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Innovations hub in Ethiopia marks growth of tech boom

posted 24 Jul 2012, 09:40 by Mpelembe   [ updated 24 Jul 2012, 09:41 ]

In keeping with the innovations tech revolution sweeping across Africa, Ethiopia's Iceaddis brings creative minds with original ideas and the tools to implement them, into a common space.

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (JULY 23, 2012) (REUTERS) -  Housed in a recycled shipping container young tech-creatives sit hunched over their laptops. They are members of Iceaddis -- an innovations hub in Ethiopia that helps developers incubate and grow ideas.

Iceaddis was started about a year ago in the capital city from which it borrows its name.

Finding an office and an internet connection takes time and capital, and so is finding advise and mentorship.

Iceaddis's 500 members from tech, communications and business backgrounds can nurture and develop start ups and ideas in a common space with access to expert advise without having to invest heavily in setting up their own operations.

"Iceaddis is an innovation hub that gives space for young and innovative entrepreneurs, to start their own businesses. it gives services like mentoring, trainings and coaching in different disciplines for the young and innovative entrepreneurs," said Sarah A. Yusuf, Iceaddis manager.

Yonathan Gosaye is an applications developer. He used Google tools to create a mobile app with information on what to do and where to go for people visiting Addis Ababa.

"It is a smartphone app, it is for tourists, the tourists can check like the, the events that are happening in Addis and stuff. They can learn like common phrases in amharic. They can check out interesting places on their app, stuff like that," he said

"So this is the app I made, it has four features, this is where they check events like local events that are happening. It has categories like art exhibitions, classes, deals and discounts, movies, live music so when you click on a category it brings up a list of all the events that are there. Like if I click on movies, a list of movies will be displayed, so when I click on a movie, there are details on the movie like who is in it, stuff like that. If they are interested they can call the place where the event is and they press call, when they press the website icon, it takes them to the website of the event organiser or something like that," Gosaye explained.

There are more than 50 tech hubs like Iceaddis across Africa in more than 20 countries. A technology revolution is sweeping across the continent at the hands of a generation bursting with ideas and looking for innovative ways of making them work.

Experts see these innovations boosting economic growth.

Iceaddis member, Lulit Mekonnen is a student at EiABC school of fine arts and design. She has created a prototype bicycle cart made out of bamboo that can help farmers access easy affordable transport for their produce.

"This is a bicycle trailer which will be fixed to the bicycle to the back of bicycle, and increase the productivity of bicycle and help the rural mobility to avail their product to the market," she said.

Africa is the world's fastest-growing mobile phone market and the poorest continent will be home to 738 million handsets, or nearly three mobiles for every four of its people, by the end of this year, according to an industry survey done in 2011.

It has many lower-end users who only make calls and send text messages, but its increasingly young and tech-savvy population is buying higher-end handsets that are growing internet usage across Africa.

In Ethiopia, the government's refusal to allow private companies in the telecommunications sector means the state-owned Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation is the only internet provider.

With no competition, the country's sole provider controls the internet. In 2009, Ethiopia had Africa's second lowest internet penetration rate but broad expansion - albeit restricted, has seen more people access the internet, especially through their phones.

"Nowadays I prefer using internet on my mobile phone instead of going to Internet cafes unless I have a big file to download. The speed of connection is very fast but sometimes it gets very slow. It would be nice if that can be fixed," said Abdi Siraj, Addis Ababa resident.

But some phones are not internet enabled or the cost of the internet service is too high for many and Internet cafes are mostly located in urban centers, away from the majority of the population living in rural areas.

The full potential of the internet still largely untapped.

"Mostly I use facebook and Google. I use facebook to chat with my friends from wherever they are and stay current. I also use Google to find anything I need on the web," said Natna'el Tiliksew, a student in the capital.

Ethiopia has embarked on ambitious infrastructure investment projects to improve its economic competitiveness, including a multi-billion dollar plan to scale up energy generation. The economy is expected to maintain a growth rate of 7 percent into 2013.

Incubators or labs like Iceaddis serve as a connection for investors and good ideas. With that, analysts see great potential to create solutions for Ethiopia's unique business environment in ways no external innovations ever could.