Whatever perceptions you have of Rwanda are wrong: Part 4

Dan Evans, Managing Director, Storm King Analytics

I recently spent a week in Kigali, Rwanda collecting data to support an ongoing Network Science Center at West Point Research project that is developing network models of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in developing markets. This is the fourth in series of posts documenting my experiences and findings.

This scene could be a start-up almost anywhere in Silicon Valley. Even the mountains in the background evoke “the Valley.”

While in Kigali, I also visited Kigali’s first technology hub, kLab. kLab is located on the 6th floor of Telecom House which is also in the Kacyiru neighborhood not far from the think innovation hub. kLab’s stated mission is “to promote, facilitate and support the development of innovative ICT solutions by nurturing a vivid community of entrepreneurs and mentors.”

Telecom House, Kigali

I was hosted by Claudette Irere, kLab’s General Manager, and met with numerous kLab members and entrepreneurs throughout my visit.

Inside of kLab.

kLab is a open space technology hub where students, recent graduates, entrepreneurs, and innovators can use the space for free to work on their projects and begin to grow them into viable businesses. Experienced mentors provide both technical and business assistance to the hub’s members. Additionally, kLab organizes and hosts various activities such as workshops, hack-athons, and networking sessions to add value to members’ experience.

kLab is a state of the art facility and resembles Nairobi’s iHub, which I visited a few years ago, in many ways. It has a colorful decorating scheme, open modern work areas, enjoys a top-floor breeze, has amazing views, a coffee bar, and the requisite Foosball table.

The view from kLab.

Unlike most of the hubs I have visited in Africa, except the Dar Teknohama incubator (DTBi) in Tanzania, this hub exists due to the efforts of the Rwandan government. kLab was founded in 2012 through a partnership of public and private organizations. The original founding organizations consisted of the Rwandan Development Board (RDB), the Rwanda Private Sector Federation, the Rwandan Software Association, iHills (an association of Rwandan Tech Start-up companies), CODEPAC (a group of tech enthusiasts in Kigali), and Nyaruka, a software development firm. The Rwandan Development Board provided the physical space, power, and internet necessary to jump-start the hub. The renovation and furnishings inside kLab were funded by JICA, the Japanese development agency. Both the RDB and Rwanda’s ICT Chamber play an active role in managing the growth of the space.

The Rwandan government has developed an economic plan entitled Vision 2020, which strives towards establishing a knowledge-based economy. In order to achieve these goals they have placed a great emphasis on the encouragement and fostering of tech-focused innovative SMEs. From my limited experience, it is readily apparent that in Rwanda, no industry can escape the far-reaching influence of the government. While some may balk at this influence, you can not deny the amazing economic, social, and infrastructure development the country has experienced over recent years.

A common question that has been voiced by economic development experts is, “Are government initiatives, like kLab, more effective in developing and maintaining a sustainable ecosystem in which entrepreneurs thrive, or is the more effective approach to adhere to ideas put forward by Silicon Valley insiders like Victor Hwang and Greg Horowitt who in their seminal book, The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley, espouse the opinion that, “Rainforests are built from the bottom up, where irrational behavior reigns.” I will address this discussion in more depth in a future post.

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