Announcing Open VC4A Venture Data

{ Posted on Sep 23 2015 by Bill Zimmerman }
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VC4A is often thought of as a startup finance platform, but at our core we’re really an organization that’s using technology to help entrepreneurs realize their full potential. When you think of VC4A the first thing that comes to mind is probably our member facing website. However, that’s only one side of our story. As our community and database of ventures continues to grow, we’re increasingly able to extract meaningful information and identify key trends that span the continent. Our recently published research breaks down these insights across five areas: employment, performance, investments, investors and influencing factors.

As a nexus for a large volume of entrepreneurial activity, we’re in a unique position to crowdsource primary data on the African venture space. We’re also committed to organizing this data and making it more accessible. To that end, I’m excited to announce that our venture data is now open and available to anyone with an interest in exploring it.

Making data interoperable

A key feature of open data is interoperability, or the ability of diverse systems and organizations to work together. In this case, it’s the ability to interoperate—or intermix—different datasets. One of the best ways to promote this intermixing is by publishing (developers often use the term “exposing”) datasets via an application programming interface, or API. In simple terms, APIs are sets of requirements that govern how one application can talk to another. APIs make possible a sprawling number of “mashups,” in which developers mix and match data from a vast array of providers to create entirely new consumer apps and services. In a similar way, open data provided by governments and institutions can increase transparency, promote participatory governance and create both social and economic value.

VC4A open data

We’ve had requests in the past from members who wanted to embed our ventures map on an external website, or display a subset of our venture data that was relevant to their context. Open data permits not only this but also allows a number of interesting questions to be answered. For example, how many companies focused on the health sector have successfully fundraised in the last year? Or, how does the rate of growth in companies tagged ‘solar’ reflect interest in the renewable energy sector? Queries such as these may be formulated and the resulting data combined with other external datasets.

After a period of beta testing with select partners, we’re now making all public venture data available via our API. This includes both aggregate data and details of individual venture profiles.

Getting started

VC4A’s open data is a public service for accessing all the venture data collected on our platform, searchable by tag, sector, country and fundraising status. To get up and running, follow these simple steps:

  1. Read through our documentation.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the API using this minimal JavaScript client.
  3. Fork or download our sample code in GitHub.
  4. Ask for advice and send us your feedback through our API discussion group.
  5. Tweet us when your project is live so we can promote it— @vc4africa.

A minimal client illustrating how to retrieve ventures data from the VC4A API and plot results on a map

At VC4A one of our key goals is to be open with the communities we serve. For the development team, this means trying to be open and transparent with our code and the data collected by our platform. Democratizing our ventures data is a first step in this journey. Do you have thoughts on how can we improve our API? Use the comments section below to let us know.

Photo Credit: SamanthaGrimes via Compfight

Prototyping the Future on Elephantine Island

{ Posted on Apr 09 2014 by Bill Zimmerman }

Recently, friend and fellow co-conspirator Jay Cousins proposed a unique opportunity; join a diverse group of makers on an island in Upper Egypt to prototype a unique vision for something one might call “Society 2.0”. To provide some context, Jay has been active over the last several months with his Nubian partners Darsh and Ashraf in developing the Nubialin project—a contextually relevant iteration of the icehubs model. Situated in a protected cove on the west bank of Elephantine Island, a Nubian village in Aswan without cars or paved roads, Nubialin has been variously referred to as “an experiment in good living” and “an exploration between communities and cultures.”

To many visitors, Egyptian and non-Egyptian alike, Nubialin is quite simply a taste of paradise.

