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Uganda tech community abuzz with Hive Colab

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East Africa is fast gaining a reputation as a hotbed for innovation and talented techies. The Hive Colab innovation hub in Kampala, Uganda is one of the venues that is helping to develop that reputation at a furious pace.

Conceptualised in 2010 and officially launched in 2011, the Hive Colab is essentially an open work space for young developers, entrepreneurs and techies to come together and collaborate on their ideas and projects as they look to turn those ideas into marketable products. Initially started with the help of Appfrica Labs Uganda, the concept began with developers earning a salary at first.

But when it became apparent that this led to a ‘comfort zone’ of sorts that stifled creativity, the project was tweaked into its current incarnation.

“Hive Colab is part of the Afrilabs network, which works to create and foster innovation in Africa through African technological innovations and initiatives. Being part of the Afrilabs network, Hive Colab aims to nurture entrepreneurs in Uganda to promote growth and development of the African technology sector,” says Barbara Birungi, Hive Colab general manager.

Birungi is one of two full-time staff, who together with a volunteer network administrator, works with the hubs members and ensures a comfortable and productive work-space.

According to Birungi, the Hive Colab is set-up in such a way that the members are often involved in the actual management of the space and have been known to help arrange events and perform tasks.

“The primary goal of Hive Colab is to help foster creativity and innovation. The core principles include collaboration, openness, community development, and knowledge sharing,” says Birungi.

When it comes to membership, the Ugandans follow a very similar model to their counterparts at Kenya’s iHub with a three tier membership system that informs their innovation hub. These three tiers comprise paid desk members, casual pay members and a free membership level.

The free membership is predominantly comprised of over 1,000 virtual members and around 25 physical users. These members have access to an online advisory service, while also being able to use the web site to access publications and events offered by the hub.

Inside the free membership is what is known as orange members, from whom the only requirement is that they are actually working on a project.

“The members may be required to help out around the hub on network issues, organise and moderate at Hive events, manage the website, operate the server, and write articles for Hive. These members are allowed two guests at a time that can stay up to two hours,” explains Birungi.

Casual users who want to make use of the space on an ad-hoc basis are able to purchase a day pass for around $5 a day, dependent on space.

What are known as brown members pay a fee of $100 per month for which they and a colleague then have use of a desk as well as internet access and refreshments. The member is allowed up to three guests that can stay up to 3 hours per week, but this doesn’t include clients that come for short meetings then leave.

Hive Colab evaluates ideas of its members on a weekly basis and determines their viability. Viable projects are monitored, managed, and connected to the right network of partners and investors through the recommendation of the Hive Colab management.

“The only requirement for new applicants is they need to be working on projects, and thereafter they must be able to show progress on their ideas to retain membership,” says Birungi.

The Hive Colab has plans to expand the types of memberships on offer as it moves forward and looks to accommodate a variety of potential members.

There will be other types of memberships available to be announced soon. A major benefit to all new members is that upon joining the incubation space there is a legal team on hand to help in registering their businesses, understanding copyrights and patents for their products, writing and signing partnerships with investors and partners.

“We also offer free space and membership in Hive Colab to woman involved in startup in order to encourage them to participate actively and improve the quality of women in the ICT sector,” notes Birungi.

While Hive Colab has made remarkable strides in its short existence, it faces some tough obstacles if it is to sustain its growth.

The major issue facing the hub is the lack of sufficient funding, which continues to hamper the hubs ability to expand its range of projects and bring along the start-ups. Coupled with this, comes with the slow bandwidth speed which results in an increasingly frustrated tech community.

On a membership level, issues of inconsistency and procrastination have proved troubling to the growth and success of the hub. The issue of inconsistency is one in which members leave their start-up and engage in formal employment taking with them their unique skill sets and the knowledge invested in them. Procrastination is simply a case of members overestimating their ability to deliver on a project and so disappoint the clients.

Amidst all of these challenges the management and users of Hive Colab remain positive and upbeat regarding the future of tech and innovation in Uganda. It is a positivity that is well-founded if the work being done at the innovation space is anything to go by.

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