To make positive change in the world, we don’t just need tons of money, popularity or political influence, we need the right tools.
By getting the right people together in one place, specifically one that fosters intellectual development and creativity, we can make great things happen.
This is the belief of kLab, a tech hub in Rwanda where young people can bring their startup ideas and receive free Wi-Fi, workspace and mentorship from professors, business owners, and community leaders.
kLab – which stands for “knowledge lab” – has been operating for over a year and was officially launched in October 2013. The center is funded by the Rwanda private Sector Federation, the Rwanda Development Board and the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
“The knowledge lab is an innovation center where fresh and young graduates come to work on their projects, especially in the tech industry,” said Jovani Ntabgoba, kLab’s general manager, at the launch.
kLab currently offers the services of 21 different mentors to its over 80 tenants. The startups at the center range from online shopping websites to improved medical technology. The mentors offer these young people the ability to truly flesh out their ideas and turn them into much more.
“The culture is collaboration, but it’s not just collaboration; it’s positioning oneself at an age where you receive the best mentorship that you cannot find anywhere else in Rwanda,” Ntabgoba said. “At kLab we have all of the knowledge that is required for a tenant to develop their business.”
The power of this collaboration has led to the beginning of many bright futures for startups that focus on the vision of the country of Rwanda: to turn the nation into a knowledge-based economy. However, young Rwandans are challenged daily by a lack of skills due to the fact that the educational curriculum is not yet “innovation-oriented.”
One of the more recent kLab successes is GIRA ICT – a startup that combats a large roadblock to widespread internet usage in Africa: hardware prices. By partnering with big name manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, HP and Lenovo, GIRA ICT allows consumers to pay for their devices in monthly installments in order to increase hardware ownership across the country.
“We started as a group of five entrepreneurs, so we came into kLab and they gave us a free space to work in. We could enjoy internet… they provided us with mentors,” said project supervisor Alphonse Ruhigira.
GIRA ICT has also been collaborating with the government to supplement the One Laptop per Child program. Founded by Nadia Uwamahoro, this effort provides teachers with laptops that they can pay off over a span of four years. So far, this has helped about 100 teachers to attain laptops and the number is steadily increasing.
“It’s a brilliant innovation and she is doing brilliant business,” says Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Rwandan Minister for Youth and ICT of Uwamahoro. “She’s taken computers to places where they were seeing and touching them for the first time by lowering the affordability challenge.”
Through efforts such as GIRA ICT, kLab is pushing Rwanda towards its goal of becoming a middle-income country by the year 2020.
“I want you to understand the uniqueness of this kLab compared to many other iHubs in the region. The uniqueness of this one is that you are in this building and you are not alone in this building,” said Michael Bezy, associate director of Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda, who works with kLab in order to provide mentorship to its tenants.
“You look at that and you say ‘I have entrepreneurs here, I have a world-class university, I have IT businesses and I have IT infrastructure.’ That looks to me like a mini Silicon Valley,” said Bezy.
– Samantha Davis