This week we visited Disruptive Lab in The Gambia as part of AfriLab’s hub feature on innovative centres across Africa.
We spoke with Malik Khan, the founder of the Gambian-based tech hub who also doubles as the CEO of PointClick Technologies a managed services cloud provider with offices across the world.
Malik has been in the tech industry for over 22 years, with over 15 years of entrepreneurship experience. He is also an investor in early-stage startups since 2013.
Disruptive Lab is empowering innovative entrepreneurship and encouraging curiosity in technology with the purpose of elevating all forms of businesses, especially technology-focused startups and established IT companies by offering them the right work environment, be able to connect these businesses with others with shared interests, and to create better products and services.
Fully funded by PointClick Technologies, Disruptive Lab is part of the Gambia initiatives. The hub is on a vision to drive change and transformation through innovation and digital technology while stating its mission as providing the necessary platform that effectively combines space, services and programming, to enable businesses and the community at large to build capacity, technology and economic development.
“We intend to achieve our mission and vision through diversity and inclusion meaning that the ecosystem must be extended to involve highly talented Gambians in the diaspora.”
Explaining the driving force behind Disruptive Lab, the founder said that the idea of the innovation centre is to offer local startups a springboard to launch successful companies.
“Our hub was the first tech and innovation hub in The Gambia and was fully funded by PointClick Technologies through an initiative called Innovate Gambia.”
Innovation and entrepreneurship
On how hubs can foster innovation and entrepreneurship in their local communities, Malik said that it can be achieved by the following:
A solid foundation to build successful companies
By creating incentives through government support programs
Remove barriers to entry
On the state of innovation in the Gambia, the founder commented that it is a very slow journey due to several roadblocks and barriers to enter new markets.
“Despite lack of policies to push innovation ahead, companies are being formed, and products and services are slowing gaining popularity and traction.
In my opinion, there needs to be more support from the local government to help open up the market especially in areas such fintech and connectivity.”
Challenges and milestones
According to Malik, funding has been the biggest challenge for the Gambian-based hub.
“We made the initial investment to build the hub, provide all the necessary resources, built solid programs but received very little support from the local ecosystem especially from the government.”
However, in one year of operations, Disruptive Lab has supported at least 5 startups to commercialize their products and get them on the market.
The Gambian-based hub has helped connect startups with potential investors in the diaspora for further development of their companies.
Government and AfriLabs role
According to the founder, the government can partner with hubs to boost entrepreneurship and innovations through:
Creating Public-Private Partnerships to help entrepreneurs engage with hubs
Create a subsidy program that can subsidize the cost for entrepreneurs
On AfriLabs role, Malik said AfriLabs has been an integral part of Disruptive Lab’s journey by linking the hub with external networks, programming and educational learning events.
“Our reach will be very limited without Afrilabs and the opportunities they provide to all member hubs.”
Youth and women participation in tech
Malik commented on this, using the country’s STEM education. He mentioned how the narrative around STEM has been on for many years, yet the push to make it happen hasn’t been explored.
According to the founder, Disruptive Lab invested in a local training company that has its focus on STEM with the intention of creating programs that could extend into schools and thus help to provide necessary resources such as computers, labs, etc.
“It has been really slow due to the lack of commitment the government to invest more in this area.”
On women’s participation, Malik said that its very important to include women to participate in technology. “It should be part of all hub’s diversity and inclusion plans”, Malik added
This is important because we feel Women are underrepresented in technology especially in Africa.
As part of its diversity and inclusion plan, Disruptive Lab has partnered with its sister hub, The Woman Boss to tackle this issue. More details can be found here.
Disruptive Lab is interested in expanding its program to other hubs in Africa as well connect with Africans in the diaspora to encourage them to invest back home.