Nubialin community on Elephantine Island

It may appear idyllic (and it is, mostly) but Nubialin and the surrounding community face a unique set of challenges. Aswan’s primary trade was tourism prior to the Egyptian revolution and subsequent unrest. The feluccas and cruise ships idling along the Nile’s banks today are testament to how this industry has been decimated. As a response to this, Nubialin was partly conceived as way to address unemployment in the tourism sector. Experienced felucca captains and local entrepreneurs, Darsh and Ashraf lend their expertise to Nubialin by bridging cultures (they are fluent in Arabic, English and Nubian) and their island roots connect them to their cousins who span greater Nubia. Their understanding of the community, its needs and nuances provide Nubialin with a unique connection point to the village and surrounding area.

“Nubialin represents a chance to prototype a better way to live, to find new ways to develop areas in ways that benefit everyone, and strengthen our shared foundation from the ground up.”

The founders of Nubialin have taken stock of their resources (abundant clean water, no traffic, little air pollution, underutilized land, strong community, multilingualism, diverse trade skills, etc.) and posited the questions, “How can we live well and free without harming the environment? How can we do this in a way that is accessible to everybody regardless of educational or social background?”

The thinking goes that because Elephantine Island doesn’t possess many of the ills that are manifest in other parts of the world, it therefore represents a solid foundation upon which to build a better way of living.

Island connectivity

As a functional lab for prototyping sustainable communities, Nubialin offers a forum for likeminded doers to collaborate in developing a social business or project that benefits everyone. Among Jay’s list of challenges and opportunities, one immediately stood out; creating a mesh or other WiFi-based network to service the island. Since I would be based out of Cairo for the month, I jumped at the opportunity to leave the city behind and work for a few days on a technical challenge while spending nights aboard a felucca in the Nile.

A group of interested collaborators formed online in the weeks leading up to the maker festival at Nubialin, and we began researching possible solutions for building a community mesh network. I’d experimented with mesh networks before, both with the Raspberry Pi and OpenWrt-based packages, but had not deployed a mesh network on any large scale. The Raspberry Pi Model A was initially attractive both for its low cost and ability to run on solar power, although they aren’t available anywhere in Aswan. Community mesh networking projects like Commotion are similarly interesting, but the supported devices again don’t reflect the hardware that is available locally. Telecom Egypt network engineer Mostafa Rashad Ali, who is based in Aswan, was our eyes and ears on the ground and confirmed that only a very limited number of consumer devices (a handful of routers and access points by TP-Link, mainly) could be sourced in town.

As with many such projects, the theory and planning that happens in advance often changes radically when the realities on the ground are sized up. Our group began by visiting Darsh’s family home on the north end of Elephantine, where he’d subscribed to a 2Mbps ADSL connection and installed a WiFi antenna on the roof. Darsh had signed up several of his neighbors as subscribers and resold his connectivity to them at an affordable rate through his wireless local area network (WLAN).


Darsh had ambitions to extend his community WLAN to Nubialin, but a thick grove of mango trees prevented the signal from reaching the island’s west bank. Surveying the ground between Darsh’s home and Nubialin, the options for installing mesh nodes (assuming we could find the hardware) appeared limited. We needed to keep costs low, make best use of available resources and most importantly prototype something that could be easily extended.

Considering these factors, we settled on testing an alternative: the humble tin can waveguide antenna.

A man, a plan, a cantenna

Wireless network hackers have been obsessed with pushing bits further and faster for less cost since the 802.11b standard was established. Today, one of the cheapest and most effective devices for this purpose is the cantenna; a DIY directional waveguide antenna made from an open-ended can. Over a clear line of sight, with short antenna cable runs, a can-to-can shot is capable of carrying an 11Mbps link over ten miles (16km) or more. We’d be pointing a directional can at Darsh’s unidirectional antenna over a much shorter distance (less than a kilometer) so it seemed doable.

The original design used a Pringles can, but any metal can such as a soup, juice or other tin can works equally well. The whole thing can typically be made for less than $5 in widely available parts (including found or discarded items), so this fits our community’s needs. Because it reuses what might otherwise become trash, this is a big plus as well.

