The W Hub: Innovation in the Ivory Coast ⎜IPEye

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Projected figures for economic growth unearth a benevolent, yet pragmatic message for Côte d’Ivoire, that the economy is at a turning point. Tremendous resources, money and labour are being poured into infrastructure, which has been understood as “one way to build a bridge over troubled water in  C’ote D’Ivoire.”  Perhaps technology and innovation, at a grass roots level, can work in conjunction with infrastructure to calm these troubled waters.   The W Hub, which finds its base in C’ote D’Ivoire, is a technology space for young entrepreneurs that aims to provide resources to individuals with ideas.  Diaby Mohamed, founder of the W Hub, briefly spoke to IPEye about innovation in Côte d’Ivoire and the Hub.  To find out more, keep reading!

What was the inspiration/motivation behind the W Hub?

The idea behind W was to provide the tech community in Côte d’Ivoire with a social space, the same way community centers act for young people in cities. There is an amazing movement of young tech entrepreneurs in Côte d’Ivoire to learn, create and get inspired in the development of their business activities. W acts as an all in one space for them, bringing in activities like coworking space, training center, technology lab, public library, innovation and creative space and open university. A place to learn, to teach, to get inspired and to create value and challenge the rest of the world. Basic access to the tech Hub is free so to make it easy for young entrepreneurs to join the community and act for change.

Is there any involvement on the part of the government/public agencies in the management and operation of the W Hub, or is it entirely private?

The project is fully private, backed by my company Waleya. We wanted to start something different and wanted to keep full control on the development of the Tech Hub. We tried first to explain our vision and at the end we decided it was necessary to start the project in order to talk with facts rather than theory.

How would you differentiate your technology hub from others in the region and do you interact with other regional hubs?

We have links and are working daily with other tech hubs in the region. We are quite young in the space and we’re still learning from others and trying to avoid the same mistakes. There is a positive collaboration spirit between tech hubs and tech influencers in Africa, a wind of solidarity and support to help create a giant wave for Africa techpreneurs.

Can you briefly describe start-up culture as you’ve experienced it?

Startup Culture in Africa is highly paired with risk in Africa. Entrepreneurs in Africa have to decide whether they want to start a project without any assurance that it will work and they will get any kind of support from the environment.

Investors are looking at tech startups as big toys for geeks. There is still a gap in the common understanding between tehnology and innovation as a science and technology startups as companies creating value and challenging the market with creative ideas and amazing projects and solutions.

Most of the time, projects are trying to solve local issues. As we all say in the region, every problem in Africa is an opportunity for tech startups. SO we are screening together the needs of the market with young entrepreneurs and trying to find out relevant ideas of products and services to launch.

When dreaming up projects with clients, how much of your attention is directed towards intellectual property rights?

Our strategy in the management of the Hub starts with huge training, education and performance improvement of young entrepreneurs. We’re providing them with a full understanding of the topics an entrepreneur needs to know to stay comfortable in the management of their future startup. We are using an innovative immersion education technique to get them involved in the analysis of market regulations and we are also getting local and regional partners involved, including rule makers, to provide our entrepreneurs with deep insight of risks and best practices.

How do you see technology and innovation developing in Côte d’Ivoire in the next five years? Where do you see the W Hub 10 years from now?

Innovation and technology are huge pillars and part of the development strategy of the government for the upcoming 5 years. We are willing to play our role in making the digital economy a real job and value a creation platform for society. I definitely hope that in 10 years, looking back in the mirror, we have been able to create a generation of new entrepreneurs leading the region and making great deals worldwide.

What is the most rewarding aspect of the work you perform?

Making dreams happen. It’s not about money. It’s all about making things happen, getting ideas out of minds and turning them into success stories, transforming hardworking young entrepreneurs into mature social entrepreneurs.

What advice would you give to innovation hubs to help streamline the innovation and commercialization processes for entrepreneurs/ start-ups?

We have to look out the box. We should never be constrained by barriers but we should always look at new ways of creating access to international markets. We should also innovate in all phases of the project, from training to commercialization. This is a huge challenge but we always have to open our ears and eyes and screen the best opportunities for entrepreneurs.

To keep up with Diaby Mohamed and the activities of the W Hub, follow @diabymohamed on twitter!

Photo credit: Willy Stephane Awaho

About: Tracy Ayodele

Tracy Ayodele is a Canadian lawyer, called to the Bar of Ontario, and a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School. She has a keen interest in IP policy, social innovation and the intersection of technology, development and start-up culture in emerging economies. She is a spirited legal researcher and writer, and co-authored “Hot-tubbing in Canadian Patent Litigation: A Preliminary Assessment” published in the Intellectual Property Journal.

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