Meet the Techies Who Are Turning Yaba Into Nigeria’s Silicon Valley

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On the 6th Floor of a discreet building on 294 Herbert Macaulay Rd, Lagos, Nigeria, lies Co-Creation Hub, CcHUB. It was Mark Zuckerberg’s first port of call during his visit to Nigeria in August 2016. The Facebook founder paid a visit to CcHUB to see for himself where the high-tech boom in Lagos has taken off. In years to come 294 Herbert Macaulay Rd will be to technology sector what 51 Iweka Road, Onitsha, is to Nollywood.

I paid a visit to the building a week after Zuckerberg’s stopover. But first, I started with a visit to GRA Ikeja where I met with Francis Ezengige, another high-tech engineer at the heart of hi-tech revolution sweeping across Lagos.

Below are the stories of techies turning Lagos, especially Yaba, into Nigeria’s Silicon Valley.

It was 8.30 pm in Lagos. While most workers were on the last lap of their journey home through the notorious Lagos traffic, the Chief Technology Officer (C.T.O.) and co-founder of Netop Business Systems (Nigeria) Ltd, Mr. Francis Ezengige, was still busy at his office in GRA, Ikeja, Lagos. It was another of those days that he works all through into the midnight. The project at hand was the design and development of a critical solution for MDS Logistics PLC – a division of UAC (United Africa Company).

MDS Logistics is the biggest third party logistic company in West Africa and handles the outbound logistics of several multinationals including Guinness, Glaxo, Promasidor, Michelin, International Distilleries and many others. MDS, which stands for Manufacturers’ Delivery System, is a distribution company with over 60 depots housing multiple warehouses spread across Nigeria. To deliver its function effectively, the company requires Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and that was the task that kept Ezengige awake the night I interviewed him.

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Ezengige

When completed, the critical solution would enable MDS handle inventory management, stock movement, sales order processing and storage management. The solution would also assist the company to efficiently deliver goods and services for several local and multinational corporations. Tough task, that is. But Ezengige is thoroughbred professional.

At  49,  he has been at the cutting edge of Information Technology (IT) development in Lagos. Since he graduated in 1990 from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he obtained a bachelors degree in electronic engineering, he has worked as software developer and system analyst at different companies.

He later formed Netop Business Systems with his business partner and CEO of the company, Cyril Asuku, and discovered that the journey to nurture a technology startup in Nigeria is a tortuous one.  Their attempt to design an identity management solution called Digital Evidence for banks in 2005 and the struggle to sell a software designed to mitigate fraud in the banking sector in Nigeria were their first litmus test.

“All the big banks turned us down until STB now UBA gave us a chance,” he says. And it took another three years before other banks started patronizing them.  The software used miniature camera on the bank teller PC to capture customers’ images, the fingerprints and the transactions, merging the images with other data in one document and save it. Nestop was the first company to deliver such solution 10years ago. Later the government got interested and formed the National Identity Management Commission, which led to Bank Verification Number (BVN). In fact, capturing the biometrics of bank customers was a later exercise, which was supposed to be an extension of digital evidence. But the idea was later hijacked by other interests and was given to a foreign firm.

While Ezengige and his company have taken Ikeja, the capital of Lagos as their domain, a younger generation of technology buffs is redefining Yaba as the technological hub of Lagos. Tunji Eleso is one of those prime movers. As the former director of Incubation at Co-Creation Hub (CcHUB) and now a managing partner at CcHUB subsidiary, Growth Capital, Mr. Eleso was among those who came to Yaba in 2011 and helped to galvanize like-minded people to relocate to the area. According to him there were about four tech companies in the area when CcHUB arrived. They noticed that Yaba had all the elements of the ecosystem needed for technology to grow.

First, it is at the center of the city, located between Lagos Island and the mainland; two, it is in closer to talents pool such as University of Lagos, Yaba Institute of Technology and Federal College of Science and Technology; and finally there is fair presence of reliable broadband needed for internet connection.

