities first.
  • Become the experts in your area. Your hub needs to provide useful insights and advice to your funders, partners and government officials looking for efficient, effective ways to invest in support to the benefit of the entire ecosystem.
  • Some successful hubs look to extend their reach to communities beyond the big cities to spaces that are under-supported.
    • Note that it is crucial to do research and have staff from the local communities to run your programmes. Hubs that work in peri-urban and rural spaces, without research and insight into the communities, can cause more harm than good.
    • New entrants into peri-urban and rural areas should connect with organisations that already work in the area to share information and join meet-ups like Launch League to learn more about hub service delivery.

“We don’t need to compete. Reach out, engage with the people that live and work in the area.”
– Lizelle Coombs, CEO, Angels Resource Centres

 

2. Streamline your offerings

You cannot do everything and be all things to all people. Find your niche in the ecosystem, forge strategic partnerships with other hubs and entrepreneur support organisations that complement your work; and collaborate with startups and entrepreneurs within your ecosystem who can help you achieve your mission.

“We used to be very focused on rapid prototyping. Every time we had some interested client who wanted to try out a programme, we would say yes ‘we would be happy to implement and learn from that’. Over time we realised we had so many learnings from the different interventions so we decided to start packaging our own offerings that we believed would be valuable to the market. We evolved from this activity, hyped-excitement approach to having just three strategic offerings.”

Nicki Koorbanally, CEO, mLab South Africa

  • Identify your strengths and weak spots, and develop your unique value proposition in the ecosystem.
  • Consider creating pipelines for the startups in your hub to fit into your programmes.
    • Use current startups in your hub as service providers to your hub or each other
      • This will ensure that they get early customers, early revenue and they will additionally be able to build a portfolio of experience
    • Consider using alumni to mentor new participants (with some training and guidance)
  • Don’t only jump at what funders ask for; once you’re established, use your strengths and assets to create an internal value chain of your own offerings

 

3. Build stronger partnerships

Hubs are central points in communities that catalyse the growth of local economies. You need to collaborate and partner with local stakeholders to grow together in the long term.

  • Think creatively about how to bring corporates into the fold. Look at corporate partners as a way to tap into resources other than funding.

“Working with a corporate partner we realised that they had many staff members who wanted to have the experience of working with an entrepreneur or they wanted to mentor entrepreneurs. It is nice for staff in corporates to go paint fences or play football or reading with kids but we thought there was also a chance for us to connect them with our entrepreneurs on a skills-based corporate volunteering programme.”

Dirk Bischoff, Founder & CEO, Hatch Enterprise UK

    • Look out for intrepreneurs and other internal champions within corporates who might believe in your hub and value proposition.
  • Belong to relevant associations: Associations, such as local business chambers or networks like AfriLabs and Launch League, offer technical support, resources and opportunities.

 

4. Be Fundable

Hubs talk to entrepreneurs about preparing their businesses for funding – but how ready are hubs for funding? To become “fundable” or “investable”, assess your hub with the three questions in mind. Do you have the right team? The right structure? and What is your value proposition?

  • Build trust – pull in advisors to support what you do. Governance is an aspect that funders will look at for credibility.
  • Build impact reports – showcase your work with visually appealing, well-written reports with statistics backing up your claims. Remember, funders are paying for those outcomes.
  • Build accountability – Make startups you work with put their skin in the game.
    • Consider charging startups a small amount of money to be part of your hub – although it’s not a big revenue generator, this will affect the retention levels in programmes. People respond differently to something they pay for compared to when they get something for free.

“In early 2015 we started charging entrepreneurs … We realised that by putting a price point in we did not lose any entrepreneurs to other projects or ideas they had as they wanted to get their value’s worth for what they paid for.”’

– Dirk Bischoff, Founder & CEO

 

5. You are never too old to learn!

You have to constantly be learning and seeking ways to adapt to the forever changing environment. Learn from other hubs and networks to constantly deliver value to your community.

“We decided to empower our team in areas that we were weak in – fundraising, and project management … We looked at what ideas we could plug in from other ecosystems. My co-founder and I got into fellowship programmes in America, South Africa and other countries to learn more. It was a wake up call for us – we had to learn and adapt or sink.”

– David Ogiga, Co-Founder, Sote Hub Kenya

 


 

Do you have insights to share with the hub community?

Or, are you working at a hub and want to find out more about the Launch League programmes and tools you can use? Visit www.launchleague.co.za or email launchleague@viridian.africa.

To partner with Viridian and the UK-South Africa Tech Hub Launch League, email Claire Jowell on claire@viridian.africa.

 

The Launch League is a hub capacity-building initiative, funded by the UK-South Africa Tech Hub. Through this initiative, we’re helping South African hubs serve entrepreneurs better through team training, open licence programme tools, and building an engaged network for peer learning and collaboration.