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Inside Africa’s Tech Community
Josiah Kwesi Eyison is the co-founder of iSpace, Ghana’s only locally owned technology hub where international investors can find the region’s next big start ups.
Based in the centre of Osu (Accra) iSpace prides itself on being the only innovational space where tech stakeholders can meet and exchange ideas in a unique environment, which also hosts global speakers and offers an open plan drop-in working space with a breathtaking sea-view.
AB2020 spoke to Josiah to find out more about Africa’s technology ecosystem.
Tell us how and why iSpace began.
In 2011, my co-founder Fiifi Baidoo and I met to host the first mobile Mobile Apps Ghana Showcase (MAGS). We discussed some of the industry’s challenges and identified a lack of resources for an open innovation co-working space for Ghana’s tech community.
iSpace provides a space for tech enthusiasts to work, meet, collaborate and network. But we also include creatives in the startup ecosystem, and therefore have a rich blend of both tech and creative startups here. There are a variety of entrepreneurs using the space for either business plan workshops, or developers learning to code/create apps using the various platforms we make available.
Our goal is to promote and support entrepreneurs and innovators in Ghana who are building new technologies for global markets. The response has been positive, and we’ve had features on CNN, BBC and various other media outlets.
What’s your background – are you a techie?
I am not a techie at all. I’m a business development and management person. But I love technology, and what it can do.
Give us an idea of the types of projects being developed in iSpace.
We regularly host events and training initiatives that improve the capabilities of the local tech community. Right now we are incubating a range of products and services; working on education with DexPapers, governance with Oderko, and alongside gaming company GameNerd. We’re also building apps for tourism, sports, music and a peer -to-peer lending platform called Lending Square. Plus, we have an e-commence startup, Dziffa, focused on bringing locally produced goods to the market.
Social development-wise, we’re working on encouraging the youth – particularly females – into tech with Women in Tech and iDesign, which is an illustrations workshop for ladies between 16 and 25.
In addition, we run Tech Needs Girls, a series of workshops designed to introduce young ladies to programming, web design etc. These programs are special because they introduce women into the tech ecosystem from a young age, and we’re getting to see some great innovative ideas that can be developed into prototypes. iSpace is laying a foundation for the next generation of the tech community in Ghana and that gives us hope to continue what we have started.
You lived in Britain during your teenage years. Where in the UK did you grow up, and what were you like back then?
I grew up mainly in south London. Wandsworth was the first area I went to and it was a culture shock for me, especially living in a tower block. The general environment wasn’t anything compared to Ghana.
I was in to hip-hop and wanted to be a rapper so I set up an independent label called Blak Marvel Entz, and we organised a lot of open mic nights. I guess I’ve always been entrepreneurial and vision focused.
Were there any challenges being based in the UK while setting up iSpace in Ghana, and what steps did you take to overcome them?
My main challenge is the family and work life balance. I spend a lot of time in Ghana, away from my family (who live in the UK), and I’m currently trying to put systems in place in order for me to spend more time with them.
I’m also helping to foster startup services/products that have a global market, to enable me to open an iSpace office in London with the sole aim of building innovations that will bridge the gap with Africa.
In your opinion, how can UK entrepreneurs and investors foster better relationships with businesses and professionals on the ground in Africa?
We feel that where Africa goes, or should go, must be determined by Africans. We are not alone on that; there are so many thousands if not millions of Africans who feel the same way.
That said, Africa in all its glory is very much undiscovered and that offers an opportunity for those who want to grind out the daily challenges and come up with better solutions.
Africa allows you to test your resolve. Everyday we see people with limited resources trying to make it and that fuels the entrepreneurial spirit of what is possible. Entrepreneurs who want to build products or services for Africa should look at the continent’s challenges and see them as opportunities.
Visit iSpace website