The pioneers took up former Governor Fashola of Lagos State on his bold statement that he wanted to make Lagos the center of innovation in Africa. Working with Lagos State Innovation Advisory Council, Eleso’s team was able to turn the one and half mile radius of Herbert Macaulay Way into a technology hub that it is today.

“Now there are over 60 technological companies in the Yaba area because all major ingredients that are key to the development of the technological sector are there,” Mr. Eleso says.

As part of CcHUB’s goal of facilitating the partnership between citizens, social entrepreneurs and experts, in March of 2011, they threw a challenge to Nigerians asking anyone with exciting idea that would bridge the gap between government and citizens to submit ideas. And they received 45 ideas and which was pruned down to six.  CcHUB took the six ideas into a hackathons where they brought experts, developers, artists and software engineers who were given 48 hours to build a prototype of the idea. At the end of the 48 hours, a panel of experts judged the various pitches. According to Eleso, BudgIT, which now monitors capital projects across Nigeria states, came second.

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Mark Zuckerberg, Tunji Eleso and others at the CcHub in Yaba.

“So, in many ways, BudgIT and its development was as a result of the collaboratory effort around seeking a problem area and bringing all those that are critical to that problem area together to start the process of solving the problem,” says Eleso.

Using a similar process, Eleso said that in 2012, Efiko, a mobile testing platform for students that supplements learning, was developed. While Efiko came first, ASA, a platform that helps young children connect to their culture, came third. ASA uses games and animations to reinforce the learning of language, folklores and other cultural ethos.

In March 14 of this year, Growth Academy with Intel Africa had a 3-month accelerator course hosted by CcHUB. It selected 10 out of over 102 startups that applied. The 10 startups are EdvesSuite, VergeNG, Mamalette, Tuteria, GoMyWay, DropBuddies, Eazyhire, VacantBoards, GeniiGames and Wesabi. In April 12, Facebook in conjunction with CcHUB hosted a meeting for developers in Lagos at the Herbert Macaulay Way, Yaba, Lagos, office of CcHUB. Six startups were chosen for the meeting. They were Truppr, Lifebank, Genii Games, BudgIT, Mamalette and Grit Systems.

Eleso said that international high tech companies like Google, Facebook, Intel, Oracle, and Microsoft work with them to develop indigenous tech companies because Nigeria’s tech ecosystem helps them to extend their own services. “They come and do a lot of trainings to make sure that software developers are better skilled,” Eleso says. “But more importantly, they are better able to support the development of these applications either by preloading them or featuring them at conferences.”

At this year’s F8 Facebook Conference in San Francisco, four Nigerian apps were featured. Zikko, Afrinolly, Jobberman and My Music. Nigerian techies joined others across the world to watch at F8 Meetups in Lagos.

Abiodun Thorpe, a technology enthusiast, has an office at the CcHUB in Yaba, Lagos, where he creates phone and web apps. He said that having an office at CcHUB enhanced the work he does. “My relationship with CcHUB has been incredible knowing the space from idea stage to what it is today. Some startups like BudgIT, Wecyclers, Asa, Efiko and others have made the space attractive to social entrepreneurs,” he says. “The community space is great for collaboration, quick feedback on projects, amongst other things. “

Thorpe is currently working on a simple platform called KiniScore (www.KiniScore.com). It aims to give real-time, on demand, live scores updates on African Leagues games. He said that the government needed to do more to enhance the work they are doing. “Stable power, reliable connectivity, market research data and sometimes the huge disconnect between products and its target users,” he says are some of the obstacle they still face. “The government needs to do more than just throwing money at some elephant projects, because prosperity of a nation is a function of prosperity of the businesses in there.”