Knowing little about antenna construction, I found it helpful to start off with a working known good design. With Mostafa Ali’s help, we combed the Aswan souk and found the coaxial cable, CAT-5 network cable, wire and a handful of connectors we’d need for the cantenna probe mount and pigtail. We also picked up a TP-Link access point for 190 Egyptian Pounds (20 Euros) and a slightly cheaper wireless router to provide connectivity to clients at Nubialin. Lacking a can between 3″ and 3 2/3″ in diameter (it was difficult to find either a discarded one or a new canned product of the right size, on short notice) we commandeered the Nubialin communal drinking cup, which was perfect.


The placement of the connector mount in the can is critical—it’s a function of the frequency that the antenna operates at and the diameter of the can used. We carefully drilled our drinking cup at the precise distance from the closed end of the can that corresponded to the 1/4 guide wavelength. Since we couldn’t find a proper N-female chassis mount connector in the souk, we used a coaxial cable fitting and some 5-minute epoxy donated by the Nubialin woodworking shop.

With the probe and pigtail soldered up, we connected the cantenna to our access point and oriented it in the direction of a large cluster of buildings approximately 4km NNE of us on the Nile Corniche. Immediately, 8-9 previously unseen access points became visible. This told us the cantenna worked! However, we still needed to connect to Darsh’s base station and get a signal strong enough to support reliable internet.

Picking up the signal

We faced several obstacles in tuning into Darsh’s signal. First, we mounted the can atop a 3-meter pole (also found in the woodworking area) and fabricated a longer pigtail for it. The signal loss with the longer cable proved too great, so we shortened it and crudely lashed the access point to the pole with twine. Then began the process of roaming the area above Nubialin with the cantenna pole, power for the AP and a well-worn MacBook connected via a CAT-5 patch cable. The early results weren’t promising—the signal strength barely topped a usable level and fluctuated wildly. We needed two things: additional height and a stable platform from which to precisely aim the cantenna.

The next day James Lewis and I found a tripod made from reclaimed pallet wood that looked absolutely purpose-built for us. We swiftly laid claim to it, lashed on the cantenna pole and AP and resumed our search for Darsh’s WiFi signal in a dusty palm clearing. With James reading out the decibel strength, Darsh and I meticulously adjusted the azimuth and declination of cantenna with the wood tripod.


After much experimentation, including climbing the roof of Nubialin, we finally got a stable 75-80% signal with minimal noise that enabled us to connect to Darsh’s base station. We looked on with wild grins as a steady stream of PING requests came back with minimal latency and zero packet loss. Moments later, Darsh loaded a web page for the first time at Nubialin from his AP. The cantenna was a success!

Configuring the wireless router took comparatively little time and soon everyone was jumping on the newly born Nubialinternet access point. A speed test confirmed that we had access to the full 1Mbps allocated to Nubialin.

Implications and future plans

Extending Darsh’s community WLAN to Nubialin gives residents, co-workers and even felucca boats passing near the shoreline the ability to get online, do work and stay connected. Bridging this link to Nubialin also makes it possible to extend the WLAN to the more densely populated southern half of the island using a cantenna, mesh or other other wireless network topology. Most importantly, because the community was directly involved in building and troubleshooting the system at every step, the cantenna knowledge is now part of Elephantine.

Mostafa Ali was so impressed by the cantenna that he plans to build more of them to connect other parts of Aswan. I’ll return later this year, insha’Allah, to see how Nubialin has evolved and adapted this technology for the greater good.

Full resolution photos from this post are CreativeCommons Licensed and available here.

It’s Always Sunny in Reykjavik (or) How I NSA-Proofed my Email

{ Posted on Oct 17 2013 by Bill Zimmerman }

Revelations about the NSA’s mass internet surveillance has spurred interest in existing privacy tools and driven developers to build of a slew of new tools and services aimed at providing end-to-end encryption to users. With every major U.S.-based service provider implicated, these offerings are attractive to citizens who prefer not to have their private communications monitored from Gen. Keith Alexander’s Strangelovian “Information Dominance Center” or, more plausibly, by one of the half million-odd contractors with access to NSA data hordes who might not be able to resist the temptation to, say, spy on their love interest, or worse.


