Newsblast Volume 4 Issue 10

#NetworkScience

In the current issue of the Network Science Center Newsblast Lynndee Kemmet discusses the Civil Information Sharing (CIS) Project and its research looking at the connection between food insecurity and political instability.  To learn more read the article in this issue of the Network Science Center’s Newsblast, click here.

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6th Workshop on Complex Networks

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See website for more information http://www.complenet.org/

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Network Theory and Financial Risk

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I had the privilege of attending and participating in the inaugural Financial Risk and Network Theory Seminar at Cambridge University. The event was organized by Kimmo Soramäki, PhD, founder of Financial Networks Analytics, hosted by the Cambridge Center for Risk Studies, and hosted at the Judge Business School at Cambridge.

Judge Business School

The seminar also served as a kick-off celebration for the new Journal of Network Theory in Finance and served as a vehicle to spark interest and feed new collaborations in this emerging multidisciplinary field. The event drew an impressive number and breadth of researchers and practitioners in the field.

Financial institutions and markets are highly interconnected, but research has only recently begun to emerge that maps these interconnections and assesses their impact on financial risks and returns. The presentations at this conference were impressive not only from their mathematical rigor but their applicability to assess and solve real-world problems that face the financial sector.

Cambridge University

Some of the topics discussed included:

  • Mapping Change in Complex Financial Markets, Rod Garratt, Vice President, Federal Reserve Bank of New York
  • Financial Catastrophe Risk Modeling, Andrew Coburn, Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies
  • Filling in the Blanks: Network Structure & Interbank Contagion, Goetz von Peter, Bank for International Settlements
  • Liquidity & Solvency Shocks in a Network Model of Systemic Risk: The Impact of Minimum Capital & Reserve Requirements, Andreas Krause, University of Bath
  • Interconnectedness of the Banking Sector as a Vulnerability to Crises, Peter Sarlin, Goethe University Frankfurt and RiskLab Finland
  • How Interdependent Are Systemic Risk Indicators? A Network Analysis, Christian Brownlees, Universitat Pompeu Fabra

I had the honor of chairing a session that focused on the use of Social Network Analysis in Finance. The presentations in this session included:

  • The Mortgage Meltdown: From Main Street to Wall Street, Valdis Krebs, Orgnet LLC
  • Financial Networks & Contagion during the Panic of 1873, Daniel Ladley, University of Leicester
  • Going beyond Financial Data: The Application of SNA to Investments in the Listed & Start-up Company Universe, Murat Ünal, Funds-at-Work and SONEAN

 Dr. Murat Ünal presents at the SNA in Finance Session

Having organized a similar-type inaugural event, I was incredibly impressed by both the quality of presentations and the number of impressive attendees from both academia and industry. The discussions were relevant to real-world problems faced by many of the participants; not, theoretical situations that are so common at academic conferences. The “so-what” of every presentation was readily apparent and potential applications were developed during the discussions that followed. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event and predict that the number of participants will dramatically grow based on the high standard set by this event.

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Tech Incubators in Africa: Too Fast, Too Soon?

As part of our ongoing data collection effort in support of the Network Science Center at West Point’s research project entitled, “Developing Network Models of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems,” we previously visited the Dar Teknohama Business Incubator, the Buni Collaboration Space, and the KINU Incubator. After those visits we visited with the Mara Foundation. Mara was founded by Ashish Thakkar, a serial entrepreneur and Chairman of Mara Group, an African conglomerate. Thakkar grew up in the United Kingdom and Uganda and considers himself, a native son of Africa.

Mara Foundation

Mara Foundation is Mara Group’s social enterprise that focuses on emerging African entrepreneurs. Its goal is to create sustainable economic and business development opportunities for young business owners through their initiatives.

Ashish Thakkar

The Foundation is now active in a number of countries across Africa. We visited with their office in Kampala, Uganda during our data collection visit in the spring of 2013. During this visit, we were hosted by Jennifer Mbuya, who leads the Dar es Salaam office.

As we learned, the Mara story is, perhaps, a precautionary tale about the buzz and excitement for tech incubators that are popping up all over the African continent. While these organizations may be the necessary catalyst for aspiring entrepreneurs, not all local environments may be mature enough for these business models.

The Mara model in Dar es Salaam was based on the more traditional models around the world. They acquired a large, modern space, equipped it with the latest equipment, and offered important capabilities for new entrepreneurs like broadband internet, reliable power, a shared support staff, and copiers/printers. They also supplied services such as mentorship and training.

The overhead for this effort was significant and, after a recent assessment, it was determined that the local environment was not developed enough and they changed their model.

