Starting a business in Africa can be hard due to economic challenges. This is the reason why universities are stepping up to help young African entrepreneurs to scale up their businesses.
When Njabulo Mthanti, 22, registered his business last year he was keen to join the University of Pretoria’s business incubator TuksNovation as quickly as he could.
Mthanthi, who runs the academic funding platform Easyburse, joined the incubator early this year.
“TuksNovation assisted us by providing mentorship which has helped in forming business strategies and business relationship management, also assisting us with legal aspects like trademarks and contracts,” he says.
TuksNovation is one of the growing numbers of university-based incubators that offer mentorship or technical assistance or help to refine students’ business ideas.
These are great places to get expert advice on your ideas, build a minimum viable product, seek help with business models and if you are lucky, maybe even get office space.
In some instances you may need to be a student at that respective university to tap a university incubator’s help. However, in other instances, a hub or incubator will help anyone even if they’re not part of the university.
Would you like to know about university incubators in Africa?
Here are a few such incubators and innovation hubs that young African tech entrepreneurs should know about:
Ecolia Labs: Although it is not linked to any university, Yaounde-based Ecolia Labs helps young people create viable businesses with high social impact.
The Technipole Sup Valor: This Yaounde-based business incubator was established by the Ecole Nationale Supérieure Polytechnique of the University of Yaoundé to contribute to the socio-economic development of the country. The incubator does this through the identification and support of young entrepreneurs with innovative economic projects or with high growth potential.
AUC Venture Labs: Cairo-based AUC Venture Lab claims to be the leading university-based startup incubator in Africa and the Middle East and North Africa region. The incubator works with entrepreneurs in the eCommerce, renewable energy, gaming, art and fashion sectors.
IceAddis: This is Ethiopia’s first innovation hub and tech startup incubator. Although not a typical university-linked hub, Ice Addis works on youth-driven private sector initiatives and facilitates constructive interaction between techies, entrepreneurs, investors, and people from the creative industries.
MEST: Although it is not linked to an academic institution, MEST offers a year-long entrepreneurial training programme. MEST, in turn, incubates and invests in startups founded by graduates of the program in incubators in Accra, Lagos, and Cape Town.
CD4Lab: CD4Lab is a research and development startup incubation hub at the University of Nairobi. The incubator works with startups that have a computing element.
iBiz Africa: Nairobi-based iBizAfrica is Strathmore University’s business incubation center. The incubator helps youth develop ICT solutions and businesses that work for the common good in society.
Bamako Incubateur: Bamako Incubateur last year in February graduated its first cohort of 38 graduates in a joint program with the Institute of Applied Sciences and Patronate of Mali as part of the Genesis Startups Mali program. This initiative aims to support innovative graduates of vocational training programs.
Al Akhawayn University Incubator: Target sectors of this Ifrane-based incubator include IT, biotechnology and eCommerce.
INMA Incubator (Cadi Ayyad University): Marrakech-based INMA helps Cadi Ayyad University students use the know-how and skills they learned at the institution to create companies.
Namibia Business Innovation Institute (NBII): The Namibia University of Science and Technology (formerly known as the Polytechnic of Namibia) incubator NBII offers a Bootcamp that helps entrepreneurs create a business plan. The institute also offers incubation services as well as mentorship.
Roar Hub: Nsukka-based Roar Hub is a University of Nigeria linked business incubator that claims to be the first university-based incubator in the country and in West Africa. Roar Hub aims to assist local tech entrepreneurs and startups that have local solutions with a global perspective.
Hebron Startup Lab: Located in Ota, Ogun State, Hebron Startup Lab is an initiative of Covenant University and helps student entrepreneurs from the institution successfully launch their businesses.
UGB Incubator: Saint-Louis based Gaston Berger University runs an incubator that supports entrepreneurs from the university and Senegal’s Nord region.
ISM Incub: Dakar-based ISM Group’s ISM Incub supports young entrepreneurs across the digital, agriculture and IT sectors. The group’s IESA Incub accelerator is focused on cultural entrepreneurship.
Ecole Supérieure Polytechnique: Also based in Dakar, this polytechnic has in the past encouraged and supported the incubation of student initiatives, predominantly in the ICT sector.
FabLab: This is part of a global network of labs that provide innovators with tools for digital fabrication. In addition, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Department of Science and Technology run centers also incubate commercial ventures. FabLabs can be found in Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Kimberly, Limpopo, North West, Soshanguve, Mobile and Thokoza.
University of Pretoria Business Incubator (UPBI): UPBI helps aspiring young entrepreneurs build companies that will shape the future by equipping them with the tools, skills, and connections through its rapid incubation program.
TuksNovation: University of Pretoria’s TuksNovation is a high-tech business incubator that provides specialised product and business development support to startups. TuksNovation helps innovators validate ideas, develop technology and craft business models for the relevant markets.
Tshimologong: Wits University specializes in the incubation of digital entrepreneurs. Tshimologong also manages a digital content hub that offers training in gaming and animation.
Propella: Port Elizabeth based business incubator Propella is a partnership by Engeli Enterprise Development and Nelson Mandela University’s commercial company, Innovolve. Propella focuses on ICT, renewable energy, energy efficiency, smart city solutions and advanced manufacturing.
LaunchLab: Stellenbosch University’s business incubator LaunchLab provides an array of business support services and management to ensure the successful development of entrepreneurial companies.
Solution Space: University of Cape Town’s Solution Space runs a venture incubation programme that help startups build viable and scalable innovation-driven companies. Solution Space focus areas are fintech, eCommerce, energy, edtech, internet of things (IoT), healthtech, agritech, sport and news.
Bertha Centre: University of Cape Town’s Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship is the first academic center in Africa dedicated to advancing social innovation and entrepreneurship. Bertha Centre works closely with the Solution Space. The center works across various sectors, including innovative finance, systems change, social entrepreneurship, education innovations, and youth development, as well as inclusive healthcare innovations.
Invotech: Invotech is an innovation and technology business incubator that is supported by the Durban University of Technology and funded by the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda). InvoTech helps innovators in the green economy and creative industries convert creative concepts into commercially viable enterprises.