Why African tech entrepreneurs need to learn from each other

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“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” – John Cotton Dana

Learn. Teach. Two words that startups and members of tech hubs should breathe and live out if they are to succeed. Having travelled to different hubs in Kenya and Africa through an ongoing study by iHub Research; ‘Understanding African ICT Hubs model and impact to its startups/members’ , I can testify the modus operandi of the startups in the tech hubs is akin. They are operating in a high-risk environment, with little capital, a dearth of business skills e.g. marketing; but are great techies who can code in their sleep. What you might not know is that most of them have experiences that in my opinion are the most powerful assets to endure irrespective to the success or failure of their startups.

I have listened to the experiences of other entrepreneurs in the African tech hubs and as well as sharing with them my experiences as an entrepreneur. One thing the startups should know is that the experiences they have are rich in serving as a learning platform that helps them suppress their existing challenges and thus help them to mature faster. This inadvertently acts as an encouragement by enabling them to be ready to tackle future challenges.

It is time startups start utilising their experiences to teach other startups/members in the space who then learn from their solutions/experiences in order to accelerate their own growth by working smarter. This can be achieved in different ways:

Curiosity:

Members in the hubs are friends and are mostly in track with what each other is working on, their experience levels, investments accrued, etc. They know all that. But ironically, they do not bother to know what tools of trade their colleagues are using, how they go about working out tax matters, conducting intellectual property, what project management practice works best for them, how they conduct market research and what is their experience in all the aforementioned.

This curiosity should spur peer learning that can lead to new and creative ways of managing your business as an entrepreneur, develop new instruments and options incase what you are using does not work out. Success is not only about being the most famous startup and having a great product but also about getting the best tools, a skilled team and proper structures. Startups can only achieve this by being curious enough of what other startups in the Hub are doing.

Networking:

It has been articulated before that events in the hubs e.g. workshops and hackathons have acted as a platform for forming friendships, knowledge sharing and creating new networks and collaborations. I do value the events that many tech hubs have been working hard to hold in order to educate, promote and inform their members but what worries me is that there is often no consequent feedback to find out if the events are of value and how that value can be measured by their members. I have heard very few startups saying they have gotten actionable networks from events held in their Hubs e.g. investors and business deals in their ventures.

However, maximizing peer-to-peer learning is the best way to leverage the networks of one startup e.g. If startup A is looking for a tax advisor and through such events they get to know that startup B has had one who helped them go about tax aspects while billing clients, salaries to optimize their cash flows, etc; they can then ask the experience of startup B with the said tax advisor leverage on the same network.

Mentoring:

When I was in high school, every time my Maths teacher taught us vector equations, I chose not to understand and had the mentality that vectors was a hard topic and it did not help that I also disliked the teacher. Ironically, when my desk mate and peer Christine did a few examples with me, and taught me, I found it so easy and I ended up doing vector questions first thing in my final exams and excelling at that!

We all to some extent loved group work while revising for exams or doing projects as it made concepts easier to understand by breaking the monotony of cramming and initiating understanding, work was done more creatively and in practice as compared to when doing it individually or theoretically hearing it from the teacher.

Same applies to the startups in the hubs. They should share their experiences with other startups in the hub through a form of peer-to-peer mentoring. This is where there is a personal development relationship where a more experienced startup helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable startup in a practical way. Through utilizing peer mentorship in the startup ecosystem they need not to wait forever for their hubs to get them sources of advisors/mentors in order for them to surmount their challenges.

By working on collaborative projects channelled by the tech hubs, peer-to-peer mentoring can be injected by letting them learn from each other and executing their experiences on the projects. I believe that learning is most powerful when it first starts with the members in the space, treating each other as peers and learning from each others experience as they keep evolving and performing self-assessment on themselves.

My firm belief is that hubs should start empowering individual startups, help them to solve their existing challenges, and curate learning experiences then create a ‘peer culture’ where once they build and develop one startup, peer startups should be able to benefit from the helped startup. This way, startups take peer-to-peer learning to a whole new level with a surprisingly low demand to money and time. The hubs management should then act as facilitators to ensure there is training, reviews and approval, recommendations, controls e.g. templates, standards, guidelines and support in the peer-to-peer learning culture.

Developing a peer-to-peer learning culture is important and beneficial to the members/startups in the tech hubs as long as it is also creating value as the benefits can lead to increase in creativity, innovation and create a true learning and growing hub. Startups should often ask themselves, “how do I learn more and perform better and help others to learn more and perform better?”

It can be said that the journey to a successful tech community begins with the development of one startup by its hub.

This article by Hilda Moraa Morara originally appeared on VC4Africa, a Burn Media publishing partner.

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