BY EMEKA AGINAM
ALTHOUGH technology start-ups in Nigeria, and indeed the African continent are developing real solutions that would address local challenges, these start-ups are themselves challenged by lack of funding and mentorship.
This was the grouse of about 40 of these innovative entrepreneurs that showcased and pitched at the just concluded third edition of DEMO Africa conference held in Lagos. Participants called for seed funding, market incentives and mentorship among other things to further push their solutions to the next level.
This is even as Microsoft last week announced its commitment to give funding, technical support and mentorship to seven new African startups so as to fast-track their growth and provide a roadmap to highlight Africa’s ‘future growth pole.’ This is the second round of grants that would be issued under the Microsoft 4Afrika innovation grant programme, following the five startups selected at the beginning of 2014.
DEMO Africa is the flagship initiative of Lion@Africa partnership, an innovative partnership aimed at enhancing and deepening startup and innovation ecosystems of fast-growing African economies. At the event hosted by Lion@Africa, Federal Ministry of Communication Technology and hosted by Microsoft, National Information Technology Development Agency, Galaxy Backbone, Airtel, among others, the young innovators showcased products and solution in many categories including agriculture, communication, education, energy, banking, health, manufacturing, media-entertainment, retail, transport-logistics, waste-recycling and water-sanitation.
Even though infrastructural challenges like the inability to access domestic and foreign markets are still challenging to the growth of startups in the region, investors who participated at the event noted with optimism that seed funding if provided would support and amplify Africa’s budding startup and innovation ecosystem.
Seed funding, mentorship needed
Ogunlana Olumide, Co-Founder of Prepclass, an indigenous solution, told Vanguard Hi-Tech: “We need seed funding, mentorship and technical support to face the challenges ahead. Prepclass, which is our education solution, is a one stop learning center. If deployed by schools, it will prepare Nigerian educational system to catch up with e-learning changes in the knowledge economy. It is innovative, but can only thrive in the right environment.”
Also speaking, Nikunji Handa, Chief Executive Officer of Beam, a banking and finance solution in Ghana, said that the funding amount required to take their solution to the next level is in the region of $500,000, adding that funding to date was only $50,000.”We will take our solution to the next level with necessary supports from angel investors” he added.
Similarly, founder of TrafficBytes, Mahamed Hussan who was also seeking for funding said that the solution developed in Cairo Egypt allows mobile operators and telecom vendors to leverage their cellular infrastructure and provide real time and accurate traffic information.Meanwhile, the Minister of Communication Technology, Dr. Omobola Johnson earlier in her address told the gathering that securing the hosting rights to this year’s event was a validation of the Federal Government’s renewed focus on the ICT industry in general and the software development industry in particular.
To bridge the funding gap that plagued Nigerian technology companies and also realize the potentials of the software industry , the Minister said that investments in the technology start-ups would grow indigenous software industry. “There is still a lot to be done, infrastructure to be built to connect more and more Africans to the internet, more ideas to be birthed, more companies to be nurtured and more investments to be made in these companies. African governments must support and sustain this” she explained.
For the NITDA DG, Dr. Peter Jack in his opening remarks told the gathering that the young tech startups should be encouraged with seed funding and metorship to grow their solution. “Nigeria has good software solution that can compete in the global market. With their innovative solutions and good outing, seed funding and technical support will help these young software incubators to showcase their solution to the global market”.