Continuing with its expansion into Africa, IBM announced the opening of a new IBM Innovation Center in Nairobi, Kenya.
The new facility, the first IBM Innovation Center in East Africa, will help fuel growth and innovation in the region, providing IT partners, developers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and academics with access to the latest enterprise software and hardware, training, and business and marketing support, IBM said. The center is co-located with a new IBM Client Center that brings the company’s expertise to clients in the region.
The goal of the new IBM Innovation Center is to nurture and grow regional IT innovation and help bring startups and new business IT solutions to market faster. The center is focused on solutions that use analytics, mobile and cloud technologies to solve key local and global challenges such as traffic congestion and better energy management. Center attendees will be able to participate in virtual and in-person training, test out their new products, network with peers from around the world, and receive mentoring and guidance from IT and business experts.
“Technology is playing a critical role in building stronger Kenyan and East African economies,” Mugo Kibati, CEO of Kenya Vision 2030, said in a statement. “IBM is an essential partner in helping us create a vibrant network of highly skilled individuals and businesses, who are driving innovation for Africa and the world.”
Kenya has become something of a hotbed of technology for IBM in Africa. The company opened an IBM Research lab in Nairobi in August 2012. As IBM’s first Research Lab in Africa, the Nairobi lab is driving a program of Pan-African research designed to help solve some of the continent’s biggest challenges such as urbanization, next-generation public-sector and human-capacity development. Meanwhile, in February, IBM named MoDe, a Nairobi-based startup focusing on delivering credit to customers in emerging countries via prepaid mobile, IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year at the IBM SmartCamp finals in New York.
The information and communications technology (ICT) sector has driven up to 40 percent of the economic growth in East Africa in the past 10 years, according to World Bank’s InfoDev. In Kenya, the IT industry is expected to grow by 11 percent annually, creating a need for skilled professionals capable of driving IT innovation and entrepreneurship. As a hub for ICT skill development and innovation, the center will serve as a launch pad for the ideas and solutions that will shape the IT landscape in the future, and play a key role in progress toward the East African community’s joint development goals.
“The new IBM Innovation Center is an important milestone in our expansion and work in East Africa,” Tony Mwai, country general manager for IBM East Africa, said in a statement. “The advanced IT and business recourses at the center will strengthen our climate of innovation and get new East African solutions into the global marketplace.”
IBM Innovation Center Opens in Kenya
However, IBM realizes its continued investment in Africa does not come without challenges. In a post on IBM’s A Smarter Planet Blog, Takreem El-Tohamy, IBM’s general manager for Middle East and Africa, wrote, “My IBM colleagues and I understand that expanding in Africa comes with a unique set of challenges. Our company must aid in building the capacities of Africa’s people and institutions—including knowledge, technology infrastructure, business sophistication and governance. These are the underpinnings of innovation ecosystems.”
The Nairobi Center joins a worldwide network of 40 other IBM Innovation Centers in 33 countries, including Morocco and South Africa. Through this network, IBM connects local companies and entrepreneurs with technical and industry experts around the world and can support growth with introductions into new markets.
As part of efforts to drive innovation, IBM is working to support and develop an ecosystem of IT professionals in Kenya, including new partnerships with Jomo Kenyatta, Riara and Strathmore universities to create educational and training environments. With this growing relationship, students and professors will have access to advanced IT coursework, training materials and software for use in the classroom. Bringing the latest enterprise technology and challenges into the classroom, students will be better prepared to meet the IT and business needs of the region.
Moreover, through ongoing workshops and meetings, IBM is working closely with the growing local venture capital community and local incubators and accelerators to identify and support entrepreneurs and startup companies. IBM also is working with local IT companies in the area, providing technical workshops, one-on-one support from IBM experts and access to software and hardware for testing to help local IT companies develop offerings and better meet client demands. Lime Technologies Ltd., Open World and Tezza Ltd. are among the new IBM Business Partners to benefit from the resources at the IBM Innovation Center.