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kLab adds to Rwanda’s tech drive

Based in Rwandan capital Kigali, kLab is the landlocked country’s first dedicated innovation hub and a key figure in the march to becoming a force in the ICT sector.
Founded in June of 2012, kLab came about through a confluence of ideas and role-players.
“Individuals and key players in the private sector came together and felt it was needed to have this sort of space where people could come to work on their ideas and have an opportunity to commercialise them. They drafted a proposal and plan and then set about recruiting the relevant partners,” explains Claude Migisha K., general manager at kLab.
Private sector interest in the incubation space has also spurred on its development.

“The ICT Chamber approached The Rwanda Development Board (RDB-Information Technology), the government organ in charge of implementing and coordinating Rwanda's ICT sector activities, which was very keen to partner. Through Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) funding, we set up the hub,” says Migisha.
Situated in a modern office block, kLab comprises almost an entire floor of the building and is fully equipped with chairs, tables, desks and outside benches. Members currently bring their own laptops and devices to the space
But, according to Migisha, moves are afoot to offer the use of in-house machines while Wi-Fi is ubiquitous in the facility.
Meanwhile, Migisha says the government drive to support it also exists.
“Rwanda has a vision to become a knowledge-based economy using ICT as a cornerstone. From that we have a vision called 2020 which aims to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by the year 2020. One of the tools that government thinks can help in that development is ICT,” says Migisha.
To this end, the Rwandan government has put together the necessary infrastructure, including putting in the fibre backbone that runs throughout the country’s 30 districts. In addition, Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame has made his support for ICT abundantly clear and acts as co-chairman for the UN’s Broadband Commission.
“The government has put all the tools in place like new regulations or the ease of doing business and now it's time for the private sector to leverage the infrastructure put in place by creating content. That is where kLab comes in, we want people to develop mobile and web application, multimedia content and management information systems,” Migisha continues.
Rwanda has a relatively young population who are fast developing an interest in innovation and technology with growing numbers of scholars choosing to continue their studies in the field of information science.
Migisha in uniquely placed to elaborate on this phenomenon, “If you look at people joining computer science faculties in the country the number is really increasing because it is becoming obvious that technology is playing a key role in global development and social entrepreneurship.”
“Technology is a cross-cutting enabler and people are beginning to understand that, young people are launching companies, they are working hard to create solutions not only for the local market but for export as well.” continues Migisha.
While kLab is currently the only innovation hub of its kind in the country, there are a number of computer labs located in campuses across Rwanda. Therefore, one of the goals going forward for the hub is to link those labs and kLab.
“By bringing together current students and members of the hub who have gone on to begin businesses we would create a unique ecosystem. There would be an overlap between the innovation hub which focuses more on people commercialising solutions in real life and the computer labs that focus on experience and learning,” says Migisha.
One of the challenges that new graduates face upon leaving university is gaining access to online resources and improving their practical skills to go with their background in the theory.
“One of the things kLab values very much is having an environment where people can access online resources. In this area we have a lot of online resources from top universities like Stanford, MIT and others. We believe it to be imperative that after these guys leave school they can join an environment where they find these resources,” Migisha explains.
Currently, kLab has around 80 members with roughly 30 to 40 members using the space on a daily basis. Membership is free and divided into three categories, namely tenants, mentors and guests. In order to become a tenant, a prospective member must be working on a project and submit an online application which is followed up with a presentation pitch in front of a selection committee and other tenants.
“The selection committee is made up of one of the founding members, the general manager and one mentor. Once you become a member then you have a certain period of time to work on your project but you must also go through a regular evaluation process because we want to make sure people are using the resources and moving forward,” says Migisha.
Migisha points out, though, that should an interviewee not be selected at the first attempt, that they will receive feedback and are encouraged to refine their ideas and return once again to try for a spot at the hub. “The mentors at kLab are people who have been in business and IT for sometime and they know how business and technology interact. They come to kLab on a weekly basis according to a predetermined schedule and work with tenants offering advice and encouragement to tenants,” says Migisha.
Migisha and the team at kLab have lofty goals for the hub and are not shy to share them.
“We want to have 200 active members after the first year of operation; we want to have at least 10 or more innovations coming out of the hub each year. We are focused on innovations that really change and have a huge impact on the socio-economic aspect of Rwanda and the region,” Migisha shares.
"Apart from organising capacity building events such as workshops, trainings, bootcamps and so on, we also organise events that foster collaboration and openness as we believe these are core values for any entrepreneur to become successful. We also organise demo and networking events where investors or potential buyers interact with kLab tenants to find out what products are being developed," Migisha concludes.

Originally published by Sean Robson on 22 February 2013 (ITWeb Africa)

Tagged in: Africa Hub ICT innovation
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