Despite setbacks, Ethiopia’s tech economy has been making strides, luring entrepreneurs from throughout Africa and gaining international recognition.
This is due to a mix of increased government support for ICT development and the establishment of start-up incubators and hubs that are creating an ideal landscape for the tech industry to grow.
By Steven Blum
Now home to 1,000 members, incubator iceaddis is the first of its kind in Ethiopia, describing itself as: “Collaborative work spaces where aspiring young entrepreneurs, ICT driven individuals, techies, youth and creative individuals can come together to receive business and life skill training, prototyping, technology transfer and enhance their productivity and, ultimately, form viable and sustainable business plans for the future.”
Easily drawing comparisons to other tech hubs in the region, like Nairobi’s iHub – which now has over 16,000 members – or Uganda’s Hive Colab, iceaddis grew organically, starting with small events and workshops.
According to iceaddis member Markos Lemma, in Ethiopia “there is high potential for techies to develop applications and technical solutions.”
Adam Abate, founder of Apposit, an information technology services company, attributes this potential to the benefits of exploiting a largely untapped market.
“Infrastructure is expanding at a rapid rate, and the most obvious opportunity in Ethiopia is that there’s still very little here,” he said.
“Any business you can think of, you can start.”
As Internet access slowly grows in this country of nearly 90 million, a tech boom seems likely. Right now, a mere 1% of Ethiopians have access to the Internet — even a small increase in that number would create many more opportunities for entrepreneurs.
The Ethiopian government is also investing in ICT. Last year, the government announced plans for a $250 million technology park called Ethio ICT. So far, more than 12 local and international companies have booked space, including China’s ZTE and Techno Mobile and Security Innovation Network (SINET), both of whom will establish their own ICT incubation centres.
The Ministry of Communication & Information Technology states that its aims for establishing the ICT park in Ethiopia are “to foster the growth of the ICT sector in the country by providing a conducive environment for businesses to develop ICT-supported indigenous business entrepreneurs and to provide employment opportunities for Ethiopians.”
The education sector is also embracing tech. Today, teachers in 75 schools throughout Ethiopia use video technology to record their lessons and evaluate and discuss them with other teachers.
“On the latest videos I can see that because of this, my teaching skills have improved,” says a teacher from Gafat Primary School in North-Central Ethiopia.
In 10 schools without electricity, solar panels are being used to run the computers and charge the cameras teachers use to evaluate their lessons.
Such innovative thinking isn’t a surprise considering how seriously Ethiopia treats education. The country is one of the few in Africa on track to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of providing universal access to primary education. Many new school buildings have been built over the past few years and there are no fees for primary and secondary schooling. Enrolment has jumped as a result.
Those who graduate into the tech world will find plenty of markets to explore. “The middle class is increasing, the market is growing,” Markos Lemma, co-founder of iceaddis, told the BBC.
“There are a lot of opportunities for techies in Ethiopia.”
The annual eLearning Africa conference will return to Ethiopia in May 2015, the country of its inauguration. Find out more about the event here.