Most of the vast troves of data collected, indexed and stored indefinitely by the NSA is likely to be fairly mundane. However, it’s become a matter of principle; privacy is a basic human right. Here’s an old essay by Bruce Schneier if you need to read more about why privacy is so important.

Built to fail

So, you might be justly concerned about Google, Microsoft, Apple and Yahoo’s complicity in granting the NSA access your email. Unfortunately, so-called ‘secure’ email services aren’t any better. Secure email provider Lavabit, which had previously provided whistleblower Edward Snowden with an email address, closed its doors rather than comply with a secret government court order to grant access to their users’ content. Its owner left a message stating he’d been forced to choose between betraying the American people and shutting down. The next day, encrypted messaging company Silent Circle proactively shuttered its email service, announcing that, among other things, “email cannot be secure.”

Your options appear to be pretty limited—except, of course, hosting it yourself. After all, this is how e-mail was originally designed to work.

Jason Scott had this figured out way back in January 2009, in his prescient and colorfully-titled wake up call “Fuck the Cloud”:

This is about your data. This is about your work. This is about you using your time so that you make things and work on things and you trust a location to do “the rest” and guess what, here is what we have learned: Since the dawn of time, companies have hired people whose entire job is to tell you everything is all right and you can completely trust them and the company is as stable as a rock, and to do so until they, themselves are fired because the company is out of business.

He argues that the cloud, insinuated by marketers with soft fluffiness, grandeur and fuzzy meaninglessness is, in fact, a sucker’s game. If you are playing it, you are a sucker. Except the risk today isn’t so trivial as losing your data entrusted to a company that didn’t think to back up your data, was sunsetted by an acquiring company or has simply gone out of business.

Today, the stakes are considerably higher.

Beating the Big G

While my privacy concerns are very real, I’ve also found that Gmail’s speed and utility has degraded over the years, to the point where I have every reason to jump ship now. I won’t be ditching the cloud entirely, but rather self-hosting on vastly more secure servers with every connection under SSL/TLS for end-to-end encryption. As an added benefit, my personal email server will also be 100% carbon neutral.

I’ve entrusted more of my data to Google’s stack over the years, mainly because it (mostly) worked for me. So the thought of migrating a decade’s worth of some 50,000+ emails away from Gmail seemed daunting. And what about Gmail’s lauded spam protection, search, speed and ubiquity? As it turns out, email server software has continued to advance in a post-Google-apps world, and the current the state of self-hosted is better than ever.

Not only would I be back in control of my email, but it will actually better than Gmail, purely from a features perspective.

The Switzerland of bits

My first order of business was choosing a VPS hosting company. I’ve been a long time customer of Linode, but they’re ineligible for this task because they’re based in the States. The trouble is, just because a host is not in the U.S. doesn’t mean the company won’t hand over customer data at the request of the U.S. government or local government on their behest. If it can happen in uber privacy-conscious Germany, it can happen anywhere. Regrettably, there are very few countries that as a whole will defend your data.

One notable exception is Iceland.

Iceland places an exceptionally strong emphasis on privacy rights, such that what is now commonplace in the U.S. and parts of Europe would be unthinkable there. Recently, a group of journalists and political activists cherry-picked the best laws for media freedom and free speech from around the world with the aim of making Iceland the world leader. Their resolution, proposing the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), unanimously passed the country’s parliament. Iceland is essentially immune from the least friendly laws anywhere else.


As an indication of how seriously Iceland takes media freedom and transparency, the former minister of the interior kicked out the FBI when they showed up unannounced to investigate the activist group Wikileaks and its leader, Julian Assange.