There is no shortage of ideas from Nigerian youths. Nigeria, with a population of 188 million out of which 70% are under 30, the human resources are enormous. Lagos state alone is home to 23 million people. The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics stated that unemployment rate in Nigeria is at 10.4% for the last quarter of last year. It is estimated that 22.45 million Nigerians are either unemployed or underemployed.

Last month, the Nigerian police opened a recruitment exercise for 10,000 positions. In less than a month they received over 800,000 applications. When Francis Ezengige advertised for opening for programmers at his company, over 200 people applied from different fields of study. He said that out of the number he was able to get ten good candidates who became great programmers even though most of them did not study programming at the university. “The rate of conversion from different fields of study to IT is very high,” he says. “Nigerian youths are great programmers and they can match programmers anywhere in the world.”

Ezengige pointed out that before MDX contacted his Netop, they tried to use solutions from foreign programmers and failed because those foreign solutions couldn’t provide solutions to peculiarities in Nigerian businesses. “The problem is Nigerians accepting that we are capable of producing software that is not just as good as what is out there but that could possibly out class what is out there,” Ezengige says.

CREDITS: This article is written by by Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo,and was first published on http://saharareporters.com/2017/04/07/people-turning-yaba-nigeria%E2%80%99s-silicon-valley-0

 

40 NIGERIAN ENTREPRENEURS START CROWDFUNDING FOR LAGOS NEXT ECONOMY

Young Nigerian entrepreneurs learn how to set up fun and effective crowdfunding campaigns to fund their business ideas in Lagos.

The Next Economy is part of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Local Employment in Africa for Development (L.E.A.D.) programme. The Next Economy is a collaboration between SOS Children’s Villages, 1%Club, Enviu and Afrilabs. Currently operating in 3 sub-saharan countries including Nigeria, The Next Economy empowers African youth to unleash their talents, build their confidence and hone the skills they need for a successful career as an employee or as an entrepreneur.

In collaboration with the local partners The Co-Creation Hub, FATE Foundation, Enspire and Nhub, The Next Economy carries out activities like ‘Grow Your Business’ and ‘Make It Work’  which amongst others coaches ambitious African youth the intricacies of getting their business ideas off the ground and scaling up their businesses.

On the 26th of Nov 2016 they organised the first Crowdfunding Bootcamp in Nigeria at the Co-Creation Hub, Yaba Lagos. It was a day of creativity and positive energy all around as the participants got to talk to experts and learn how to set up their own ingenious crowdfunding campaigns and go live!

The goal was to answer the “why’ and “how” of crowdfunding and show that it was possible to set up a fun and easy crowdsourcing campaign with just the right information and mindset. The event started with a primer by the The Next Economy team, introducing participants to the concept of crowdfunding and the itinerary for the day. There were also fun activities to get the participants and experts the right mood for what was to come.

40 NIGERIAN ENTREPRENEURS START CROWDFUNDING FOR LAGOS NEXT ECONOMY

The bootcamp participants could shop between 5 different expert sessions: Pitching & Storytelling, Crowdfunding Canvas, Business Modeling, Social Media Strategy and Creative Campaigning. Then the experts got to work, with each headlining their classes and sharing insight with participants just as eager.

 

Bashir Sheidu (PR, nHub, Jos) with participants in the ‘Pitching/Storytelling’ class.
Bashir Sheidu (PR, nHub, Jos) with participants in the ‘Pitching/Storytelling’ class.
Femi  Longe ( Founder & Director CCHub) directing the ‘Business Modelling’ class.
Femi  Longe ( Founder & Director CCHub) directing the ‘Business Modelling’ class.

During a ‘Speeddate An Expert’ session, participants had one-on-one conversations with experts to fine-tune their campaigns. The 1%Club team was on ground to assist participants at every step of the way.

Finally participants got to creating!

Participants working on their campaigns!
Participants working on their campaigns!

