By Emmanuel Elebeke
The Vice President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, has identified the startup ecosystem as one of the vital tools in finding solutions to Africa’s various challenges.
He affirmed that these challenges will determine if the continent’s future as the next frontier for economic opportunities will fully be realised.
The VP made the assertion on Thursday at the Startup and Developer event organised by Google in Abuja.
Osinbajo, who was represented by Director-General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, said the ideas of Start-Ups from inception has always being to impact, noting that the event brought relevant stakeholders together to collaborate and bring something new to the world or new to an industry.
“There will never be a more perfect time to strengthen the African startup ecosystem than now, on the verge of the 4th industrial revolution,” he said.
Osibanjo noted that the 3rd industrial revolution was pivotal to unprecedented global economic growth in the 21st century, as it disrupted traditional service delivery channels and accelerated the automation of factories and manufacturing processes, using electronics and information technologies to expand the reach and create prosperity but Africa hopped along and missed out.
“The countries that captured maximum value from the 3rd industrial revolution have become more prosperous and built solutions that improved service delivery in all aspects of lives, from education, healthcare, and food production to efficiency and speed in manufacturing.
“Today, Africa is presented with another opportunity, the 4th industrial revolution, which is shaping and creating economic activities. It is proving to be the catalyst for future economic activities that will bridge the divide between rich and developing countries, and remove physical borders and barriers while maximising the utilisation of digital technologies as a source of inspiration across economic sectors,” he added.
“The African startup ecosystem opportunity is hinged on two key factors, which are anchored on the 4th industrial revolution and driven primarily by digital technologies. The first factor is innovation capacity, and the second one is entrepreneurial capacity. Both capacities depend on four key indicators, Human Capital, Infrastructure, Funding, and Demand. Human capital being the first indicator means that African startups must realise that they are only as strong as the value of the human resources they have. Therefore, startups like Andela, Wootlab Innovations, and Decagon are vital as they are involved in producing skilled talent.
“With this, Africa can become the next hotbed for professional talent that will provide local solutions and export their skills and solutions to a global market that actively seeks such value. This is why we highly valued Google Developer Space in Lagos. It is the first in Africa and speaks to the position of Nigeria as a leader in the digital skills and startup ecosystem in Africa. The investments attracted by our startups confirm the position. Recently, Flutterwave announced new funding of $170m, and Stripe acquired Paystack for more than $200m. Other Nigerian technology companies like Interswitch have raised funding in hundreds of millions of dollars,” he noted.
The VP, while quoting the Startup Genome report, said that Lagos is the most valuable startup ecosystem on the continent, having 400 to 700 active startups valued at over $2B with Fintech being the most prominent in the Lagos technology startups ecosystem.
However, other industries are emerging with startups like Flying Doctors, 54gene, Helium Health, and Life Bank blazing the trail in the healthcare sector and Thrive Agric, Afex Commodities, and Probity Farms making waves in the agriculture and commodities exchange space.
He said the opportunities for investment and disruption remain very high in the continent; the same as the opportunity for hubs and other innovation centres to serve as enablers and anchors for our promising startups.
“As Government, we are working with the relevant stakeholders in the public and private sector to ensure that startups receive every support they require to take their ideas from inception to impact. As part of our Ease of Doing Business Reforms, we instituted the Visa on Arrival Policy which allows any person outside ECOWAS to get a visa on arrival in Nigeria. This policy means all African startups and entrepreneurs seeking to expand their business into Nigeria will have a more straightforward process.
“We are also re-convening the Technology and Creativity Advisory Council, made up of public and private sector stakeholders in the ecosystem to advise Government on policies and programs to support the ecosystem. Through the work of this council, we are currently engaging with the African Development Bank to set up a $500million US Dollar Innovation Fund, which will provide support for the ecosystem across four pillars which include Infrastructure support, Finance, Skills Development, and Technical Assistance.
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“In 2019, the Federal Government of Nigeria launched the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) for Digital Nigeria as a sustainable roadmap to accelerate the development of the Digital Economy in Nigeria. The policy is designed to catalyse the digital ecosystem development in Nigeria and deepen innovation quality to promote innovation-driven enterprises that target the global market.
“We also have many initiatives to support the ecosystem through various agencies. In this regard, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has been at the forefront of supporting Nigeria’s digital innovation ecosystem. Last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc worldwide, NITDA engaged the ecosystem to devise strategies to aid business continuity for startups and developed schemes to support and sustain the ecosystem.
“The engagement led to initiatives such as Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Support (TIES) Scheme, National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, National Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, etc, as sustainable programmes to continuously up-skill and support the startup ecosystem.
“Secondly, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council introduced the Export Expansion Grant, which can be accessed by companies with a minimum annual export turnover of N5 million. This is particularly useful to Nigerian startups seeking an expansion into other African countries and those seeking to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area. Other opportunities, such as the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Creative Sector Loan in collaboration with the Bankers’ Committee and the Bank of Industry’s Technology Fund, are designed to create different ways through which startups can access the value they need to keep expanding their businesses.
“I must further re-iterate that there is no exhaustive list of approaches to make sure our Government creates an enabling environment. For example, we are working through the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy to deepen digital identity through NIN registration and build broadband infrastructure backbone across the country, this is part of our National Broadband Plan, which is designed to deliver data download speeds across Nigeria of a minimum 25Mbps in urban areas, and 10Mbps in rural areas, providing access to at least 90% of the population by 2025 at affordable prices.
Broadband infrastructure and digital identity are two critical factors that accelerate the digital economy. These are all avenues aimed at inspiring our startups to disrupt the conventional ways of service delivery,” he said.