Dissertation: African Hubs as Assemblers of Technology Entrepreneurs

Good news: my dissertation on African technology innovation hubs is now complete! The permanent digital record (incl. a pdf for download) is here, and the hardbound copy will shortly be deposited with Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries as well.

Friederici, N. (2016, October). Innovation Hubs in Africa: Assemblers of Technology Entrepreneurs. Dissertation, Oxford, UK: Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.

I’m also pasting the abstract below, or you can download this pdf with abstract & outline:

Friederici, thesis, Abst & TOC (Jan 2017)

Please reach out to me if you’re interested in a particular chapter or section, and I’m happy to share details with you informally.

Literally hundreds of people have contributed to this work, and I’m deeply grateful for all the support I’ve received. Rather than listing them all, here’s a pdf with acknowledgments:

Friederici, thesis, acknowledgments (Apr 2017)

Of course, finishing the thesis doesn’t mean that my work on hubs is over. Throughout this year, I will work on a number of papers that will elaborate on different aspects covered in the dissertation. I’m also looking forward to sharing my findings with hub leaders and others. Get in touch if you think I can help!

Note: This post was updated in July 2017 to indicate that a pdf is available for download. At the time I wrote the initial post, I wasn’t aware that it is possible to opt out of the university’s three-year embargo.


Innovation hub organizations—or ‘hubs’—have become a prevalent form of support for technology entrepreneurship in Africa. About 170 African hubs have been established, most since 2010. Practitioners have argued either that hubs are transformative network infra-structures for Africa’s fledgling digital economy or that they are ineffective business incubators.


This thesis steps back from this debate about whether hubs work. Instead, it asks how African hubs work, specifically how they shape relationships of technology entrepreneurs. Literature on intermediation and incubation is reviewed to establish a theoretical framework. The thesis then tests and extends the framework based on an extensive, grounded empirical inquiry. In-depth case study data (including 119 interviews with 133 participants) on six hubs were collected during field studies in Kigali, Harare, and Accra from September-December 2014.


The thesis finds that the analyzed hub organizations were defined by nested, fluidly bounded entrepreneurial communities. Communities varied by their level of activation: mem-bers of active communities had concern for each other and recognized communities as social entities, while inactive community members only shared a loose purpose. The six hubs followed two distinct organizational patterns: the technology hub (depending on active core communities) and the entrepreneurship hub (relying on active peripheral communities). Based on these results, the thesis theorizes hubs as assemblers of technology entrepreneurs: hubs assemble previously distant and different actors into entrepreneurial communities.


Assembly is unique to hubs: it is related to but different from incubation and most forms of intermediation. Assembly theory addresses important meso-level analytical gaps in prior research on the coordination and organization of entrepreneurship. The thesis underscores limitations in African technology entrepreneurship environments, advising hub practitioners to acknowledge that ‘only what is there can be assembled.’ Ultimately, it highlights that hubs have been critically misunderstood, and clarifies what hubs can and cannot do for technology entrepreneurs.