There was no shortage of variety at the bootcamp because participants all came with different ideas. Shown below is Kitan David who wants to raise funds to build the first student innovation hub in Akure, Nigeria. According to him, the bootcamp was an eye-opener because the prevailing sentiment is crowdfunding doesn’t work in Nigeria.

Kitan David, he set up a campaign to fund the establishment of the first innovation hub in Akure Nigeria
Kitan David, he set up a campaign to fund the establishment of the first innovation hub in Akure Nigeria

The campaign that raised the most money on the day and the most inspiring campaign both won €500 euro each  First up was Esosa Agbontaen whose “Farm Express” connects farmers with prospective customers, he won the prize for most inspirational crowdfunder.

 

Esosa Agbontaen, winner - Most Inspirational Crowdfunder.
Esosa Agbontaen, winner – Most Inspirational Crowdfunder.

The participant that raised the most money during the day was Adedeji Ademola, who set up a campaign to raise funds for a service that delivers fresh frozen seafood produce to clients.

40 NIGERIAN ENTREPRENEURS START CROWDFUNDING FOR LAGOS NEXT ECONOMY
Adedeji Ademola, winner – Best Crazy Crowdfunder.

After a campaign period of 30 days, a jury will review all the campaigns and reward the top 7 campaigns based on the quality of business plans and people behind them with extra funding of €5000, €3000, €2000 and four times €1000. Anybody can get in on the fun, so if you’re interested in setting up a crowdfunding campaign, visit The Next Economy website https://next-economy.com/en/ to get started.

 

5 LESSONS FROM MARK ZUCKBERG’S VISIT TO NIGERIA

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The visit of Facebook’s CEO,  Mark Zuckerberg , to Nigeria has created so much buzz around the country and even the world. Nigerians have posted so many memes and comments on the social media. Read on to discover 5 lessons we have learned from the legendary visit.

 

Lagos is undoubtedly the heartbeat of Nigeria

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Since Abuja became the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, there have been arguments over which of the two cities -Abuja and Lagos- is the actual heartbeat of the Nation. For those who are still in doubt, the visit of the famous CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, to Lagos has proved that the city is indeed the core of our nation. The social media genius could have visited to any other part of the country, but he picked Lagos. Of course, he visited Abuja later on, but that visit seemed more like an afterthought.

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Nigeria’s Jollof rice reigns supreme

What more is there to say? Mark Zuckerberg, a well-travelled member of the world’s top class who has probably tasted the best of meals around the world, gushed about Nigeria’s favorite meal- Jollof rice! That certainly is enough to prove that the meal indeed reigns supreme.

There are too many talents in Nigeria

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In Mark’s own words: “This trip has really blown me away by the talents of young entrepreneurs and developers in this country, and making a difference and making a change. It reminds me of when I wanted to start Facebook. I wasn’t starting a company at the time but wanted to build something to see if it would work. And that is what I see people here do, pushing through challenges, building things that you want to see in the world. You are not just going to change Nigeria and the whole of Africa but the whole world.”

Simplicity should be a core value for any searching for success

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Even President Buhari commended the simplicity of Zuckerberg as he thanked him for sharing his wealth of knowledge with Nigerian youths, and inspiring a new generation of entrepreneurs. Although Mark is among the world’s richest men, he does not dress lavishly or engage in impulsive spending. In Buhari’s words: “In our culture, we are not used to seeing successful people appear like you. We are not used to seeing successful people jogging and sweating on the streets. We are more used to seeing successful people in air-conditioned places. We are happy you are well-off and simple enough to always share.’’

The future of Nigeria lies in the hands of the youth

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There have been Memes suggesting that Mark Zuckerberg may have boycotted the older men who play key roles in the Nigeria’s telecommunication and media industry as he understands that the future can only be driven by young talents. The CEO mentioned that he was blown away by the talent and level of energy of the Nigerian youth that he saw at the Co-creation Hub in Yaba, Lagos, and this surely reaffirms the belief that the future of Nigeria certain lies in the hand of its youths.