The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2022

Three Essentials To Creating a Strong Sense of Community in Emerging Ecosystems

This contributed article was prepared by the authors in a personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Startup Genome.

Damilola Teidi-Ayoola undefined

As the Director of Startup Support (Incubation and Acceleration) at Co-creation Hub, Damilola Teidi-Ayoola’s work involves building strong pan-African programs that support technology companies in Africa and directly providing support to startups. She also engages with various key stakeholders to create an enabling ecosystem for high growth companies to thrive on the continent.

“Don’t wait for someone else to organize it. Start organizing things yourself.”

Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey. It doesn't matter how many co-founders you have or how supportive your parents are — I’ve worn those shoes and I can tell you. Starting and growing a company is a tough journey. To navigate it, you need a sense of community including other founders who understand and can help when you run into challenges.

Community is a key ingredient for both the success of individual startups and for the ecosystem as a whole. Both online and offline hubs serve as points of knowledge exchange, places where founders, innovators, and other ecosystem players can learn from each other and discover opportunities for co-creation.

A good example is a Nigerian civic organization called BudgIT, which was born out of a hackathon. The idea was simple: How can we translate the Nigerian budget in a way the common person can understand? Through the power of community and co-creation, a team of designers and developers that were at CcHUB at the time supported the founders to build an app in which citizens could visualize slicing up the budget any way they wanted. They created the app within 24 hours. When it was released, it became so popular quickly that it crashed. BudgIT has gone on to become a leading civic organization spanning multiple locations and a large workforce. The physical gathering at the hackathon and the power of the community, made up the early days of what is a successful company today.

There are many more of such stories of community impact within strong startup ecosystems. Community is also a source of information. As a founder, if there’s a new program, a meetup, or opportunity that might benefit you, you are more likely to learn about it if you are plugged into your local startup community. But how do you create community?

As Director of Startup Support at Co-creation Hub (CC Hub), an innovation center headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria, part of my job involves engaging in activities that help nurture community both in our ecosystem and in other ecosystems around Africa. From my experience, I have learned that there are a few essential building blocks of strong startup communities, especially for community building in emerging ecosystems.

1. Initiative — Don’t Wait For Someone Else To Do It

I recently traveled to Botswana and Namibia, where I engaged with founders. In both places, I heard the same question again and again: We are working in silos. How can we come together, and how can we create more avenues where we can share opportunities and ideas?

I offered the same answer again and again: Don’t wait for someone else to organize it. Start organizing things yourself. That's how you create communities. Start by organizing simple things like monthly or bi-monthy meetups, or by creating an online platform where founders can get the resources they need to start a business. Perhaps the platform could have a forum section to promote discussion and knowledge sharing.

You may think you need government support or permission from certain stakeholders or organizations. But sometimes these things come later, so just start. The numbers may be small at first, but over time they will grow. Eventually you will be too big to be ignored. Governments and large organizations will start to pay attention and ask how they can support the ecosystem you are building. Because you have already built a community together, you will be able to voice your opinions together, which may lead to better policies. 

2. Infrastructure — Online & Offline Infrastructure Support Each Other

The startup community in Lagos is now very strong but it wasn’t always like that. Infrastructure development plays a role in building communities and ecosystems. About nine years ago, CcHUB constituted a consortium of core implementation partners, which included MainOne, Technovision, and the Lagos state government. With the buy-in of the state, Mainone initiated the laying of the fiber optic cable for iHQ, which covered Yaba, where CcHUB is located.

This meant the internet was better in this neighborhood, and the area quickly became home to over 30 technology companies. If there was an event in the area, everyone could quickly come together and a tech community started to spring up.

Offline infrastructure builds intangible community, and that intangible sense of community leads to stronger offline infrastructure. It is a positive feedback loop.

3. Insight — Share Your Failures As Well As Your Wins

Meetups, forums, associations, and hackathons are all great ways to start building community. But for these sorts of initiatives to be as impactful as possible, those participating must be open and honest about sharing not just their learnings, but also their struggles and failures.

In the early days of the ecosystem in Lagos, stories about the experience of building a company and the entrepreneurial journey in Nigeria came from founders such as IROKO founder Jason Njoku. These founders were very generous and transparent, sharing their challenges and successes both through blog posts and at events. Jason’s candor made him very popular, but his sharing also contributed to helping the community thrive and grow.

A willingness to share honest insights brings people together and spurs discussion. Sharing your journey, including the difficulties and the failures, can inspire people and help them avoid mistakes.

Sometimes I speak to busy founders who see meetups, incubation programs, or being part of a hub, as a waste of time. But in emerging ecosystems, success is usually shared. Our ecosystems lift us up and support us when we struggle. They supply our co-founders and many of our greatest ideas. Community isn’t a waste of time — it’s an essential component. It is well worth devoting our time to building a stronger sense of community together.