GENEVA- As the African tech ecosystem has grown over the last decade, with founders, startups, and investors laying the groundwork for a digital economy which aims to mirror Silicon Valley’s impact, there have often been questions about one missing element: universities.

Stanford University, for example, is often cited as one of the main hubs that supported the talent that produced Silicon Valley’s early successes, such as Google and Yahoo. This hasn’t been the case in most African tech hubs because few African universities have a close relationship with their local startup ecosystems.

Now the United Nations Development Program’s big bet on supporting African startups — the ambitious $1 billion project it calls timbuktoo — is building out an ecosystem of University Innovation Pods, or UniPods. This is in addition to the hub centers it announced in some of Africa’s leading tech ecosystem hubs like Lagos and Nairobi when it launched in January.

UNDP’s Africa director Ahunna Eziakonwa told Semafor Africa that the idea is to support research and development, enabling “pipeline generation” of talent and ideas. Each UniPod will have a design lab, maker space, and event area on space provided by the university.

The 13 university hosts picked so far are in Benin, Guinea, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia. The timbuktoo African Innovation Foundation was formally incorporated in March in Kigali, Rwanda, with Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria’s former vice president, appointed as its guardian.