Why Nigeria Must Build Tech Innovation Hubs (Or Bleed Out)
Ever heard of Kenya’s iHub? Cameroon’s ActivSpaces or even Ghana’s MEST?
These are all thriving innovation hubs and incubation centres that are encouraging collaboration amongst technology entrepreneurs and birthing very innovative products and services.
Little wonder, the international media has turned its attention on some of these emerging tech markets in Africa like Kenya with their beaming searchlights.
Unfortunately, Nigeria hardly gets
any of its technology companies or entrepreneurs featured in foreign media, let alone mentioned or cited in a focus on African tech entrepreneurship.
This begs some questions: Are there really Nigerian tech entrepreneurs out there? Or are there just a noisy bunch of know-it-all-but-do-nothing-developers out there?
Or could it be that there’s a disconnect between developers and tech entrepreneurs? Perhaps there are not enough entrepreneurial skills/talents out there to match the existing technical expertise?
From what I can percieve, we have developers who create a project or product, but never bother about running it as a business and on the other hand, entrepreneurs who worry more about getting the product/service out to users, instead of developing a revenue model and focusing on running a profitable business.
Personally, I feel that all the ‘noise’ we hear on our timelines everyday and at tech events over the years, could stall local innovation from coming out of (or happening in) Nigeria if entrepreneurs and developers fail to collaborate now.
In order not to play catch up to other emerging African tech markets (this may already be happening), Nigeria must have operational collaborative spaces where developers and students meet researchers and entrepreneurs, and local innovation can be birthed.
Granted, this may not be the ultimate solution, but here are 5 reasons why Nigeria must build innovation hubs sooner (now) rather than later (never).
1. The whales are coming. Or they’re here already.
By whales, I mean the likes of Google, Naspers, Groupon and their other breeds and species.
When you’re swimming in an ocean and don’t see a whale coming, or you didn’t by any chance prepare for its coming, you’d be swallowed up (and eventually die). The lesson: We need to get prepared for the coming of the tech giants (better later than never) either by building stuff they’d be interested in buying later or wished they had better competitive advantage.
2. Local clones are getting cloned.
One of the strongest unique feature of the Nigerian business culture is that we clone clones that are clonning other clones.
We don’t see anything wrong with running the same business with the same revenue model on the same street/area (make that domain name) as our supposed competition.
Not that it’s really a bad thing, but why clone clones when you can collaborate, combine resources and talents together to provide the same service and solve a need on a larger scale?
Within 5 months into this year, we’ve already seen 3 or more similar services launched by different entrepreneurs struggling to get the same small amount of customers/users to try out their services.
That’s why we badly need an ideas and innovation lab so that I’m not planning my startup in isolation and eventually launch the same startup that Oo is about to launch.
3. Isolation hubs hardly thrive.
Isolation hubs are those ones we build in our homes and laptops. Most times, we labour in isolation with limited resources (I’ve seen many of those ‘Oh no! PHCN has interrupted power’ tweets), while working on the same or similar services that someone else, somewhere (maybe around us) is already working on.
We may have built a hub around us, but how far can we go it alone? Not too far, because sooner or later, we would be stuck in that confined space and then tweet out our frustrations hoping that someone out there in Twitterland can comfort us.
But according to Bill Zimmerman at 27Months:
“The idea behind the iHub—and other new technology labs cropping up across Sub-Saharan Africa—is to put a group of exceptionally smart “doers” under one roof, provide them with a top notch work environment, generate ideas at a rapid pace, filter out the dead ends, present the best candidates to investors and produce viable businesses (and success stories) along the way.”
Hopefully, the soon-to-be-launched Co-creation Hub (ccHub) situated in the Lagos Island and the Wennovation Hub in the Ikeja area of Lagos can trigger a set of chain reactions across cities in Nigeria and put our developers and entrepreneurs out of their misery.
I believe that this is the best and surest way to grow a stronger and better technology community — one that policymakers and VCs would be naturally drawn to — that could attract foreign direct investment into Nigeria.
4. Generational commonalities.
By August this year, the Nigerian telecommunications industry will be celebrating the 10th year anniversary of GSM in Nigeria. If you’re reading this today, chances are that you’re 10, 20 or 30 years older than the GSM.
Thus since we have a generational commonality with the GSM, we have a great advantage that our parents didn’t have: living in the age of mobile technology.
Now’s the best time to leverage on this to produce local mobile content (music, games, apps, etc) for over 70 million mobile phone users in Nigeria. Why wait for the Indians or the Chinese to develop our mobile content? The fear of chinko should really be the beginning of wisdom.
5. The dotcom boom is here and now.
We’ve been waiting for the dotcom bubble in Nigeria since the U.S bubble bust in 2000.
Now that the dotcom bubble has gone 2.0 in the U.S, we are now experiencing what we might call ‘Nigeria’s Internet Boom’ which is characterized by an increase in commercial growth of the Internet.
This period which started from 2010 (I guess) would be marked by, amongst other things, the founding (and in some cases, failure) of a group of Internet-based companies, otherwise known as dot-com businesses or startups.
Again, we’re lucky to be in the generation that witnesses this Internet boom in Nigeria. What we do to tap into this Internet boom in the next 5 years or so would determine whether or not we can become Internet millionnaires (in $$$) by 2015.
This dream could be realized if we start collaborating in spaces and networks that innovation hubs provide now. And perhaps, Nigeria’s next big thing might just come out of a tech incubator somewhere in Lagos, Benin or Owerri.
You never know.
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