Innovation ecosystems

Innovation ecosystems

1 June, 2020    

What enables tech innovation ecosystems to flourish?

Innovations of all kinds contribute to greater economic growth, and tech innovations, in particular, can increase digital inclusion for individuals. But this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. For an innovation ecosystem to flourish, you need tech-savvy entrepreneurs, access to finance and a balanced network of connectors, plus an enabling environment. These ecosystems consist of, among others, innovation hubs, investors, mentors, start-ups, innovative corporates, competitions or opportunities to pitch ideas, and higher education institutions and training providers.

Using the collaborative sense-making approach of systems mapping, we embarked on a journey to explore and understand the factors that enable and inhibit growth in three tech innovation ecosystems in Africa: Cape Town, Lagos and Nairobi.

Explore our interactive maps: Kenya and Nigeria

Zooming in and out, you can hover over the individual factors so see how they influence each other (positively or negatively) and follow the flows to understand the various knock-on effects that these relationships have. A plus sign (“+”) or a full line indicates a positive relationship (more of A leads to more of B), and a dash (“-“) or a dotted line indicates a negative relationships (more of A leads to less of B). You can also click on the labels of the various clusters, or ‘loops’, to read part of the ecosystem narrative that explains how the factors all hang together. This will pull out a text pop-up. Open this text pop-up by clicking the three vertical dots on the left-hand side of the map, and close it again by clicking the three vertical dots on the right-hand side of the text box.

tech innovation ecosystem

Co-created with our partners at Lagos Business School

When it comes to tech innovation in Africa, many consider Nigeria the place to be. It has a large, youthful population who are willing to try new things. However, it is not an easy market to capture. Because of infrastructure and other challenges, innovations in Lagos must be resilient or they will fail. Start-ups are squeezed from both ends; a large low-income population puts downward pressure on prices, still expecting a quality product, while infrastructural and environmental challenges up the cost of doing business. Additionally, innovators and tech businesses often operate in the face of regulatory headwinds. There are some significant gaps in understanding between the different players in the ecosystem, notably between funders, entrepreneurs, and government, which adds friction to engagements.

The key factors that enable and inhibit flourishing tech innovation in Lagos are summarised in this interactive ecosystem map.


Nairobi tech innovation ecosystem

Nairobi enjoys a forgiving, innovation-friendly and enabling environment, with sufficient levels of technological infrastructure and, notably, a number of highly active ICT champions and connectors. Having made a name for itself as being at the forefront of innovation over the last decade-and-a-bit, the Nairobi ecosystem is showing signs of maturing and learning from this experience. Increasing numbers of ecosystem stakeholders are entering the fray, which is contributing to more opportunities and improved operations as well as greater competition, pressures to commercialise, and a sense of distrust. Beyond the headlines of successful funding rounds, a mismatch of funding expectations and available seed-funding remains. Similarly, a gap persists between the industry needs and educational focus of tech training, although levels of tech skills are reasonably high overall.

The key factors that enable and inhibit flourishing tech innovation in Nairobi are summarised in this interactive ecosystem map.

Read more:

Want to engage Cenfri for a systems mapping process? Read more about our process below, or contact Eden D’Oliveira to find out whether the methodology is suitable for your question.

About systems practice

Systems practice is both a specific methodology and a more general approach to grappling with adaptive problems in complex environments with the aim of making enduring social change at scale. We base our systems practice approach on the process outlined by the Omidyar Group.

The methodology of systems practice is at its core a participatory, sense-making exercise. The aim of the process is to explore and map out all the relevant factors or forces that influence a system and its functioning, their causes and effects, and how they then influence one another. Ultimately, the process identifies leverage points that have high potential impact on the system, which can be taken on by various system stakeholders to effect change. It is key that the project be taken on by a diverse team, closely involving stakeholders from across the ecosystem.

insight2impact (i2ifacility) was funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with Mastercard FoundationThe programme was established and driven by Cenfri and Finmark Trust.

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