The “old” Mara Foundation Office in the Mayfair Plaza in Dar es Salaam

Since that assessment, they have closed down the original incubator space, opened up a much smaller office, and modified their business model. Mara now has leveraged their network of local business leaders to act as mentors to aspiring entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs apply for entry to the program and if accepted work through a 6-month long program. The mentors have agreed to spend at least two hours a week with each entrepreneur, either in person or virtually.

Mara has had about 35 participants since they modified their model and they are currently on their 3rd cycle under this model. Jennifer told us that Mara has made similar changes in their models at their other offices in both Kampala and Nairobi.

Based on the maturity and business viability of many of the small tech firms that we have met with over our data collection visits, and the modification of many incubators’ business models, we completely understand the thought-process behind this “pivot” in strategy. For example hubs that we have previously visited like iceaddis and iLab in Liberia, and HiveColab in Uganda have all scaled back their original lofty aspirations. These hubs originally planned for a multi-tier membership model, charging rent for office space, and acquiring equity of the companies that were the most mature. Based on these assumptions, they thought they could be self-sustaining in a short period of time. All have scaled back their expectations and operate more as collaboration spaces for the local tech community and offer technical training and mentorship.

Based on our observation and conversations, we wonder: Is this rise of tech incubators a bit premature? Are the local ecosystems not ready for the more traditional incubator models?

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Cadet Impressions: Tech Entrepreneurs in Tanzania Part 3

During our visit to Dar es Salaam, the cadets on my team, Molly Prins, Jake Moffatt, and Charlie Braman, spent time interacting with, and interviewing young tech entrepreneurs. These interviews are the raw data input for our “Developing Network Models of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems,” project. The following excerpts are their third of four summaries of their impressions and conversations:

After visiting DTBi and the Buni Innovation Space, we had the opportunity to visit KINU, another business incubator/tech hub with a bit of a different business model. KINU is a Swahili word that means mortar, as in the tool that is used to grind ingredients in a pestle. The analogy is that KINU aims to be the space where different skills are combined to create locally built solutions for community problems.

The KINU group is a hub for entrepreneurs to access training, desk space and resources that would be otherwise unavailable to them. The founders started by hosting workshops, and after several of these sessions decided to set up the formal organization we saw today.

The environment at KINU is very friendly and inviting, and members appear to work closely with each other. The members in the hub are like a big family, noticeable from the moment anyone were to walk through the doors. KINU’s entrepreneurs all work in one large room, which fosters a friendly and tightly knit work space.  Furthermore, the nature of the setting is suitable for the exchange of Innovative thoughts and ideas.  Though working on different projects, the entrepreneurs express great interest in each others work, and are able to provide timely assistance.

Interviewing Entrepreneurs at KINU

All of the entrepreneurs we interviewed were eager to discuss their company and the network that they perceived within Tanzania. In addition to the survey, we spent a good deal of time talking with them about cutting edge technologies and how their proliferation could improve the outlook for small tech businesses.

KINU also offers training classes and  has several lectures available ranging from how to use different software to different ways to run businesses. Our group was asked to present on the importance of counseling later this week. We chose counseling as our topic to discuss because the military, unlike many other organizations, effectively counsels everyone to improve work.

Cadets Teaching a Class at KINU

Among the group of interviewees we met with a lot of Android-based mobile solutions, presumably due to the developer-friendly nature of the operating system. KINU even facilitated these developments by offering Samsung Galaxy testing phones at the center. Arduino, an open source microcontroller, also turned out to be popular with the group. What we found most interesting about the platforms discussed was that the Raspberry Pi, a small bare bones computer, has also become widely known; one of the technologists even proposed an improvement to the computer through which developers could link the system to GSM.

After many long and enlightening discussions, we came to the conclusion that most of the entrepreneurs have an interest and, more importantly, very good understanding of how these technologies can be applied. However, in many cases they lack the access to the development platforms. KINU has taken a very big step in the right direction offering the environment, connectivity, and tools for developers to carry out their work.

 

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Cadet Impressions: Tech Entrepreneurs in Tanzania-Part 2

During our visit to Dar es Salaam, the cadets on my team, Molly Prins, Jake Moffatt, and Charlie Braman, spent time interacting with, and interviewing young tech entrepreneurs. These interviews are the raw data input for our “Developing Network Models of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems,” project. The following excerpts are their second of four summaries of their impressions and conversations:

As stated in the first blog post, we were also able to visit with members of the Buni Innovation Space, which is also located in the COSTECH Building. Buni is a pre-incubator “tech space” where people can get together and develop smaller projects.  It provides an environment for ideas to grow into reality before actually moving on to the incubator. We met with Brian and Jumanne, the Buni managers, who informed us that Buni is currently free to utilize and targets recent university graduates.