From a data privacy perspective, Iceland rocks. The country also benefits from loads of cheap, renewable energy. Practically 100% of it is generated by hydroelectric and geothermal plants around the country—more renewable energy per capita than any country in Europe by far. If you’re in the data center business, cooling is almost as simple as leaving the window open.

After surveying the landscape at bit, I settled on Icelandic startup Greenqloud‘s Amazon EC2-compatible service for my data hosting needs. Its servers are powered using only renewable energy, have been customized to reduce the amount of power they consume and are chilled in a data center cooled by Iceland’s nippy air.

My Greenqloud instance lives in the Thor facility, located just outside of Reykjavik. Thor sits on top of a bunker-grade plate more than two feet thick and the facility has high-grade air filters that are regularly cleaned and replaced to keep out volcanic dust.

With an instance running in Greenqloud, I was ready to tackle building a secure, green, self-hosted email server. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it.

Server setup

First, a quick overview of the features we’ll be getting from our modern email server:

  • Email storage is encrypted on the server.
  • Full encryption over the wire with TLS.
  • Server is locked-on-boot, SSH on reboots to unlock.
  • Better SPAM detection.
  • Lightning fast push support on all devices.
  • Full-text search that actually works.
  • Server software and all packages are open source.

We’ll get all this running on a truly carbon-neutral server in a jurisdiction with the strongest privacy laws on earth. Take that, Google.

I opted to spend just a little bit of money (domain names are cheap) and bought the personal domain from the national registry of Tonga. Domain names are cheaper when you pay in advance, so if you’re considering this go for the full 5 year option, if you can afford it. This also saves the hassle of renewing each year. See this article for more thoughts on how you can get the most from a truly personal domain.

Our email server is built from a number of separate little projects that work together, including:

  • Postfix – the Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) that handles relaying mail between different servers. It decides what to do with email from the outside world, and whether a particular user is allowed to send email using your server. Postfix hands off local delivery (that is, the actual saving of the mail files on the server) to Dovecot. Postfix also lets Dovecot take care of authentication before users are allowed to send email from the server.
  • Dovecot – the Local Mail Transfer Protocol service (LMTP), in email lingo, it essentially runs IMAP to handle requests from users who want to authenticate and check their email. Dovecot’s LMTP service functions as the Mail Delivery Agent (MDA) by saving mail files on the server. Dovecot also handles all authorization. It checks users’ email addresses and passwords in the MySQL database before allowing them to view or send email.
  • EncFS – this is used to encrypt our email store.
  • OpenDKIM – DKIM digitally signs all messages on the server to verify the message actually was sent from the domain in question and is not spam or phishing.
  • MySQL – the database server stores lookup tables for domains, usernames and passwords, and aliases on the mail server.

If you’re new to configuring secure Linux servers on the internet, be sure to read my first 5 minutes on a server.

I’m comfortable doing many Linux administrative tasks via SSH, but had never built an email server from scratch. It’s a reasonably big project, but lucky for me I found this recipe by Drew Crawford using the above stack running on Debian. If Ubuntu is your preferred Linux distribution, you’ll find a similar guide here to get you started.

Drew concedes that it took him about two days to figure out the setup described in his blogpost, starting from knowing basically nothing about modern email servers. He estimates an implementation time of just two hours. In practice it took me a bit longer, mainly due to troubleshooting a common gotcha I’ll mention in closing. After the initial setup, this mail server truly is a “set it and forget it” affair.

