Technology Evangelist Mercy Orangi says role models are key to…
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The first Ghana Hubs Annual Gathering was held in Accra in October 2018, and brought together key enablers and stakeholders across the Ghanaian ecosystem. Ghana is a very entrepreneurial country, and with Accra as it’s largest metropolitan city it may seem (and you only may hear) that all innovation takes place there. But the truth is, many hubs are operating and servicing major cities across Ghana including Tamale, Takoradi, Ho, Sunyani and Kumasi; recognising the opportunities in different regions to nurture software development and entrepreneurship. And these spaces are founded by young Ghanaian entrepreneurs, some of whom we caught up with and have profiled below.
1. HAPASPACE, KUMASI, ASHANTI REGION
HapaSpace is an innovative tech hub working out of the heart of Kumasi, Ghana’s second city, that works with small to medium business enterprises that sell and export leather goods to markets in London, Nigeria and South Africa. These companies, inspired by the wave of innovation around them, leverage technology to maximize their growth.
HapaSpace also provides support for early-stage startups whom they also groom to be investor ready. Gideon Brefo, CEO of Hapa Space, says: ‘We train high school students as young as 14 to code, and train university students on how to start a business. Our services are wide and there is support for every kind of entrepreneur.’
HapaSpace is positioned right next to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), which has a highly respected and competitive computer science programme that has produced some of Ghana’s finest tech entrepreneurs. For HapaSpace, it’s like having a mini lab right next to your incubator. And means the quality and breadth of talent is very high.
The students help out with hackathons and boot camps, and Gideon confirmed how generous the community is towards each other’s work. For example, a local farming project that needed a capital injection to get started raised funds by being crowdfunded by the entire community.
By planting seeds of this type of entrepreneurship in the community, HapaSpace is essentially realising the next generation of investors.
2. iCODE, TAKORADI, WESTERN REGION
iCode is a tech hub and co-working space in the western region of Takoradi – an industrial and commercial centre. Prince Bonney, who is CEO of the hub, founded iCode soon after leaving university. A year out of uni, he had taught coding to 57 people, and soon realised they needed a physical space to meet up and share knowledge with each other – and thus, the hub was born.
These days, iCode still teaches code but also entrepreneurship skills too. Their impact on young women in particular has been huge. From 2015 to 2018 they recorded an increase in the number of females from 20 to 200 who registered for their programmes.
The companies they work with focus on agriculture, production of coconut oil, fish products, building, and construction. In addition, they also have a thriving community of developers; all in all managing to create a strong and exciting ecosystem of tech in Takoradi.
Prince says: ‘The companies we work with have a geographical advantage; they can learn in an environment that gives them time to grow. Moreover, they are disruptors and pioneers in their communities, leading the change with technology.’
3. GRASSROOTS HUB, SUNYANI, BRONG-AHAFO REGION
Grassroots Hub is in Sunyani, Brong- Ahafo Region which is the ‘bread basket’ of Ghana. They run programmes for social entrepreneurs, and social investors with projects that are only in line with the 19 Sustainable Development Goals. They also specifically support projects that have a triple bottom line approach – businesses that look at the economic, social and environmental approach. Through their international partnerships, they offer support to local entrepreneurs through facilitating access to companies, research institutions, and investors. On top of this, they offer internships and career development support.
Emmanuel Marfo, co-founder at Grassroots, says: ‘One of the projects we supported with a clear triple bottom line approach built a bamboo factory that also employed locals and benefited the environment.’ Marfo also spoke passionately about future plans to export more Ghanaian entrepreneurs abroad so that they could network, learn and adapt their inventions to scale globally.
4. HOPIN ACADEMY, TAMALE NORTH, NORTHERN REGION
Hopin Academy launched in Tamale, Northern Region, in 2012. In 2013, co-founder MacCarthy Mac-gbathy and his team ran a pilot to test an idea that had come his way: He realised that local entrepreneurs who were taking online lessons on platforms such as YouTube needed a a place to showcase and practice their skills. Almost six years later, Hopin’s entrepreneurs focus on agritech, healthtech and edutech among other disciplines while primarily solving communal challenges.
Hopin was one of the earliest incubators in Ghana. After visiting Accra for inspiration in 2014, MacCarthy and his co-founders returned to Tamale and designed a six-month programme, which currently guides entrepreneurs from idea to concept to prototype.
MacCarthy says Hopin’s main mission is to ‘share resources; make an impact by transforming mindsets, and cultivating entrepreneurship in the community.’
5. HO NODE, HO, VOLTA REGION
Ho Node is based in Ghana’s Volta Region, just three hours away from bustling Accra. Entrepreneur Brian Dzansi was born in Ho and studied for a Masters in Development Policy in South Korea. When he came back in 2015, he noticed a skills divide in the community; most opportunities for coding and software development was in Accra.
When Ho Node opened its doors last year, they first offered co-working spaces for entrepreneurs. Another realisation then occurred – people were not aware of the digital skills available to them. Upon discovery that students didn’t find STEM-related courses fun in class, they created content that they delivered through a virtual reality program. At the same time, started teaching students coding.
Today, all their trainees can and have managed to build their own websites. There is a lot of interest especially from young girls. So far, they’ve trained over 25 ladies since last year. Brian says: ‘Our mission is to make Ho a digital hub for Ghana, we want to train more young people to become digitally qualified.’
EXTRA MENTION: EQWIP HUBS
EQWIP Hubs, also based in Tamale, is part of a global network of innovation spaces around the world. With the support and collaboration of the Canadian government through Canada World Youth and Youth Challenge International, the hub provides youth with entrepreneurial training to develop their potential. The EQWIP HUBs is managed in Tamale by Esmond Quansah with direct country direction by Gifty Volimkarime, the country manager of the project.
At EQWIPS, volunteers from Canada World Youth serve as peer-to-peer mentors, and guide entrepreneurs from ideation right through to the fundraising process. Every entrepreneur who goes through the EQWIPS programme can apply to an innovation fund for finance. If their project is viable they are eligible for an amount as high as $2,000CAD.
Esmond says: ‘So far, over 30 participants have benefited from the fund. They have created employment and even managed to sell their products locally.’
Mentorship, coaching and accountability forms part of a comprehensive process that supports entrepreneurs until they manage to break even. Esmond says they want to change the notion of job seeking and encourage entrepreneurship: ‘The impact on their families and at the end of the day is immense,’ he says.
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