Bringing a Silicon Valley–style startup culture to the capital.
On any given weekday evening, an excited group of young people crowds into a colorful warren of rooms on an upper floor of the Morning Star Mall in Bole, Addis Ababa’s commercial hub, seeking to invent the future. They are computer-science students, IT entrepreneurs, researchers and artists, and the space that gathers them together is called xHub Addis.
Similar to other technology hubs around the world, xHub exists to catalyze the growth of young technology startups by offering working space, internet connection and networking activities to its members. It was started in May 2014 as an outgrowth of the Center for African Leadership Studies, a leadership development and training company in Addis founded by Tewodros Tadesse. A strong believer in the power of homegrown innovation to solve local challenges, Tewodros and his team launched xHub with no external funding and a rather ambitious vision: to empower local young people with the tools and environment needed to amplify their ideas through technology entrepreneurship.
“Addis Ababa is producing quite a high number graduates in IT and technology-related fields,” says Kibrom Tadesse, xHub’s manager, “but the local employment market cannot absorb them all.” This challenging trend is the result of Ethiopia’s higher-education institutions growing at a faster pace than the local job market. Far from complacent, however, Ethiopia’s young graduates seem to be focusing on perfecting their business plans along with their CVs more than ever.
Kibrom observes that the trend has been spreading to even younger students in Addis. “We have met high-school students who have their own app,” he says. “The tech startup scene is growing at a fast rate. However, it needs guidance and focus for it to thrive.”
xHub provides that direction through an ongoing series of workshops, book clubs, seminars, competitions and more. Every month, xHub introduces members and visitors to international speakers, as well as funding and scholarship opportunities.
In the past two years of its existence, xHub has formed alliances with several international institutions — including Addis' other significant tech hub, ICE Addis — and received visits from such global tech luminaries as Kevin Ryan (founder of Gilt, Business Insider, MongoDB and Zola Registry) and Erik Hersman (co-founder of Ushahidi, BRCK and Nairobi's iHub). Undaunted by the many technical and regulatory obstacles to opening a tech business in the country, the xHub team is part of a growing movement that is determined to see a Silicon Valley–style scene become a reality in the capital.