The Buni Innovation Space

We were introduced to a branch of Buni that sponsors a type of internship that offers a more structured way to learn project development. Members are given a project idea, partnered up with other members, and then tasked with a timeline for completion. The timeline includes milestones such as proposal, prototype, and talking to sponsors, for a total of eight weeks to completion. Groups are small, but project ideas are diverse. Leaders from the Buni staff offer guidance every step of the way, but still give enough leeway for participants to build their own project. Initially, however, the groups are mentored on the idea that they decided to pursue.

These are examples of the types of projects that the teams are undertaking:

  • A Tanzanian version of Monster.com
  • A site that enabled customers to rate businesses.
  • A paperless business monitoring program.
  • A system to streamline bulk SMS messages
  • A website that assist people to locate near-by hospitals and clinics.

One entrepreneur, Peter, was especially eager and asked to be interviewed.  At the age of 28, he is significantly older than the other entrepreneurs in the program.  Likewise, he holds an MBA from the University of Dar Es Salaam and presents a deeper sense of maturity about his career path.  Peter is the founder and chief editor of an online magazine named “The CEO.”  This website focuses on local issues related to business and investing.  Though only recently established, the magazine is both professional and relevant to businessmen in Dar Es Salaam. He is proud of his work, but is also honest and realistic about the challenges of entrepreneurship.  He currently finances the entire magazine and has yet to break even on returns.  Furthermore, he expressed discouragement towards the degree of bureaucracy that the entrepreneurial process entails, yet he is optimistic about his product.  As a result, he operates almost entirely on his own and only consults friends or social media for advice.

At the point of our interviews, participants had completed about half of the program and had working prototypes. Interviewees were generally very receptive and eager to share about their fledgling projects.  Additionally, the scope of the projects was highly impressive, especially given the small size of the groups.

In our next blog, we will continue to describe our interactions with the entrepreneurs that we met during our visit to Dar es Salaam.

 

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Cadet Impressions: Tech Entrepreneurs in Tanzania

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During our visit to Dar es Salaam, the cadets on my team, Molly Prins, Jake Moffatt, and Charlie Braman, spent time interacting with, and interviewing young tech entrepreneurs. These interviews are the raw data input for our “Developing Network Models of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems,” project. The following excerpts are their first of four summaries of their impressions and conversations:

Day one in Tanzania consisted mainly of a visit to the Dar Teknohama Business Incubator, where entrepreneurs seek guidance and assistance launching new companies. We were greeted by a small team of representatives from the incubator: Colin Gumbu, the Business Development Manager, Richard Miles, Entrepreneur in Residence, and, and Editruda, a charming lady who made things happen. We opened with a basic introduction of ourselves and our project, and they gave a brief explanation of who they were and what they did at DTBi. Initially this was as far as we expected to get on the first day, but the team suggested we start surveying right away and introduced us to a colleague at Buni, a tech space downstairs from DTBi.

Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology

After giving a brief introduction, we were able to interview two of DTBi’s entrepreneurs, Abdul Bashir, creator of Bashcom, an electronic tithing system that allows users to send money electronically to their respective institutions, and Godfrey Magila, founder of Magilatech, a software development program with both a mobile security platform and an interactive way to listen to and participate in parliamentary debates through cell service.

Mobile Parliament Website

Abdul has created an app that allows for people to give money to a religious group, like a church or a mosque without having to pay in cash. The app allows for a virtual wallet, a common way of paying in Dar es Salaam. As explained, most payments are not made with a credit or debit card like in the United States. Many Tanzanians pay with cash or with virtual cash. The app is convenient for the places of worship and the members not only because it’s then paperless but it is also more efficient for both parties.

On the move at DTBi

Godfrey had been with DTBi since the incubator first opened and has worked on several projects, including a parliamentary voting app and an IT security app. The parliamentary app allows for citizens to listen into live debates and vote on the current topic of interest. The government officials can therefore see what the people want before the issue is decided upon. Interestingly, Godfrey made the app not only for smart phones but also for a phone without data capability. As he put it, data availability in Tanzania is sketchy at best. For non smart phone users, they can text in using 4 for yes and 5 for no. The app is simple for the user yet extremely useful for both the government and the citizens. The latest app that Godfrey has been working on is a backup plan for phones in order to transfer the content on one device to another. As of now, there is no platform for content to change from IOS to Android or vice versa. The ability to back up all the information on one device and then change to another is a necessity in Tanzania since the ability to back up to the cloud is extremely limited.”

