Briefing Note: The State of Digital "Tech" Hubs in South Africa
Research conducted for the Open African Innovation Research (Open AIR) project
By Yolisa Kedama (MM) and Luci Abrahams (PhD), LINK Centre
INTRODUCTION: DIGITAL INNOVATION “TECH” HUBS
The digitisation of data and the availability of mobile and Internet communications has created digital technology advancements in all sectors and industries. Digital innovation centres and technology hubs (tech hubs) evolved as a way of making broadband access available to innovator-entrepreneurs, fostering creativity and providing supporting environments to technology startup companies (startups). Digital innovation hubs are ecosystems or communities of researchers and software developers, digital makers, startups, SME’s, as well as corporate clients and investors in innovation, with the “common goal to create the best conditions for long-term business success for all involved” (Zwegers & Sassen, 2015). Digital innovation hubs are, generally, collaborative working spaces and, may include incubator and accelerator facilities. The tech hubs focus on the ICT production and service sectors, as well as on digital technologies as enablers in all industries and sectors, for example, the design of ICT applications for the aviation sector, the education, energy, health and other sectors.
The common features across these digital tech hubs is that they are collaborative working spaces and competence building centres, using digital technology to create business startups, or to improve and grow existing businesses. While broadband Internet access is relatively low on the continent, the rapid growth in Wi-Fi hotspots, smart phones and laptop devices has advanced Internet penetration and access, creating demand for digital applications (apps). Tech hubs have become spaces where many young aspiring entrepreneurs can access resources such as Wi-Fi, office and meeting space; receive training, coaching and mentorship; engage in networking and build partnerships; get assistance with startup and venture capital funding; and other inputs to apps development and technology advancement. Most tech hubs in South Africa and on the African continent provide an arena for learning and practicing software development and related skills, as well as business and management skills required for a particular country to participate in the global game of digital innovation. In some tech hubs, the emphasis may be on local investment in other fields of technology advancement, but digital innovation is generally present in the technology and entrepreneurial mix. Among the benefits of tech hubs and incubators, is the process of value creation for profit and not-for-profit enterprises; advancing the competitiveness of enterprises in the markets in which they operate.
This background study, conducted in November 2016, identified 43 tech hubs and, collaborative innovation and working spaces, across four out of nine provinces in South Africa. The short overview below presents a synoptic view of the individual tech hubs, business incubators and co-working spaces.
 Zwegers, A. & Sassen, A-M. (2015). Digital innovation hubs at ICT 2015. European Commission, Digital Single Market [blog]. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/blog/digital-innovation-hubs-ict-2015