For this edition of Dreams Talks we will be highlighting the importance of a conducive environment for growth in the Startup Ecosystem in Africa at large, the importance of research within the community, the impact of the tailored support programs towards incubating startups, and strategy to achieve success stories.
iSpace Foundation is an Innovation hub in Accra, Ghana founded in February 2013. iSpace is known to offer a conducive environment for growth in the Startup Ecosystem by providing a working space, training and mentoring, access to funding and other facilities for entrepreneurs and start-ups to launch and manage their business ideas. On this edition of Dreams Talks, we look further into what iSpace Foundation is doing and what is to come, as the co-founder and CEO, Josiah Eyison takes us through it all.
Dreams Talks: What inspired you to take this path?
Josiah Eyison: My motivation stemmed from being an entrepreneur and recognising the gaps in the ecosystem, particularly in Ghana. I addressed a known issue I had personally experienced and validated through market research and customer feedback. This understanding inspired me to take action.
Dreams Talks: As the CEO and Co-founder of i Space Foundation what are your primary objectives towards its growth?
Josiah Eyison: That’s a good question. When it comes to the objectives of the company’s growth, I consider three main aspects. Firstly, the startup aspect of the business involves producing and supporting more startups and generating more funding for them. Secondly, human resources include assembling the best team, providing support, and equipping them with the tools necessary for productivity. Lastly, growth from a regulatory standpoint, such as working with the government to develop policies that support entrepreneurs and innovation hubs. These three objectives encompass startup-centric development, organizational focus on staff, and policy influence.
Dreams Talks: What are the characteristics of a conducive environment and how does I space achieve them in Ghana?
Josiah Eyison: Several essential elements must be in place to create a conducive environment for startups. Firstly, funding and resources must be available, along with supportive policies for entrepreneurs. Secondly, strong relationships with academic institutions are crucial. Thirdly, a diverse group of investors should be present, including angel investors, venture capitalists, and early-stage investors. Lastly, a market must be ready to purchase the products and services these startups produce. A conducive environment includes policy, academia, and investment involving banks and institutions like innovation hubs. These elements, when combined, create the ideal setting for startups to thrive.
Dreams Talks: How important is research to Innovation hubs in Africa?
Josiah Eyison: Research is essential because it helps you understand what the market wants or needs, ensuring that startups produce market-ready products or services that people will be purchased. Research is crucial in preventing product failures and fostering innovation in the right direction. By conducting thorough research, we can commercialize our ideas effectively, making research a critical part of innovation.
Dreams Talks: I space has now a particular interest in Research; what was the deciding factor towards this decision?
Josiah Eyison: That’s a good question. The importance of this initiative stems from our early days at Ispace, when our team had the knowledge to start and support innovation and the ecosystem. There are over 100 incubation spaces in Ghana, many of which need more capacity and expertise to help entrepreneurs effectively. We’ve embarked on this project to ensure these innovation hubs receive the necessary support to build their ability to nurture entrepreneurs. We’ve learned a lot along the way, and we’re using that knowledge to help other hubs gain the same insights we have, which is why we’re pursuing this initiative.
Dreams Talks: Though there are varying opinions towards the authenticity of data collation in Africa, still it is true many are untrusting of what they call “Dubious Data” what’s your take on this ?
Josiah Eyison: Yes, I understand the concerns regarding data integrity. As we know from research, “garbage in, garbage out” is a common saying. There are many gaps in data collection, often because some areas are inaccessible due to infrastructure deficits. This can lead to researchers fabricating data, which erodes trust in its integrity. Technology isn’t universally accessible in some areas, making gathering accurate and reliable data challenging.
To address these issues, we need to provide more research resources. We must hold those responsible for data and technology accountable. Where did the data come from? How was it collected? What processes and analyses were used?
Dreams Talks: Another issue is the difficulty of collation first, and then when said data has been collated, there’s also an unwillingness to share said data within different communities – why is this a problem?
Josiah Eyison: Evidence sharing is indeed a significant problem, primarily because of who funds the research in the first place. For example, if organizations like the World Bank and MasterCard fund research, they are less likely to share the results with other agencies. They may use this data to generate programs and secure grants to execute them. As a result, there is a reluctance to share data with competitors.
In Africa, there is also a need for more private funding for research. When research is government-funded, the government controls when and how the data is shared. We need to support more private data research institutions to address this issue. This would help ensure that data is shared more freely and accessible to people. Ultimately, the funding structure is crucial in determining how data is shared.
Dreams Talks: the impact of I space Tailored Support Programs towards incubating startups in Ghana include?
Josiah Eyison: Since our inception nearly ten years ago, we have created various programs, such as one focusing on women in technology. This gender-focused incubation program was designed primarily for women and people from marginalized backgrounds. We were among the first hubs to concentrate their resources on supporting female entrepreneurs. Furthermore, we were the first hub to collaborate with other hubs, providing grant funding for them to run similar programs in their regions, reaching places like Kenya.
In addition to our gender-focused initiatives, we have been instrumental in supporting industries such as fintech and agritech. We have incubated nearly 256 startups, some of which have received funding, including from our internal resources. We also created a program series to help entrepreneurs from the business side. The impact is evident, and we are continually exploring ways to scale our programs further.
Dreams Talks: 20 years from now, what do you expect the name “Josiah Eyison” to mean to the next generation of African innovators?
Josiah Eyison: In 20 years, I hope that when people think about me, they see someone who had an idea and, against all odds, made it happen. I risked visiting my home country to establish a new concept and support the local ecosystem. As Africans, we need to build Africa, and I took that risk to make a difference.
I hope the ecosystem will not only still exist but also remember the significant role we played. I’d like to be remembered as someone who took risks, was entrepreneurial, and created a concept that benefited others. From the hub’s perspective, I want it to be seen as an organization that broke boundaries in supporting women and people from marginalized backgrounds through innovatively created impactful programs for entrepreneurs.