Email migration and clients

With incoming mail working via IMAP, outgoing mail on SMTP and everything under TLS/STARTTLS, I turned my attention to migrating those emails. Here’s how I got my email out of Gmail and working with some outstanding clients:

  • Being a Mac user, I chose Airmail—a modern, slick-designed, fast and fully-featured email client that works perfectly with a standard IMAP account. Airmail supports all kinds of familiar Gmail features, from priority inbox to labels, conversations, contacts and proper archiving.
  • Downloaded ~50,000 emails from Gmail using Airmail and dragged-and-dropped the folders to my new server. This took awhile, but we’re talking machine time here—not human time. The process works the exact same way using an email client like Mozilla Thunderbird.
  • Deleted everything from Gmail. Google engineers assure me that after a few months, my data will really be gone.
  • Updated the web accounts I care about with my new self-hosted address.
  • On my Android phone (whoops…) I am using the excellent K-9 IMAP client. If you’re using an iPhone, you’ll be glad to know that push support will be restored, since Google discontinued push for iOS late last year.


After a decade of using Gmail, I’m back to interacting with my email using Airmail and IMAP TLS. The process of setting up my own server, migrating my emails and getting used to these alternative systems was marginally uncomfortable at times, but I’m quite pleased with the end result.

Protips and caveats

Use SSL/TLS for all connections. Again, while it’s true that the NSA targets encrypted connections—and it may have explicit exploits against these protocols—you’re much better protected than if you communicate in the clear.

One minor snag I had during the server setup was neglecting to open the correct port for SMTP. Greenqloud’s default security for new instances is pretty tight, so it took me awhile diagnosing things with mail server logs before I realized that I needed to add a new ingress rule. Once this was done, everything worked fine.

If you’re running webmail, OwnCloud or another web-based app, it really should be under HTTPS. The good news is, you can switch to HTTPS for free by using StartSSL, the same certificate authority the EFF uses. Their individual certificates are available at no cost. If you’re OK with the command line and administering a web server you own, the process takes less than an hour.

The NSA has turned the fabric of the internet into a vast surveillance platform, but they are not magical. They’re limited by the same economic realities as the rest of us, and our best defense is to make surveillance of us as expensive as possible. In the words of Bruce Schneier:

Trust the math. Encryption is your friend. Use it well, and do your best to ensure that nothing can compromise it. That’s how you can remain secure even in the face of the NSA.

Finally, one of the fringe benefits of hosting in Iceland is that you get to go there to check out your data center. Reykjavik is great place to visit and Iceland’s countryside is beautiful.

South African Brothers Embark on a Raspberry Pi Safari

{ Posted on Jun 21 2013 by Bill Zimmerman }
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Two brothers, Frederik and Ernest Lotter, are on the eve of departing on an epic journey — driving from the UK through Europe, Russia, the Middle East and East Africa to their home country of South Africa. In total, the Lotters will be taking in seventeen countries on their way over an estimated 22,000 km of harsh conditions and rough terrain.

What makes their journey unique is that the brothers are traveling in a Land Rover Defender equipped with a Raspberry Pi-based distributed light control system. The Raspberry Pi is a very capable credit card-sized mini computer that runs Linux. Originally conceived as an affordable tool for education (priced at $35), the Pi has taken off with electronics hobbyists and DIY-ers who are finding no shortage of incredibly creative applications for it.

The conventional wisdom which holds for long journeys, especially traveling through Africa, is that everything that can break, will break along the way. This begs the obvious question, why rely on a fairly sophisticated Raspberry Pi-based lighting control system when simply wiring the lights directly would suffice?


The Lotters are experienced electronics engineers and, for them, plain old analog switches and copper wiring alone were “not interesting enough.” So they’ve done what any self-respecting engineers would do and designed a convenient but “rather complex” lighting system that makes use of Pi-based controllers and an ethernet TCP network. This transforms their Land Rover, in effect, into a mobile embedded computing demonstration platform. The question remains, will the system be capable of withstanding rough travel across three continents?

The brothers’ live location will be trackable online and they are offering to meet up with groups of potential Raspberry Pi or ARM enthusiasts along their route. There may even be a Pi-themed reward available if you can find them using the live GPS tracking system they have installed.


