Co-creation hub recently announced a new partnership with The Tony Elumelu Foundation. This partnership is one of the few that they have been enjoying since inception. I was interested to know how this partnership is going to benefit aspiring tech entrepreneurs and those who are currently working to start a business leveraging on technology to solve social problems.
I caught up with one of the founders Bosun Tijani and he gave it all out from how they’ve gotten funding and grants to the challenges they still face and how they are working to create a better business environment for social innovation.
oTekBits: Barriers to starting a technology business have often been the complain of many techies. They have often stated that government needs to create a more conducive atmosphere. You are working at bridging this gap already. What have been the results so far?
Bosun Tijani : Incredible. Nigerians are revving for change and absolutely interested in walking the talk. There are tons of talented Nigerians interested in putting their skills and expertise to use to address the myriad of social challenges facing the country, but our inefficient social system have persistently served as a barrier to creativity.
In less than 6months, we have interacted with over 40 high potential start-ups working to solve one problem or the other in Nigeria. We are currently supporting 21 of these ventures through our Pre-Incubation and Research Unit and have also attracted some sort of seed funding for most of the ideas, all in the last 6months. That speaks to the obvious gap in the ability of the Innovation System put in place by the state to SPOT and support talented individuals and ideas!
oTeKbits: No doubt you are excited about the support that the partnership from Tony Elumelu Foundation [TEF] is offering. What are your expectations? How can the tech community benefit from this partnership?
Bosun Tijani: We consider partnership between TEF and CCHUB as a landmark—the beginning of bigger and better things for the innovation ecosystem in Nigeria. Seed funding is a crucial requirement for innovators world over. Seed Funding—that initial seed that has to be sown to move ideas from paper to prototype in order to engage potential supporters and build knowledge partnership. That’s what this scheme and partnership is all about
oTeKbits: Solving the problem of lack of money to support creative ideas
Bosun Tijani : Our goal is to enable more ideas to move to prototype thus giving them the opportunity to become fund-able. Investors don’t fund ideas – but products and teams. Instagram is a good example in time.
This partnership will provide a cushion for the selected teams and inventors to experiment and demonstrate their solution thus giving them the chance to engage real interests
oTeKbits: Before now, Co-creation hub has gotten support from some other organisations. Can you please tell me the organisations that have provided support and the kind of support they have provided?
Bosun Tijani: Our very own seed funding – for experimentation and demonstration 🙂 came from the Indigo Trust, Omidyar Network, Google and Main One Cable Company. Support for our work is however growing and we now have partnerships in place with Nokia, MIH (Dealfish and Mocality), The Schmidt Family Foundation, RIM, VANSO and Opera.
oTeKbits: What are the other barriers that are still present in Nigeria despite all the support you have gotten, the one you’re providing for social innovation and the one just provided by The Tony Elumelu Foundation?
Bosun Tijani: The business environment is the single biggest barrier to innovation in Nigeria. We are arguably the only innovation hub in the world that spends over $2,000 USD [approximately NGN316,000] to maintain a power generator every month. Due to lack of infrastructure, we paid over $25,000 USD [NGNG3.9million] for wireless equipment despite enjoying a free annual Internet supply worth $80,000 [NGN12.6million] from Main One Cable Company.
The business environment is thus one aspect of the society which we hope to apply our work as we evolve. Our flagship initiative in this space is the Lagos Innovation Hotspots Mapping, which aims to provide policy makers, development practitioners, researchers and business community information for assessing the innovation assets and regional cluster strength of Lagos State. This will then be used to engage authorities in the development of micro-economic interventions that supports creativity and entrepreneurship as against the current systems that stifles them.
oTekBits: It is therefore a process to bring about a better business environment – Lagos innovation, right?
Bosun Tijani: Yes it is. Challenges are opportunities for us to create a better future, and CcHUB is keen on engaging the right stakeholders to make the business environment friendlier for innovation and entrepreneurship
oTeKbits: What is the detail of the Seed funding that TEF is providing to innovative ideas incubated in the Hub?.
Bosun Tijani: An initial $5,000 USD to each of the 20 social tech start-ups to help them through experimentation and demonstration. This fund is tied to NO STAKE. So, it is a grant. The only request from TEF is that the ventures give them a FIRST RIGHT OF REFUSAL. Meaning – once the ideas/solutions are demonstrated, TEF would like be given priority to invest in the ventures before other investors.
Generally the investment opportunity is enormous and in stages, but the actual stage under this scheme is $5,000 USD which would attract further investment as required by the businesses after experimentation and demonstration. As you may know, CcHUB doesn’t take stakes in the businesses we support.
oTeKbits: Really? [I never knew]
Bosun Tijani: This is about building an attractive pipeline. Our purpose is to accelerate the application of technology for social good in Nigeria. We aren’t an investment company but set-up to build a vibrant and progressive innovation ecosystem in Nigeria. We want to see a long list of vibrant technology companies addressing real issues in Nigeria; home-grown solutions to local problems. A better Nigeria in the end is our gain.
There is a whole lot to pick from here. I remember my first visit to CCHUB in July 2011. Bosun shared their vision with me and I can see it unfolding right now regardless of what people thought would become of any noble venture in Nigeria. The Lagos Innovation project is definitely one awesome project that will enhance the business environment in Lagos. Other states can take a queue thereafter.
This is a good time to be involved in technology business in Nigeria and many companies are tapping into it already. We have Google, Inmobi, Opera, ThoughtWorks and the others. The barriers did not stop Femi Longe and Busun Tijani, they should not stop you.