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KINU-Grinding up the Ingredients for Entrepreneurship

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As part of our ongoing data collection effort in support of the Network Science Center at West Point’s research project entitled, “Developing Network Models of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems,” we previously visited the Dar Teknohama Business Incubator and the Buni Collaboration Space. After those visits we visited KINU, another business incubator/tech hub with a bit of a different business models.

KINU

KINU is located in Conservation House on the booming Bagamoyo Road corridor in Dar es Salaam. We were graciously hosted by CatherineRose and JohnPaul Baretto, a sister-brother duo who are part of the founding team. Both attended university in California and have both impressive academic and business backgrounds.

Bagamoyo Road, Dar es Salaam

KINU is a Swahili word that means mortar, as in the tool that is used to grind ingredients in a pestle. The analogy is that KINU aims to be the space where different skills are combined to create locally built solutions for community problems.

The Collaboration Space in the KINU Incubator

KINU was established in June 2011 when It kicked off its first “boot camp” in Tanzania, where the founders and leadership core of KINU held an event called a “hackathon” that focused social issues and accountability. This event was attended by approximately 250 people and included IT experts and local stakeholders such as the government representatives who showcased their work. A second event was held in August of 2011. This event was hosted by Apps4Africa with a focus on social, health and sanitation issues. After these two events, the organization was firmly rooted in the local ecosystem.

Research Team Member, Jake Moffatt interviewing at KINU

The KINU staff describes it as “a Social Enterprise with the mission of concentrating, growing and accelerating the Tanzanian tech and social landscape.” Their emphasis is on community and they described their organization as a family. This was readily apparent as soon as we entered the modern collaborative space. The atmosphere is upbeat, positive, and collegial; in my opinion, a sign of great leadership.

KINU was initially funded by Google and the Indigo Trust. KINU has since formed partnerships with Smile Internet, Raha Broadband, and Samsung.

The KINU Hub offers the following capabilities to its members: high-speed internet access, data storage and backup, desks, collaborative meeting spaces, a conference room, exhibition space, industry meet-ups & events, a mobile app testing environment, multiple training events and workshops, and refreshments.

Cadet Researchers conduct a class on Performance Management and Counseling

In contrast to DTBi, KINU is not a government-sponsored organization so it must depend on its sponsors and becoming profitable through its business plan. This forces the staff to be entrepreneurial and consequently, there is a high-energy atmosphere in the KINU space. Membership is currently free and open-KINU does not have a tier membership system like many other incubators; however, they might consider it for future sustainability. Currently, KINU rents desk space to both start-ups as well as more established Small Businesses. The 6 co-founders also offer consulting services to businesses and government organizations in Tanzania. Additionally, not all training events are free for members who pay a subsidized fee to attend.

KINU does not take equity from their members but it is possibility as their business model, and the local tech environment matures. KINU currently has over 400 registered members and on any given day, there are between 20 to 40 member using the space.

Our team met with the staff and the members of the community to better understand the organization and to administer our survey in support of our research project. Additionally, the cadet team taught a class on performance management and counseling to a very large group of KINU members.

 

 

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The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Day 1

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I have the opportunity the lead a team of three cadets who are assisting with data collection in support of the Network Science Center at West Point’s research project entitled, “Developing Network Models of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems.” We are currently in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania collecting data concerning social capital in the local entrepreneurial environment. The project has previously collected data in Uganda, Ethiopia, Zambia, Liberia, and Ghana. Analysts at the Network Science Center are developing new methods to compare and contrast the network models developed from this data.

On our first day in Dar es Salaam, we made an introductory visit to the Dar Teknohama Business Incubator (DTBi). DTBi is housed in the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) office building which is located on Bagamoyo Road in the Kijitonyama neighborhood of Dar es Salaam.

Dar Teknohama Business Incubator – DTBI

The DTBi is an independent autonomous entity of COSTECH and aims to “create a dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem, monetize innovative high-tech companies, and support creative IT entrepreneurs in Tanzania.” They are business focused but a “Not-for-Profit” entity. The Incubator has its own Board whose members come from across the private sector including bankers, government officials, other members of civil society, academics, and telecommunications experts.

The COSTECH Building in the Kijitonyama neighborhood of Dar es Salaam.

We were hosted by Collin Gumbu, DTBi’s, Business Development Manager. During our introductory briefing, we were also introduced to Richard Miles, an American who serves as an Entrepreneur in Residence.

