How Do We Know that Tech Hubs Make A Difference? A Crash Course on Evaluation in Innovation Ecosystems

Business & Innovation
Dienstag, 6. Mai 2014 - 15:30 bis 16:00
GIG lounge



The African tech hub movement is alive and well. Set foot in any innovation space in a top tier hub and you will be struck by the buzz and excitement that have taken over in local communities within just a few years. But if we look more closely, many hubshave failed or never taken off, others are surviving but have trouble to expand or workat full capacity, and even some of the thriving hubs are being pressured to deliver more concretesuccesses—be it sustainable businesses, impactful innovations, or capable people. This has led some of those not immersed in startup and tech communities to argue that hubs are merely rebranded business incubators, and others to dismiss hubs as spaces justfor “techies” that don’t make a contribution to “serious” entrepreneurshipor meaningful innovation. So, are African tech hubs successful?


So, are African tech hubs successful? It is hard to find a benchmark. First, we intuitively know what a tech hub is, but clearly there is more than a single model that fits this description: hubs have assumed very different functions across local contexts. Second, a variety of stakeholders is usually involved in tech hubs (students, entrepreneurs, investors, tech companies, foundations, NGOs, government, donors, etc.), which can pull them in different directions and blur their mission. Third, tech hubs, more than other companies or development organizations, are intricately intertwined with local innovation ecosystems, which are complex and unpredictable. This makes it hard to tell what a given hub’s contribution is and what would have happened anyway.

If we want to further improve tech hubs and guarantee that they continue to fuel tech innovation ecosystems across Africa, we need to tackle this difficult reality head-on. We need to identify what hubs can and can’t do, which will lead us to more realistic expectations and to allocate scarce funds for greater efficiency and effect. We need to know what difference hubs actually make and how.

This short talk will give a practitioner-focused mini-guide for tech hub evaluation and lesson learning. I will first offer a categorization of potential hubgoals. Among other categories, I will highlight differences between an “ecosystem builder,” an “innovation creator,” and an “accelerator” hub model. In addition, I will highlight general features and potential tensions in tech hub governance and stakeholder incentive structures, addressing the tradeoffs in multi-stakeholder and/or public private partnership implementations. I will then discuss if and how typical approaches from organizational monitoring and evaluation (management perspective) and impact evaluation (development perspective) apply to hubs. Lastly, I will introduce the notion of “ecosystem impact” and other impact spillovers of tech hubs that are often forgotten but can be tangible. Putting it all together, I will offer a handful of general principles.


This session is part of the GLOBAL INNOVATION GATHERING programme.

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