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SISTEM one-on-one with Mr. Evans Campbell, PR & Communication Manager of iHub, Nairobi, Kenya based innovation and technology hub: Open community space for technologists, programmers, researchers, entrepreneurs and investors.

Evans Campbell

Evans Campbell is a passionate enthusiast of tech, music and writing. By day he runs public relations and communications for iHub, a world-renowned, locally-celebrated innovation hub in Nairobi. Outside the workplace he pursues his music interests, collecting vinyl and co-organizing Temple Nairobi — a monthly event looking to grow the underground dance music scene in Nairobi. He also occasionally writes poetry on his personal blog and shares opinions on various matters via his Medium page. You may connect with him via Twitter or LinkedIn.

Q: Please tell us a few words about yourself including your career path as well as the challenges you encountered and overcame.

Campbell: I have been a technology enthusiast since childhood. Despite having studied Financial Economics, I knew from the first day I interned at the iHub as an undergraduate student that I would be back. Eventually, I did return in April 2014, after finishing my studies at Strathmore University. In October last year, I left briefly to try out a Media & Communications internship with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at their headquarters in Geneva. It was a challenging decision as I was about to fully on-board at iHub, but I always loved travelling, so I took a leap of faith.

It was challenging living in Switzerland. Geneva is very international, but the cultural differences are still stark. The open, agile organizational culture I had gotten used to at the iHub was also completely different from the slow bureaucracy of intergovernmental organizations like IOM. I felt like my creativity was stifled there. While the organization serves a noble purpose in the world, I realized that it was not a good fit for me and came back home this year where the iHub received me with open arms. Few organizations value talent as much as this place. I’ll be here for a while now.

Q: Can you elaborate on the Who, the Why and the What of iHub (Who is iHub? What does iHub do? And Why is iHub in existence?)?

Campbell: Who is iHub and What does iHub do — It is difficult to entirely separate these questions. Being a community organization, iHub consists of People and Startups. In essence the latter would not be possible without the former, and all we do revolves around both. The people aspect involves all of iHub’s members: white — who are virtual members registered on the iHub website that can interact with us online and stay informed via our newsletter; green — who are accepted into the iHub each year to work on a variety of projects and include researchers, designers and developers; and red members — who pay a small monthly fee to secure a semi-permanent office within our co-working space. People also include other stakeholders like government, academia and the private sector.

Startups are a critical part of our ecosystem. Through the iHub, very early-stage startups get pre-incubated as they work towards a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Afterwards, they can get incubated at the m:lab East Africa, in which iHub is a consortium partner. Startups can also benefit from the networks the iHub has created with investors and other startups, the services offered by other iHub initiatives such as the User Experience (UX) Lab, iHub Research and iHub Consulting as well as the strategic partnerships we have with organizations like Chase Bank and IBM. Why — iHub exists to catalyze the growth of the tech community in Kenya. It does this by supporting startups, connecting people and surfacing information.

Q: Community, ecosystem of innovation, technology and investors all play intricate essential roles in the mission and operations of iHub? Tell us more about this dynamic.

Campbell: The iHub community is a rich, diverse pool of multi-disciplinary individuals with a unique interest in technology. These are the people that create solutions like Totohealth, CladLight, PayKind and Ujirani. Investors are looking to provide them the crucial financial support and business mentorship that they need to make their solutions sustainable and as impactful as possible. The way in which we facilitate this meeting of wants is by connecting all these people so they can mutually benefit each other. And through our own initiatives as I mentioned earlier, we give the startups the guidance they require in aspects such as design thinking with iHub UX Lab; market research through iHub Research; and software craftsmanship via iHub Consulting.

Q: Nairobi is clearly positioning itself as one of the major tech hubs in Africa, how can other African cities emulate and follow this example?

Campbell: It is important that cities take advantage of two factors: existing/developing technological infrastructure and their unique problems. On the point of infrastructure, the humble beginnings of Nairobi’s boom can be traced back to the pervasive broadband connectivity and more instrumentally, the arrival of undersea fiber-optic cable connectivity. This infrastructure allowed people to access more information faster and spurred a tech revolution that led to the establishment of places like the iHub. Today, there are several other hubs, incubators and accelerators in Nairobi supporting a myriad of startups.

To take advantage of problems is simply to realize the opportunities they present for solutions. A good example would be the infamous Nairobi traffic. Statistics from city officials say that about 50 million Kenya shillings (~$500,000) is lost due to traffic daily. A way to avoid it or at least plan around it was needed, which led to the development of Ma3Route. Through their crowdsourcing technology, they give real-time traffic information, matatu routes and driving reports. Now you can know when cars are bumper-to-bumper and whether to sit tight or plan an alternate route to your destination. Each city has its unique problems that it should aim to solve in custom ways. That, in my opinion is how to create a tech hub city.

Q: What is next for iHub?

Campbell: In line with our vision to catalyze the growth of the Kenyan tech community, we are advising a number of upcoming hubs in other regions of the country on how to set up their facilities. Some of these include LakeHub in Western Kenya, DeHub at the Dedan Kimathi University in Central Kenya and Swahili Box in the Coastal region. It is critical that we share the knowledge we have gained from the last five and a half years on catering to our vast tech community with others looking to do the same for their regions.

Q: Please share a few words of wisdom for young entrepreneurs and technologists: What lessons learned can you share with them that will assist in their present and future endeavors?

Campbell: In entrepreneurship, there are no shortcuts. Considering high failure rate of startups in their first year, it will take relentless effort to make your idea a reality. You will have to study your market, your competition and your customers. But always remember that if you tried to circumvent that rigorous process, you would most certainly fail. At least if you go the long way, you are sure to learn valuable lessons on how to build a sustainable business.

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