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Startups Ecosystem Development in Nigeria

Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata

The city of Abuja is not necessarily regarded as the city for Startup Entrepreneurs, but all that is changing with the likes of Abuja Technology Village, Box Office incubator, Ventures Platform, VP, and many other incubators, providing co-working space and physical infrastructure that Startups require to turn their ideas into viable businesses.

I recently met with Kola Aina, Founder, Ventures Platform and our discussion centered on issues in the Startups ecosystem and some of the challenges facing this model of Entrepreneurship.

Speaking on how the journey has been so far with building a community in Abuja, Kola stated that it has been an amazing journey, so far. He stressed that, when he started out, he had big ambitions and he is excited that the Abuja community has received his Startup well with the size of patronage that his co-working space has received, so far.

Speaking on numbers, he said that about 175 co-workers actively use its co-working facilities everyday and these include companies that work out of the park, Startups, Freelancers, Graphic Designers, etc. He stated that there are also 18 people living within the community at any given point in time, and also using the other facilities, such as the gym facility, etc. Kola stated that, up to date, Venture Platform has invested in about 14 companies. He further said that, on the average, these companies have a minimum of 2 or 3 Founders and employ 4 or 5 other people, hence, the spiral effect of that is really something worthwhile, but not yet reconciled to place a figure on.

In terms of events, Kola said that the platform also has events that many people have benefited from. He said he is really amazed at the impact, so far, even as he sees it as just the beginning, he is excited to see what happens next.

Giving reasons why he is building an ecosystem in Abuja that is seen as a city of civil servants and contractors, Kola said, he believes that a community that relies on rent is not sustainable. This, according to him, is because, many of them had to close up because of recession. Kola said he beliefs that tons of young people, if given the right environment and empowerment, can build amazing things and solutions that can then become  sustainable businesses. He said that is what is happening now in Benue, Niger and Kano States, etc., where new tech communities are springing up with young people building solutions and the volume of applications coming up is amazing.

Kola stated that the community on his platform has developed about 900 applications to solve problems in payment, health issues, etc., so, it's amazing what people can do when empowered.

Reacting to a question on why local investors are not interested in investing in Startups, Kola stated "it is really a sad thing and what we hear is more of talk than action in Nigeria". He believes that, if the community is able to get the big money bags to support and invest in the Startups, it will be better for the Startups. "Startups may have the best ideas, but if they run out of money, they are dead", Kola emphasized. "There is more foreign participation in our Startups than we have from within Nigeria and before we know it, many of our Startups are going to be owned by foreign investors" he further stated.

Kola is of the opinion that the government can utilize just between 2% to 5% of the Sovereign Wealth Fund in backing up local VC's and accelerators, it will make a huge impact.

Kola is of the view that there is no need reinventing the wheel for wealthy Nigerian investors to invest in the tech ecosystem. All they need to do is to take a look at the existing state of the ecosystem and decide where to come in. He stated that, truly, we have enough resources within Nigeria to solve our problems, but the problem we have is that, we are used to the old ways of making money, which are real estate, oil and gas, etc., however, until local investors start to support the tech ecosystem, the nation is not likely to move forward on the continent.

One of the challenges that Startups in the tech ecosystem face is the problem of infrastructure, especially, power. Another problem he identified is the inadequacy of bandwidth. The biggest challenge, according to Kola, however, is that of getting local investors to invest in the tech ecosystem. One other challenge he identified is the quality and commitment of Nigerian Founders, who, he thinks should raise the level of their ambition.

On support from government, Kola was emphatic that Ventures Platform has never received any support from government in any form.

Kola stated that, with VP investing in 14 companies within its accelerator program, the goal is to build companies that can achieve $1 billion valuation and this is possible. This is because some foreign investors, such as Startups from Belgium and Cameroon are interested in teaming up with our Startups and doing business here in Nigeria.

Kola concluded by saying that, the training program that VP carries out has graduated about 10,000 people, so far and that there are also plans of expanding the campus across Africa.

CFA is the Founder, & Co-producer/Presenter,Tech Trends on Channels Television