M:Lab East Africa officially opened


Image: Paul Kukubo, CEO of Kenya’s ICT Board. By iHub
Paul Kukubo, CEO of Kenya’s ICT Board

The World Bank, together with Nokia, Kenya’ s iHub consortium and other stakeholders, have officially opened a mobile business incubation hub for East Africa.

The new facility, m-Lab East Africa, will serve as an incubation centre for new business in the mobile space. The facility is situated in Nairobi, Kenya, and will initially house seven start-ups.
The facility, based at Bishop Magua Building on Ngong Road, is hosted by the iHub Consortium that includes Nairobi’ s iHub, eMobilis, the World Wide Web Foundation, and the University of Nairobi School of Computing and Informatics.

The centre was officially opened this week, after the close of Pivot25, a conference staged for the mobile application sector in the city. This event, sponsored by Samsung and Nokia, among others, included the opportunity for 24 mobile application developers pitch their applications to an industry panel.  

m-Lab will assist entrepreneurs with infrastructure, as well as technical and business training. It aims to foster innovation and the growth of Kenya’ s ICT sector as a whole.

Dr. Bitange Ndemo Permanent Secretary at Kenya’ s Ministry of ICT, told guests at the official opening: “ We must move to change from a minimalist approach as a government to something better. We are going to do whatever it takes. We must begin to invest in research. We must free up the government data. I have persuaded the Ministry of Planning and Ministry of Health and they have given us government data to open up to the public. We are currently putting it into a format so all can access it online.”

“A problem to overcome is that people don’ t collaborate enough. If we can begin to widen and collaborate through facilities like m:lab, the mobile applications emerging from the region will become more successful.”

“In Kenya, it’ s clear is a lot of potential in ICT,” World Bank country director, Johannes Zutt said. “ We are working with Kenya to promote areas where we think it will flourish – tourism and ICT.” He said that in Kenya, it is clear that ICT is one of the sectors where Kenya has been doing very well and thus there is a lot of potential for Kenya.

m-Lab East Africa is one of the labs World Bank is supporting globally through the infoDev programme, in partnership with Nokia and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.

It has also selected hosts for m-Labs in South Africa, Armenia, Pakistan and Vietnam. Ken Oyolla, general manager for Nokia East and Southern Africa said the firm will support testing labs with equipment, training and events.

Finnish ambassador Heli Sirve, noted that Finland considers innovation and ICT as an important part of its development strategy. Private-public partnerships can be particularly important (like that of Nokia, Government of Finland and infoDev). Technological innovation can turn into economic growth in almost any sector. She said: “ I hope that m:lab will succeed in generating new mobile applications and improve people’ s lives in Kenya and East Africa. An old town in Finland, 25 years ago started a similar “ m:lab” and today, the people of the region have benefited greatly and are very successful.”

Paul Kukubo, CEO of Kenya’ s ICT Board, said at the opening: “When you talk about an ecosystem, you talk about the talent, the academic community, the researchers, the partners, and the developers. But you also have to talk about the leadership! We are very lucky to have Dr. Ndemo to set the tone of this sector in Kenya. We need to appreciate that this sector has gone through a very nice ride up to this point, thanks in large part to Dr. Ndemo. The enormous energy of the entrepreneurs in the past year is really encouraging and exciting.”

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