iHub Turns 5
March 6th, 2015 by phares
The iHub turns 5 this month. It’s been a fast journey, and now most of the memories are a blur. We don’t even remember what it felt like to be in Nairobi at a time when there was no Tech Community. When the most techies communicated was to exchange Redhat Linux CDs. When a young computer science college graduate’s first dream was to work for an accounting firm like PWC. When Developers, Entrepreneurs and Techies were not celebrated, and didn’t have a voice.
All of us Angani founders, have a deeply rooted involvement in the community. We actually all met & got to know each other through volunteering and helping out in the community. Today Angani exists because of Skunkworks, because of Barcamps, and because of the iHub. We got to build a good partnership with one of our early customers – EAC Directory – and it also started at a Barcamp …
We write this blog post to celebrate the various memories that still remain crystallized on our minds, and to celebrate how far we have come.
The first memory I have is at Steers Wabera. That’s where it all started. In 2006 With an SMS circulated to personal address books of Josiah, Laban, Michuki, Magutu, Kiania and a few others. An invite to all techies out there – to come, and meet fellow techies, and enjoy some soda and chicken. A mailing list was born – randomly called Skunkworks because we were a band of unique misfits.
Erik Hersman inspired the first Barcamp during one of his visits to Kenya. He challenged us that it would be the perfect activity for the Tech Community to undertake. Eric Magutu helped us get a venue at University of Nairobi, we got a very cool poster design & were ready to go ! I remember the only prep we had to do then was purchase some boxes of mineral water, and some whiteboard markers. It’s become a lot more sophisticated putting together a Barcamp since then !
As some of the older founders got busier – some more volunteers had quickly stepped up to keep the spirit of the Tech community alive. Brian Muita and Phares Kariuki kept organizing weekly events and went on to host yet another Barcamp at Starthmore University. We had an early OLPC to show off then.
Then there was the Barcamp that started it all. Venue: Jacaranda. Over 500 people. It was a huge rush. Erik came bearing schwag – Josiah Mugambi still has his T-shirt. ICT Board and Google helped us get the venue, and provide food for everyone. If you review the photo galleries you will notice everyone there has gone on to do great things for the community, and continues to do so even today. At the end of the event, as a group of us sat around, way too tired to move – the idea was tossed for a “home to the tech community”.
Erik pitched me the formal idea of iHub at Java Junction – his temporary living quarters as he worked on moving to Nairobi. The iHub cemented the Tech Community. It has provided a Foundation that has enabled immeasurable growth, taking us from baby steps to giant leaps of progress in Tech in Kenya. The coming years are going to get even more exciting. The mission of the iHub still remains as it was when it started – it’s the home of the Tech community in Kenya.
What’s exciting me about the Tech community today:
iHub Outreach – We need to share all we have learnt over the past years in Nairobi, with students and young entrepreneurs all over the country. James Ndiga has been leading the effort – reaching out beyond the walls of Bishop Magua to institutions all over the country taking to them the spirit of Tech, Community, Barcamps, and the iHub.
#SCICodeJam – I met these young guys at UoN just a few weeks back, and was blown away by what they are trying to do. Anthony Nandaa and Dennis Karanja, with their colleagues have been publishing weekly Challenges and Puzzles for Computer Science students across the country. We have partnered with them to find out who takes the crown to become the King of Code !
My first experience with the community was attending a Skunkworks meeting at Wananchi Group, in their Upperhill office, in 2007, when they had just installed a new Satellite. I met Riyaz for the first time then (who would eventually be part of Angani). I kept attending Skunkworks meetings, which I found fascinating (simply because for the first time, I could speak to other people in the tech industry in Kenya). I eventually volunteered to organize the meetings, which ended up being one of the best decisions of my career as it opened up my network and allowed me to meet people I otherwise wouldn’t have, had I been locked up in a little server room.
Guys in the tech industry kept organizing around coffee shops (at some stage, Prestige Plaza was the go-to space for techies) in 2008/2009 this changed to Dormans Sarit Center (which was shut down), which at the time had a 50 mbps link. You’d always bump into someone who was with Ushahidi/Safaricom etc at the time, working off the space. It had the fastest internet connection in Nairobi and power.
I’ll never forget the Skunkworks meeting where the iHub was introduced (attended by all the advisors) http://kaboro.tumblr.com/post/43397435302/meeting-announcement-ihub-discussion-2nd-febr. This would end up being the last Skunkworks meeting held at MMU, as after that, the iHub existed, solving a problem we’d had for a while, where do we meet. Few people at the time appreciated what problem the iHub would solve.
The barcamp’s were a thing of beauty. From the 2008 Barcamp, where the iHub was conceptualized to the 2010 Barcamp where a record 600 people attended. The 2013 barcamp is near and dear to us at Angani as it secured us an anchor customer who validated our business model.
The iHub, more than anything else exists to accelerate serendipity. You can meet customers, suppliers, contractors, staff members, co founders etc. I’d liken it to the English coffee shops during the enlightenment. It’s an idea exchange for people in the IT industry and beyond.
My relationship with the iHub begun with Skunkworks when we had meetings at Steers Wabera, Loita House and other odd locations in the CBD. Odd because working outside the CBD at the the time, it was a challenge getting to the events(Nairobi traffic!), a challenge I am sure was shared by many. I remember the first barcamp ’07 at UoN and I organized the second in ’08 at Strathmore. I thoroughly enjoyed the few meetings I did attend
The iHub was a very much welcome addition to the tech scene. An always available and reasonably accessible space where techies could meet and work out of was a God send. This has helped keep the local tech scene abuzz and it is indeed fun to watch all the interesting startups and ideas abound as a result.
Barcamp 2013 hosted by the iHub saw Angani’s first ever public demo and won us some of our biggest customers and relationshops at that early stage.
My interaction with the iHub has been late. While I’d followed its origins through Conrad Akunga’s initial involvement and read about its success from afar, I never really interacted with it until early 2014 whereupon I liaised with Leo Mutuku for a research project I was doing through iHub research.
I have nothing but good things to say about the organisation. While nascent, it is obvious that iHub research has sown the seeds for greatness in the years to come. Concentrating on local problems coupled with their approach of out-of-the-box solutions means there is a lot of value generated for the community as a whole. And if Leo is anything to go by, the enthusiasm and willingness of the group will set it out as a world-class leader in research into Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions in the decades to come.