Growing a Hub in Ghana’s Volta Region: Courage Asaase

Courage Asaase was a Land Economy student at KNUST when he realised that beyond Real Estate, he had a strong passion for technology. His passion for technology got him surrounding himself with other technology enthusiasts till he eventually found for himself a niche in managing technology programs and events at the Node Hub, located in Ho. Here is Courage’s story.

How did you get into the technology landscape?

It started when I was on campus. I used to run Watsuptek with some of my friends. I served as the lead writer. We disseminated information related to the university and covered events that were taking place. I remember covering the first edition of Hacklab which was held at the Vodafone lab on campus. I got closer to the developer community and that was when my spark for technology lighted up.

Prior to KNUST, I wasn’t deeply involved in technology. The closest I came to technology was photography, design, and to some extent, UI. I didn’t have any close involvement with software development or any extensive interaction with software developers. The friends I formed from the hackathon, and the engineering students I got to have conversations with on my Katanga (the hall I was affiliated with) floor were the steps that got me exposed to the world of technology.

What changed as you drew closer to developers?

I realised I was becoming more of an enabler, someone who was encouraging teams and showing possibilities. After completing KNUST in 2017, the founder of Watsuptek, Brain Dzansi told me about a hub he was starting in Ho and asked me to be part of the team. I was teaching economics at a senior high school at that time and supporting the school’s IT needs.

I became the point of contact for this hub — NodeHub. We would gather students from the technical schools and get them to competitions in Accra — at that time, most of the tech competitions were in Accra, with hardly any ever happening in Ho. The students started noticing the reality and practicality of what they were learning in class. There was such a buzz of excitement when one of the teams from Ho won the second edition of Hacklab. That same year, the best female team from the competition was also from Ho.

Now, we organise our own competitions and hackathons in Ho. The students don’t have to travel for over 150 kilometres just to attend a hackathon or a competition. They could compete within their own region, and if there are national competitions that they are interested in, they can still travel to participate.

How has it been running Node Hub?

It has been tough I would say, especially from the beginning. I started as the manager, running almost everything — organizing events, managing social media, and combining all those with being a teacher at Mawuko Girls Senior High School.

The concept of a hub was not one most people were acquainted with, so we spent almost a year and a half educating the community. We had to explain to them who we really are and what our purpose was.

We gained momentum after a while and managed to run some partner programs with organizations that were based in Accra, like the MasterCard Foundation. We are now growing, and key stakeholders in government at Ho are getting to know about us through introductions, referrals and recommendations.

What are some unexpected challenges you have faced along the way?

We were not the first hub in Ho. There was another hub that had opened around the same time that we opened — just a few months before us. They folded up after a while. I should admit that it is a tough terrain and that in itself makes it challenging.

When we started, we were very open and welcoming. Little did we know that our kindness would soon become our weakness. Some unsuspecting individuals took advantage of that open culture to monitor the space, and when night fell, they came in to attack and steal. Those were unpleasant experiences.

In some other cases, we gave students laptops to enable them to prepare for competitions or take lessons, and once they got the laptops, they wouldn’t want to come back again. We later decided we wouldn’t allow trainees to take laptops home — they would only use the laptops in the space.

How does mentorship look like within the community?

There is a program we ran called the Corporate Hangout. At the end of every Friday in a quarter, we bring young professionals to play games, network with students and interact with other members of the community. These have been informal ways of building bonds within the community.

Our larger community is subsetted into specialized communities — Developer Community, Women in Business Community, Creatives Community and Young Professionals Community. We hold quarterly meetups for all the communities and connect members to relevant opportunities.

We have official mentorship programs, and corporate professionals support some of them. This enables us to have experienced professionals from industry and academia come in to share relevant knowledge with us. One lady from the Women in Business Community who sells African styled clothes has been able to expand her market to Europe through the mentorship support from the Hub.

Mentorship has been a core part of the things that we do. We are continuously going to have it as something that the Node Hub would always be known for.

Any Final Words?

Hubs have served as the axis for growth for many startups in recent years. They have facilitated collaboration and in some cases provided programs that connect startups with funding. There is a need for more hubs and the opportunities are endless. The hubs market in Ghana is big enough for anybody to operate. One just needs to find a way around how to survive. I don’t see the emergence of other hubs as a threat. I am rather encouraged by that. I think it is a matter of finding an area of focus. The important factor is to have a forecast in mind when starting out a hub. It can get tough, you might be bootstrapping for the first few years, but with proper planning, it can become successful and impactful.