Somalia just unveiled its first tech innovation hub

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Image: Courtesy/iRise Hub
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Coming soon to Mogadishu: Somalia’s first fully-fledged innovation hub.

iRise Hub, which will officially open in the Somali capital in September, will function as a co-working space and provide research, incubation, and acceleration services for new start-ups. The name iRise is a play on the #SomaliaRising hashtag from Twitter, which has been used to document the country’s socioeconomic and political progress over the last few years.

Abdihakim Ainte, the principal founder of iRise, says there’s an increased need for these kinds of spaces in order to realize the full potential of Somalia’s technology sector.

Besides the devastating impact of Somalia’s civil war, an aspirational technology sector has been growing in the Horn of Africa nation for years. Somalia has one of the most active mobile money markets in the world, with millions of people subscribed to e-payment services. Young people, with increased access to the internet and mobile phones, have shown interest in launching technology-driven businesses, crowdfunding entities—and even innovating around famine relief efforts. To improve efficiency, the government recently launched a network center that would ensure all government institutions have free internet access.

“It’s about rolling out some ecosystem in the country,” Ainte said, “and we feel that we need to establish this kind of innovation hub so that we can catch up with the rest of the world.”

Warda Dirir, who co-founded the accelerator Innovate Ventures in Hargeisa, Somaliland, says more and more startups are becoming “increasingly appreciative of the role technology plays in improving productivity, transparency, and efficiency.”

Yet establishments like iRise will have to overcome many challenges. Internet provision in Somalia is not widespread, with a recent three-week blackout hurting relief efforts. Somalia doesn’t have a regulatory framework for both the ICT and financial sectors, and faces major security risks that hinder foreign investment.