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Digital Economy

How UK Empowers Nigerian Tech Start-ups and What KITE’s got to do with it

SANWO-OLU

RARZACK OLAEGBE writes on how the government of the United Kingdom and Lagos State government help technology start-ups to achieve their potential by creating special programmes and building viable infrastructure

Life brings challenges, you know. Challenges will test your resolve. Your resolve will dictate your actions. What will it be? Will you run away from the encounter? Will you run the show? If you want to run the show, you would get into deeper problems. But then you know that problems have solutions, if you search enough.

You also know that solutions do not reside in a silo. Solutions are in people. Solutions are not in things. Solutions can occur when two creative individuals stick together for the common good. Solutions are what our ally from the UK have brought to the early-stage Nigerian technology start-ups.

Working through the iNOVO Accelerator Programme, the UK has identified some Nigerian technology start-ups that had solved the COVID-19 related challenges. Our friends from the UK through the UK-Nigeria Tech Hub and its iNOVO programme are offering help to some nascent technology firms that are running the show in the education, agriculture and health sectors.

With the understanding that the race is not a dash but a marathon, our UK friends are working with some local partners in the Startup Bootcamp Afritech and Ventures Platform. These local hands would implement a 3-month virtual programme for the top 10 selected start-ups. It is an opportunity to build capacity. It is a way to learn through mentorship. It is a process of getting support to scale their products and business models rapidly.

As a support system, a team of dedicated Nigerian successful entrepreneurs, mentors, investors and experts are helping the programme-owners. UK-Nigeria Tech Hub got 750 applications and it has sponsored 100 start-ups from the pool. The successful applicants would gain a life-time access to the Accelerator Squared platform. From this platform, the applicants would get the necessary insights and modules to aid them build their products and companies to scale their impact.

Lamide Johnson, the interim country director of the UK-Nigeria programme said that seeing the impact the sessions had on participating start-ups “is a testament that if we want to give room for innovation to solve some of the arduous problems faced in Nigeria, more interventions such as this are needed to provide the necessary information, network and support for early-stage start-ups that are building innovations”.

If our friends from the UK can perform such a laudable deed, the natives should be able to multiply the effort so much so that more technology start-ups would spring up and their impact would be felt across the globe. That is why the Lagos state government has thrown its hat into the start-up ring. As its own intervention, the state government said it would provide technology infrastructure and expand the technology space to accommodate more start-ups. To do this, it would construct the biggest technology cluster in West Africa. The tech ecosystem will be sited in Yaba.

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When two or more institutions work together for the common good, mountains would be moved. To move the Yaba Technology Cluster from paper to execution, two technology giants Facebook and Google would collaborate with the state government and ensure this is done. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu spoke about this when he toured two major innovation and technology hubs in Lagos.

The governor stopped by at Venia Hub in Lekki and Impact Hub in Ikoyi. The former houses Flutterwave and 100 other tech start-ups. While the latter has scores of start-ups in its belly. He held a roundtable discussion with the score of start-up owners in the ecosystem. He explained how to expand the funding opportunities and infrastructure development.

Mr Governor said the Yaba Technology Cluster would be called Knowledge, Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship (KITE). It would be a free trade zone. KITE would allow funding growth. It would tolerate innovative financing for ideas generated by entrepreneurs in the technology industry and Fintech space. The start-ups would get free laboratories to move their innovations from ideation to scale.

Through KITE, the state would exponentially generate wealth. KITE would create jobs for the state’s young population. KITE would leverage technology to ensure the state attain the Fourth Industrial Revolution status. “We are building a technology campus on 22,000 square metres of land in Yaba. We have christened it KITE. We are working with global brands in the technology space, such as Facebook and Google, to deliver this important technology hub”, the governor emphasised.

He told the army of young minds that the state’s intervention is about creating opportunities for the future. It is about providing platforms that will make start-up businesses thrive. In addition to this, the state is laying 3,000 kilometres of metropolitan fibre optic cables to provide reliable and fast Internet connectivity in homes and work places. These are part of the infrastructure required as backbone for the tech industry to flourish. It will empower the youth. It will assist them to take their businesses and ideas to the level of stability.

As Olugbenga Agboola, co-founder and managing director of Flutterwave said recently in a FORBES magazine interview, “We need to create systems that back innovators to grow, to thrive, and to achieve their potential”. That is what our UK friends and the governor’s KITE have in mind. Once we have a system in place, it will achieve many things. Few of these include multiplying the wealth in the country and Africa. It would also enable our innovators to translate their ideas into viable economic activities. It would encourage the future generation of innovators to step out with their innovations and ideas.

As Agboola noted, Africa has an encouraging number of innovators with excellent minds. What they need is support in the form of accelerators, funding and a robust support system that can help them achieve their goals and grow the continent as well as solve myriads of problems. As you know, life will bring its challenges. The onus is on us to solve these challenges either through our friends or through a kite.