This third stream of the project centres on “digital entrepreneurship”. The stream will investigate how local conditions in African cities shape the mindsets and practices of local technology entrepreneurs and startup employees. The study will combine scale and depth, examining Lagos, Nairobi, and Kigali as in-depth case studies, as well as 10 other cities across Africa. This effort represents the first large-scale, rigorous, and grounded examination of African digital entrepreneurship. It seeks to go beyond the hype, exploring the palpable opportunities and limits of African cities to generate digital economies that are globally competitive and locally transformative.
The key goal will be to take stock of the different kinds of digital entrepreneurship that have emerged, and examine how they are shaped by affordances of African urban contexts. We use a broad understanding of “digital entrepreneurship”, including economic processes led by skilled workers and entrepreneurs where digital artifacts are produced and commercialised, or where digital platforms play a key role for value creation and distribution. A range of actors falls under this umbrella: from hustling freelance software developers to established managers of tech firms; from innovative and creative activity to self-employed contract work. Much of this activity has been nurtured in Africa’s innovation hubs, which will be a particular focus. These are places in which entrepreneurs, software developers, service providers, funders, and the public sector have come together to develop ideas into startup projects.
We will use historical case study data, interviews, and discourse analysis to investigate how and where digital entrepreneurship is taking root, what factors explain its geographies and its success and failure, and who ultimately benefits. We hope to find out whether Africa’s digital entrepreneurship scene plays an important role in the development of the region’s knowledge economies, and whether it is truly a part of the continent’s “transformation”, moving away from bottom of the pyramid work and into higher value-added processes such as software development and design.