In this week’s edition of AfriLabs hub feature, we head to the capital city of Rwanda, Kigali, where we met Benjamin Manirafasha, the founder of Iris Hub.
The hub was designed to create innovations, educate, inspire and connect entrepreneurs through different activities such as events, speeches, media while also providing the youth and women with the right mentorship to their business ideas from our coaches and mentors and we also run both workshops and speeches events, boot camps, hackathon on the ground to provide training, networking opportunities and exhibitions
Benjamin’s vision growing up has been to create opportunities. He started in 2014 while he was in a coding camp and because of his passion, he maximized his effort to optimize creativity, entrepreneurship in ICT by implementing technology into other sectors.
This development led him to start a hub for youth, innovator and incubation center “Iris Hub”. Since then, the hub has seen more than 260 young innovators and entrepreneurs graduate and still seek more young generations.
The graduates of Iris Hub are exposed to skills acquisition in business and technology, programming languages and competencies, mentoring in business and capacity building.
Benjamin explained that the driving force behind founding Iris Hub is his intention in participating in the development of Rwanda.
Supporting people to move from one level to another intellectually, economically, physically and mentally. And as well as being successful and an exemplar to other youths.
Iris Hub mission and vision
According to Benjamin, Iris Hub’s vision is to be an all-round incubation and innovation center that deploys technology to address youth and women unemployment.
While its mission is to be “the strength behind everything that strengthens the youth to develop themselves as well as their nation”
Innovation and entrepreneurship
Benjamin explained that hubs foster innovation and entrepreneurship in their local community through the collaboration of innovators, creatives, investors and entrepreneurs.
Hubs also play the role of linking and serving as an intermediary between investors and startups as well as playing the role of faithful partners in the ecosystem.
On the state of innovation and entrepreneurship in Rwanda, Benjamin said that Rwanda is the best place to be the center of old and new tech, entrepreneurship and business because, low corrupted country, easy to set up a business and even if we do have a small market.
“Rwanda has built the largest conference center in East Africa that attracts people from all over the world and it is the best place to network. Rwanda is the best startup and big company’s environment that wants to bring branches in Africa.”
“And this is what our Government institutions such as RDB, Ministry of ICT and Innovation, RURA, RISA and other both Institution key partners and Ecosystem Players Co-created Rwandan Startup Act and Policy Reform, to create and ensure a good working environment and developed other rules that facilitate investors.”
Rwanda’s reception towards STEM
“Innovation leads new products and processes that sustain a country economy and its all depends on the strong knowledge and basis in STEM Areas and We are in the digital and Data Age era, where technology is tending to lead everything and our middle-income countries economics will raise depending on the Learning and the use of STEM.
And our country established institution that are playing roles into the development of the country next generation”
Challenges and milestones
Just like any entrepreneur with challenges on the table, Benjamin isn’t left out of this too. He told us that the high tax rate has been the most hurting and continues hurting the startup ecosystem.
Lacking funding too for R&D and investment is also another challenge.
Finally, he stated that a lack of an inclusive economy when it comes to collaboration and an innovative mindset among large corporations (banks, telecoms)
“Most big companies do not understand local innovators and entrepreneur and they do not work with startups, this affects small startups; tend to stay small, and large corporation stays large. Until today this continues to be the biggest challenge.”
However, despite all these challenges, Iris Hub has so far achieved some achievable steps.
“We had to do a lot of leg work in order to build the ecosystem in such a way that we could attract programs and funders to support the local entrepreneurs.”
In 2020, Iris Hub added 21 digital skills training programs for women. According to Benjamin, the hub is set to offer beneficial program for other sectors such as Agribusiness, Artificial Intelligent and IoT
Women’s participation in technology
“Technology is the basics of today’s life and women have been left behind for a long time, and one of our involvement is to give a hand our sisters(women) and get involves in Technology.
Even if we can say that they have been left behind the issues now they are not trusting themselves as compactors to their brothers. Or seeing themselves as people who are capable to manage, process and deliver the products.”
One of the gaps Iris Hub, as identified, is in trying to overcome the challenge, and this might involve the presence of the people involved in decision making.
Government and AfriLab’s role
On how the government can support hubs in Rwanda, Benjamin said that since 2011, the Rwandan government has been playing its role in assisting hubs:
“The way I think our government can assist in the hubs in our country is to continue removing barriers and upraise(contribute) the financial support to the hubs.
This can solve some issues hubs facing while there are supporting startups and entrepreneurs.
The government can continue to work closely with hubs and direct support in the research and Development (R&D) In the Hubs.”
Benjamin also said that AfriLabs has been playing a big role in the hub’s development, but he stated three ways AfriLabs has contributed to the hub’s growth:
Firstly in the knowledge, skills, and capacity after joining AfriLabs in 2018 we manage to involve and participate in the capacity building program for Hubs Managers and this is a field of study, we learnt a lot in management our community, spaces, and upgrade our skills.
Secondary Meeting, with other AfriLabs played a huge role in connecting with other hubs directors and entrepreneurs.
We mate in our annual Gathering meeting and coming together to work for a common goal with a focus on encouraging technology, innovation and entrepreneurship in all forms.
This means promoting the creation of made African technology with a special focus on the social, economic and environmental sectors.
Thirdly, reaching and partnering with other Hubs as well as an entrepreneurship support organization.
Featured Image: Benjamin Manirafasha, Founder, Iris Hub
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