The cadet team at DTBi

Collin explained that DTBi also serves as a meeting place and hub for technology start-ups. Like many incubators/accelerators, they “assist early stage IT companies by “lowering the cost of business and increasing the chances of business survival by providing access to shared resources, facilitating access to finance and markets, providing guidance and business management, and networking for technical trends and opportunities to access markets.”

DTBi’s business model involves an application process for aspiring entrepreneurs and then the DTBi staff accepts the best business plans, concepts and teams into the program. The entrepreneurs sign a 4-year agreement for incubation and in return, the companies get office space, power, high-speed internet access and conference rooms. DTBi provides mentoring, guidance and access to contacts in business and government agencies. Additionally, DTBi earns a percentage of their annual gross turn-over. DTBi received their initial funding from The World Bank, COSTECH, and Vodacom in May 2011 and their first cohort of incubatees was accepted in August of 2011.

After our introductory meeting, we met two members of the incubator program and administered our survey. After the survey, we then visited Buni Innovation Space, which is also located in the COSTECH Building.

Buni is sponsored by TANZICT, The Information Society and ICT Sector Development Project. It’s a bilateral collaboration project between the Tanzanian Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology of Tanzania (MCST) and Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. The project’s overall objective is “a strengthened Tanzanian information society with enhanced capacities to contribute to the achievement of the Government’s socio-economic development goals.”

Meeting with Tech Enthusiasts at the Buni Collaboration Space

Buni is a collaboration hub/tech meet-up space similar to the iHub in Nairobi. It is a facility that allows people interested in tech and entrepreneurship to meet and provides wireless internet for its members and has a back-up power system.

We were greeted by Brian Paul and Jumanne Mtambalike, the Innovation Space Managers. After a short introductory meeting, the team was introduced to groups working in the collaboration space and we administered additional surveys.

The team met many interesting entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs all working on innovative products. We will introduce some of these tech enthusiasts and describe some of their projects in the next blog post.

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IFORS Conference

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I was back in Barcelona this past week, for the 20th conference of the International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS).  This triennial conference provides a forum for academics, practitioners, and software developers to exchange ideas throughout operations research.  The conference represented the incredible breadth of the field; topics included mathematical programming and optimization, simulation, transportation, military applications, health systems, finance, supply chains, and energy.  The next IFORS conference will be in Quebec City in 2017.

Talks on technology diffusion, military applications, health, and transportation particularly excited me, as they tie in with ongoing projects at the Network Science Center and other centers around West Point.  A talk on technology diffusion seems directly applicable to the ongoing entrepreneurial networks project at the Network Science Center.  Martin Zsifkovitz demonstrated an agent-based simulation approach to model how consumers adopt and purchase new products in the technological space.  Specifically, he modeled how technological innovations are adopted over time in a community through a social system, using consumer, producer, and government nodes.  This research will greatly inform the simulation and validation stage of the entrepreneurial networks project.  After policy recommendations are made via the comparison and optimization stages, discussed in an earlier blog post, we plan to implement agent-based simulation.  This framework will help us determine whether our recommendations would have the desired impact on the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Two talks in the military applications space stood out.  One was on scheduling Canadian armed forces search and rescue response operations.  Bohdan Kaluzny applied integer programming techniques to schedule military personnel shifts.  His objective: minimize emergency response-time.  The other talk focused on terrain-dependent facility location, given by Andries Heyns.  He used military GIS data and multi-objective optimization techniques to place radar such that detection-range is maximized.  The same approach can be applied to minimize visibility of a particular deployed system, such as reconnaissance technology.  Many military applications demand that terrain-dependence is taken into account. For example, it might be impossible or cost-prohibitive to place a watchtower in a river.  Additionally, the layout of watchtowers in an open field would likely differ from the corresponding layout in a dense forest.

The health and transportation talks sparked an idea for the upcoming ungoverned spaces project at the Network Science Center, which investigates areas in which the government does not exercise effective sovereignty.  However, if the government is armed with greater logistics and health-delivery capabilities, it could potentially out-compete other groups for power, legitimacy, and support.  Eventually, the space might transform from ungoverned to governed.  While this is a broad and general idea, it provides an avenue for future research as the project develops.  One talk described a network model of ambulance stations, with the aim of minimizing emergency response-times.  Another talk also applied a network framework to minimize the transport-time of medical samples to hospital labs for testing.  Finally, another talk described synchronization in vehicle routing.  Many routing problems require vehicles of different types to meet at certain points.  Vehicles could exchange cargo or jointly perform some action at these locations.  I look forward to applying the techniques and research exposed to me at IFORS to ongoing and future projects at the Network Science Center.

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