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INNOVATION SPACE

A Swedish nonprofit is creating the largest startup hub in east Africa

A logo with the word "norrsken" in white.
Norrsken Foundation
A Swedish-African connection.
  • Carlos Mureithi
By Carlos Mureithi

East Africa correspondent

Published

For five years, Sweden’s Norrsken Foundation has helped social tech entrepreneurs in Africa and elsewhere solve societal and environmental challenges by investing in their ideas financially.

In one of its newest enterprises, the nonprofit is building the largest startup hub in east Africa, in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.

The hub, called Norrsken House Kigali, plans to host 1,000 entrepreneurs by the end of this year. To attract them, it is banking on the relative ease of doing business in Rwanda and the country’s quest to position itself as a proof-of-concept country.

Norrsken Foundation,
A facility at Norrsken House Kigali.

What is the role of startup hubs?

Startup hubs play an important role in the development of Africa’s tech ecosystem. They foster innovation for tech startups. They help the businesses scale and achieve their goals by offering them working spaces, electricity, internet connectivity, and other infrastructure, incubation programs, business advisory, and legal services, and other forms of assistance.

The number of tech hubs in Africa stood at 618 in 2019, according to a report by the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator program and the Briter Bridges research firm. Examples include Kenya’s iHub, Nigeria’s Wennovation Hub, and South Africa’s Silicon Cape Initiative.

Norrsken Foundation
Launch day.

Norrsken Foundation plans for 25 hubs globally

The Norrsken Foundation already has a startup hub in Stockholm that houses more than 300 entrepreneurs.

Norrsken House Kigali, which opened its doors in December 2021, is the first of 25 hubs that the foundation plans to open around the world over the next decade. It currently hosts 250 entrepreneurs .

The hub wants to offer entrepreneurs infrastructure, networks, and capital, says Pascal Murasira, the managing director for Norrsken East Africa. “Those three items are crucial and much easier to access if you’re a part of a hub rather than being dispersed and trying to survive on your own daily basis,” he told Quartz.

Murasira reckons it’s important to create hubs such as Norrsken House Kigali to address the three challenges and help African startups raise more early funding.

Rwanda is a proof of concept country

For the Norrsken Foundation, Rwanda is an ideal base because it’s easy to do business in, has good road and internet infrastructure, strong academic institutions, and is geographically well connected to other east African countries, says founder Niklas Adalberth.

Rwanda may be an attractive destination for startups because it has been setting itself up as a proof of concept country where companies can take their ideas and innovations and test them before scaling to the rest of the continent. Notably, Zipline, an American logistics company, used Rwanda to prove its concept of delivering medical supplies and blood to hospitals and has now expanded to deliver packages in Ghana and the US and it’s planning to take off in Nigeria and Japan.

“Say you have a crazy innovation anywhere in Africa or in the world and you want somewhere to prototype your innovation, Rwanda is a perfect place to do that,” says Murasira.

The Norrsken Foundation also runs an accelerator: the Norrsken Impact Accelerator, which is a pre-seed program that invests up to $100,000 in early-stage startups that leverage technology.

Last month, the foundation launched Norrsken22 African Tech Growth Fund, a $200 million tech growth fund for African startups.

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