This is a great opportunity for schools, electronics groups or AfriLabs member hubs to learn about Raspberry Pi and ARM processors. The Lotters are inviting interested parties to email them as soon as possible to arrange a visit. So far, the communities at icecairo (Egypt) and Bongo Hive (Zambia) have reached out to the Lotters. The video below has more details about their project and journey:

More info: Raspberry Pi Africa on Facebook.

A Visit to the Future Home of icecairo

{ Posted on Nov 25 2012 by Bill Zimmerman }

ice (short for innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship) is a growing network of physical workplaces where people can come together to share what they can do to solve problems themselves, in a way that has a positive—or at least neutral—impact on the environment. The icehubs network began last year when the first open community workspace opened in Addis Ababa. This year, the German node in the ice network, icebauhaus, launched in Weimar on the Bauhaus University campus and hosted the Africa re:load 2012 event in July.

Each of the icehubs offers an open workspace, services for startups, business coaching and programs designed to stimulate an entrepreneurial drive and generally inspire leadership among doers. Perhaps the greatest thing that these innovation hubs has to offer its members is a community around which ideas are nurtured and skills are shared to everyone’s benefit. They strengthen bottom-of-the-pyramid innovations and scrappy startups in ways that few organization can.

A place for makers

What makes the icehubs unique is their focus on promoting a maker culture that actively prototypes physical goods. They do this by providing open access to small-scale production facilities and equipment, including wood/metal working tools, CNC milling machines, laser cutters, 3D printers and so on.

These Fab Labs, or personal digital fabrication centers, are able to make almost anything. In doing so, they encourage experimentation and the exploration of new ways to shape and combine materials. They understand that startups don’t have access to mass-production facilities, so with these tools they’re able to take concepts off the drawing board, prototype them and show the potential of their products to investors.

icecairo, the third node in the network, provisionally operates from a large flat in the center of downtown Cairo just off Tahrir Square. Earlier this month, I traveled overland with members of the icecairo team to deliver workshops on using the Business Model Canvas to entrepreneurs in four Egyptian cities (more on this in a follow-up post).

While the downtown location and nearby Fab Lab attract a growing following, a variation on the iconic stacked shipping container design which first debuted in Addis Ababa is set to be replicated in Cairo. A plot was secured in Heliopolis, strategically located just outside Cairo International Airport, and in September six 40-foot containers were delivered to the site.

I had an opportunity to visit the future home of icecairo on our return flight from Aswan. Wael Sabry, the principal architect, met us at the airport and drove us the short distance to the site. His wife, Nashwa Ibrahim, herself an architect, has done extensive work on appropriate building patterns for St. Catherine’s Monastery in Mount Sinai. We were clearly in very capable hands.

Wael Sabry and Nashwa Ibrahim.Future home of icecairo.6 containers, to be precise.From humble beginnings come great things.

The third evolution

The Cairo hub departs from the Addis model in its overall layout and use of materials that make it better suited for Egypt. On the ground floor is a main meeting area, space for startup incubation, a kitchen and working alcoves. The second floor is home to the Fab Lab and has cafe-like terraces shaded by suspended textile screens. A solar chimney window and air inlet provide passive ventilation and cooling for the space.

Wael graciously showed us around the site, pausing to bring up renderings of the finished hub on his iPad. To comply with building height regulations defined by the airport authority, the site will be excavated two meters below grade. When it’s done and the containers are set on their foundations, the impression will be like “entering an oasis from the street level,” says Wael. When trees are eventually planted an additional measure of shade will complete the oasis feel. icecairo has good company—coffee houses, an artistic center and food courts are located a stone’s throw away.

True to its driving principles, the future home of icecairo is designed as a space for exploration, environmental consciousness and open collaboration. It’s also very much an evolution—beginning as it did with the first iteration in Addis, then Weimar and now the second of two spaces serving greater Cairo.

Innovation, especially disruptive innovation, requires risk and comes from the edges of society. The icecairo ethos embraces this by building something completely unique in Egypt, with the aim of fostering a green, entrepreneurial future for the country.