Visiting Nairobi’s iHub_

The Balloon Kenya gospel teaches that innovation is the sum of creativity and added value. A prime success story of this approach, albeit a little further afield than Nakuru, where we have been working is the iHub_ – Nairobi’s innovation hub for the technology community. The iHub_’s purpose is to bring together technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in an open space facility with a focus on entrepreneurship via the medium of technology. As such, it is part open community workspace, part vector for investors and venture capitalists, and part incubator. The group’s success speaks for itself, with the dashboard of statistics present on the iHub_’s website borne of real achievement rather than any hubris. Partnerships with Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Intel and many others provide full testament to this.

For part of my work as a fellow with Balloon Kenya, I am tasked alongside my partner with supporting the innovation process of Patrick Ndungu and his Nakuru TecHub. The TecHub is a group formed relatively recently, with huge potential to grow and become a user oriented, iteratively designed collective in a similar mould to the iHub_. As such, the opportunity to learn from what has come before with the iHub_ in Nairobi was too great to pass up. Hoping personally to learn more about an organization at the heart of innovation in the technology sector, not least in the country but also the continent as a whole, I boarded the early morning matatu to Nairobi with high expectations.

Despite falling foul of the Friday afternoon traffic, it was apparent as soon as our meeting began that both Balloon Kenya and the iHub_ spoke the same language of entrepreneurship and innovation. The venue itself was a techy’s dream, perhaps only a segway or two short of a Silicon Valley vibe. The buzz of laptops and creative minds at work was the soundtrack to our discussion, with the energy in the room probably sufficient to light all of the Nairobi Highway. From hearing the history of the iHub_, the current work ongoing, and the general principles which governed this, Patrick’s enthusiasm started flowing out. With a discussion also of the ideas for the Nakuru TecHub at its current stage of development, it became apparent the enthusiasm in our conversation was very much a mutual sentiment. Leaving with a plan for testing over the next four days before submitting pitch documents, as well as the potential for ongoing involvement with the iHub_ meant this meeting could be counted an unqualified success.

On our long drive back to Nakuru, I work closely with Patrick to revise some of the pitching documents together in light of today’s meeting, before the inevitable darkness of nightfall ends our productivity. A few arrangements continue to be made by the light of our phones, and with each of these I can see the inspired look upon his face remains. With a sprint finish evidently the case for our work over the next few days, I allow myself to be lulled to sleep by the soft reggae from the front of the vehicle. Patrick continues to work on his documents, and with a few more nudges like today along the way, I believe he may yet be able to create a similar success story of his own.

Written By Nathan Prakash Paterson, Balloon Fellow 2014