Hubs’ are a phenomenon that have popped up in Harare in recent years. The popularity of these new hubs follow a trend in other African cities like Nairobi where the concept has been very successful. But in spite of large amounts of money being allocated to hubs by NGOs and other stakeholders, hubs have struggled to succeed in the Zimbabwean context.
A hub is a centre of activity, connection or network for a group of people with similar goals.
Harare’s hubs include Stimulus Hub at the intersection of Fife Ave and Seventh Street, Moto Republik in Belgravia, Area46 in Mount Pleasant, and Muzinda Hub in Vainona. Although the hub concept has been proven elsewhere, Zimbabwean hubs face a long battle to viability as is the case for Stimulus, or a hard road to closure as was the case with the recently shut down Hypercube Hub.
Hypercube drew a lot of international attention for its innovation and technology focus. The hub received seed funding from the US Embassy, HIVOS, and Indigo Trust to begin operations while making plans to self-sustain through membership fees, office space rental and corporate partnerships. Hypercube also received programme funding from UNDP.
The hub successfully hosted both income-generating and development activities including Harare’s first ever Start-Up Weekend hackathon in 2014. They produced new and award-winning technology start-ups and applications and partnered successfully with Tedx Harare. They also conducted numerous grassroots-level training programs for young people interested in coding and technology.
In spite of all this, they were still unable to generate the revenue they needed to survive. Hypercube required at least $10,000 per month for operations and running costs. Discussing their failure at a public meeting held by the US Information Centre in January, founders Munyaradzi Chiura, Rinesh Desai, and Nikki Kershaw said that the cost of renting the premises in Belgravia was one of their biggest expenses.
Hubs most often target startup founders and creative freelancers. This is a demographic struggling to survive in a dire economy, and online landscape with no widely adopted online payment system, and high bandwidth costs – which erode the customer base for any creative or online startup. In turn, potential hub users are generally few in number.
It is too early to tell how Stimulus Hub will fare as they only recently moved to physical premises in March. In the past Stimulus managed to sustain itself by running a diverse portfolio of activities. Tanaka Mungofa, community manager at the hub says, “Stimulus is a social enterprise established in 2011 with a mandate to positively disrupt the manner in which Zimbabwe and Africa approach entrepreneurship.” Stimulus offers valuable business coaching, mentorship, and network opportunities to entrepreneurs.
“The inspiration behind Stimulus was the high number of young people trying to start or run businesses without either the right training or the right network or mentorship. We started Stimulus with these things as our focus,” said Mungofa, who added that they target people working in all sectors of the economy.
At present, Stimulus Hub attracts around 30 people to their Fife Ave premises each week. “This is primarily due to programs we run which are pre-registered, as well as drop-ins for use of the space and other events.”
Upon moving to their new space, they introduced another revenue stream, a $30 per anum membership fee. Stimulus projects and operations manager McCloud Mungofa says, “This fee is designed to support the maintenance of the centre but also teaches the start-up that they need to invest something when starting a business to get the support you need to grow.”
“We are now in transition from start-up into a small viable business and just like most enterprises at this stage, we run a lean model and budget which has enabled us to develop organically enabling us to achieve significant growth without huge capital injection or high monthly overheads.”
Only time will tell if our local hubs will achieve the results of their African counterparts.
Image: Stimulus Hub launch (The Avenue Fair) in February this year.
Image Credit: Tanaka Mungofa