Taking Stock of Innovation Hubs Literature, Plus Three Working Papers

It has almost been a year since I finished the final draft of my dissertation about African innovation hubs. In the meantime, a number of publications have come out about hubs in Africa and elsewhere, some in high-profile venues (references are below). This probably signifies that hubs are becoming accepted as a unique and interesting organizational form of entrepreneurship support, with appeal for ecosystems around the world.

It’s also becoming clear that “hub” seems to be the dominant terminology for Africa, while “coworking spaces” and “labs” are the terms used in the Global North. I’d speculate that this is because coworking spaces in places like London, New York, or Berlin started in response to a need for shared work space for freelancers, designers, consultants, etc. Other “hub” functions, such as convening wider interest groups or orientating newcomers to a city, were not initially the focus for most organizations (except, notably, Impact Hubs). “Labs” tend to be run or sponsored by corporations or formal bureaucratic organizations (universities, governments, etc.); those probably see innovation labs as the open innovation equivalent to traditional in-house R&D labs: high-risk, high-return initiatives where experimentation and failure are accepted, and where the usual formalities and restrictions are suspended. In Africa, the term “hub” was there from the beginning, advanced mainly by iHub as a role model organization for the continent. Moreover, African hub organizations have indeed become key entry or landing points (i.e., “hubs”) for foreigners.

But what I find the most interesting is that these papers are written from totally different vantage points, speaking to rather diverse sets of theory. This goes to show that hubs matter for a number of academic disciplines and a range of policy and practice audiences. While none of these papers captures “assembly” (my theorization of the process in hubs) in its entirety, I actually found a lot of corroboration for my findings in their empirical segments. Going forward, it will be interesting to see if different aspects of hubs will be subsumed within many different streams of literature, or if the analysis of hubs, labs, and coworking spaces will be done in only one or two fields (like incubators being discussed almost entirely by the innovation management crowd in journals such as Technovation and the Journal of Technology Transfer).

Most of my attempts to turn elements of the dissertation into wider scholarly contributions are still deep in the publication process, but I’m sharing three working papers now, to get these pieces to the hub puzzle into wider circulation and get some feedback. Please get in touch if you have comments.

1. Innovation Hubs in Africa: An Entrepreneurial Perspective

This short paper summarizes the most important practical implications of the dissertation, driving home the point that hubs facilitate entrepreneurial value creation, while they do not “create” development impact directly.


2. How Nascent Technology Entrepreneurs Organize: The Community Assembly Process

This paper introduces assembly theory: an account of how hubs create entrepreneurial communities in African cities, generalized from the six hubs I studied.


3. More Art than Science? Exploring the Roles of Technology Innovation Hubs for Urban Regions in Developing Countries

This is an old unpublished paper based on data from a study I did for infoDev/the World Bank. The concepts are a bit all over the place (it’s my first paper ever!), but the key empirical observations about functions and issues in hubs still ring true. The paper also has a theorization of how entrepreneurs engage in networking, which basically explains the dissertation’s notion of entrepreneurial participation in hubs in a network theory style.



Auschra, C., Braun, T., Schmidt, T., & Sydow, J. (2017). Patterns of Project-Based Organizing in New Venture Creation: Projectification of an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, 11.

Brown, J. (2017). Curating the “Third Place”? Coworking and the mediation of creativity. Geoforum, 82, 112–126.

Cardullo, P., Kitchin, R., & Di Feliciantonio, C. (2017). Living labs and vacancy in the neoliberal city. Cities. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S026427511730330X.

De Beer, J., Millar, P., Mwangi, J., Nzomo, V. B., & Rutenberg, I. (2017). A Framework for Assessing Technology Hubs in Africa. NYU Journal of Intellectual Property & Entertainment Law, 6(2). Retrieved May 16, 2017, from http://jipel.law.nyu.edu/author/jeremydebeer/.

Friederici, N. (2018). Hope and Hype in Africa’s Digital Economy: The Rise of Innovation Hubs. In M. Graham (Ed.), Digital Economies at Global Margins. Boston, MA, USA: MIT Press.

Gandini, A. (2015). The rise of coworking spaces: A literature review. Ephemera, 15(1), 193–205.

Gandini, A. (2016). Coworking: The Freelance Mode of Organisation? The Reputation Economy: Understanding Knowledge Work in Digital Society (pp. 97–105). Palgrave Macmillan UK. Retrieved July 13, 2016, from http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/978-1-137-56107-7_7.

Garrett, L. E., Spreitzer, G. M., & Bacevice, P. A. (2017). Co-constructing a Sense of Community at Work: The Emergence of Community in Coworking Spaces. Organization Studies, 38(6), 821–842.

Gryszkiewicz, L., Lykourentzou, I., & Toivonen, T. (2017). Innovation labs: leveraging openness for radical innovation? Journal of Innovation Management, 4(4), 68–97.

Jiménez, A., & Zheng, Y. (2017). A Spatial Perspective of Innovation and Development: Innovation Hubs in Zambia and the UK. In J. Choudrie, M. S. Islam, F. Wahid, J. M. Bass, & J. E. Priyatma (Eds.), Information and Communication Technologies for Development (Vol. 504, pp. 171–181). Cham: Springer International Publishing. Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://link.springer.com/10.1007/978-3-319-59111-7_15.

Jiménez, A., & Zheng, Y. (2017). Tech hubs, innovation and development. Information Technology for Development, 0(0), 1–24.

Lange, B. (2017). Offene Werkstätten und Postwachstumsökonomien: kollaborative Orte als Wegbereiter transformativer Wirtschaftsentwicklungen? Zeitschrift für Wirtschaftsgeographie, 61(1). Retrieved July 31, 2017, from http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/zfw.2017.61.issue-1/zfw-2016-0029/zfw-2016-0029.xml.

Littlewood, D. C., & Kiyumbu, W. L. (2017). “Hub” organisations in Kenya: What are they? What do they do? And what is their potential? Technological Forecasting and Social Change. Retrieved February 6, 2018, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040162517313173.

Merkel, J. (2015). Coworking in the city. ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 15(1), 121–139.

Nathan, M. (2017, October 11). The fast growth of co-working spaces in London. LSE Business Review. Retrieved February 15, 2018, from http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2017/10/11/the-fast-growth-of-co-working-spaces-in-london/. [This is a blog post but a very insightful one!]

Nicolopoulou, K., Karataş-Özkan, M., Vas, C., & Nouman, M. (2017). An incubation perspective on social innovation: the London Hub – a social incubator. R&D Management, 47(3), 368–384.

Richardson, L. (2017). Sharing as a postwork style: digital work and the co-working office. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 10(2), 297–310.

Sambuli, N., & Whitt, J. P. (2017). Technology innovation hubs and policy engagement. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies. Retrieved March 30, 2017, from https://opendocs.ids.ac.uk/opendocs/handle/123456789/12860.

Schmidt, S., & Brinks, V. (2017). Open creative labs: Spatial settings at the intersection of communities and organizations. Creativity and Innovation Management. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/caim.12220/abstract.

Seo-Zindy, R., & Heeks, R. (2017). Researching the Emergence of 3D Printing, Makerspaces, Hackerspaces and FabLabs in the Global South: A Scoping Review and Research Agenda on Digital Innovation and Fabrication Networks. The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries, 80(0). Retrieved May 22, 2017, from http://www.ejisdc.org/ojs2/index.php/ejisdc/article/view/1902.