Tech competitions and Nigeria’s startup ecosystem

By Inyene Ibanga

TECH DIGEST – Funding remains one of the biggest challenges for tech startups as they struggle to launch their dreams into reality. Starting a tech business is time-consuming and very expensive to get off the ground.

Tech competitions provide platforms for aspiring entrepreneurs to pitch their innovations in front of investors, for the chances to land cash prizes or investment capital. Even when one doesn’t win the grand prize, participating in a competition offers many benefits that can boost the chances of a startup.

Apart from being a great opportunity to network with other aspiring entrepreneurs and potential business partners, they also offer platforms for the practice of pitching innovations before they are launched into the marketplace.

As such, joining a startup tech competition is a worthwhile investment for participants.

A startup gets access to several investors at once to help in raising the funds needed to launch its products. As such, tech competitions help in accessing venture capital and stimulating innovation.

Periodically, several tech competitions have served as platforms for high-quality Nigerian startups to gain access to capital and connect with global tech companies and investors.

In December 2020, three Nigerian startups emerged winners of the U.S.-Africa Business Centre’s Digital Entrepreneurship Competition. Afrilearn International, Healthbotics Limited and Tiny Hearts Technology would undergo mentorship, as the also shared $25,000 respectively, according to their final placement in the competition.

Within the same period, the Federal Government of Nigeria received $50 million as startup investment fund, after it sponsored 10 tech startups to the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX 2020) summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Ladda, a Nigerian investment tech startup, was among the five finalists of the Seedstars World Competition 2020/2021, which held last week. It barely missed the grand prize of $500,000, after being shortlisted from over 5,000 startups across emerging startup ecosystems in Asia, Africa, Eastern and Central Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.

Even though it lost the grand prize, Ladda would have benefitted, in many other ways, from the competition, after almost a year-long virtual run. Having access to external ideas and mentors are significant benefits of participating in the competition beyond the prize money.

Meanwhile, six Nigerian early-stage startups – Afrilearn; Drivers Nigeria; Gradely; Terawork.Com Limited; Utiva and Wootlab Foundation – are among the 23 selected for the Future of Work Africa 2021 Competition.

The selected startups are slated to participate in the programme as part of two cohorts, between May and August. The top two peer-selected companies in each cohort are expected to receive $20,000 in capital to help scale their businesses.

Most recently, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) is partnering with the Bridge to Mass Challenge (B2MC), to activate and sustain the national ecosystem in Nigeria, with the focus on achieving set goals which include:

1. Promoting Nigeria as Africa’s leader of innovation and emerging entrepreneurial hub;
2. Fostering the success of Nigeria’s startup enterprises by connecting them with markets, networks and capital in the global innovation ecosystem, and;
3. Facilitating key strategies to complement growing innovation initiatives within Nigeria, in order to create new wealth, new technology and drive job creation.

B2MC, a U.S.-based group of zero-equity startup accelerators, strengthen innovative ecosystems and drive the creation of high-quality jobs by supporting entrepreneurs and connecting them to global networks.

Within a 12-month partnership framework, it will help NITDA achieve those objectives by providing the insight, expertise, experience and connections to help Nigeria build a sustainable startup ecosystem.

Several activities have been designed to run within the course of the specified 12-month in collaboration with the startup accelerator, MassChallenge, beginning from July this year.

These activities include Nigeria ecosystem assessment; programme development, and marketing plans; launch of an international startup competition across the six geo-political zones; initiation of startup boot camps with B2MC international experts, and coordinating towards participation in a startup boot camp in Boston or Israel.
Announcing the partnership, the Director-General of NITDA, Malam Kashifu Inuwa explained that a collaborative ecosystem model has been designed to engage and deliver value to all stakeholders.

“A vibrant startup ecosystem is highly critical to the future of our country and it is vital to finding solutions to our various challenges. Innovation is a prominent way of creating prosperity for all and lifting countries out of poverty.
“Considering this NITDA and MassChallenge have partnered to catalyse and support a national startup ecosystem in Nigeria.

“Having these objectives, it is obvious that we cannot succeed in the silo, therefore we have identified the media among the six categories of stakeholders that will be fully involved in this journey.

“Others include critical government agencies, academia, businesses/not-for-profit organisations, angel investors/venture capitals, mentors/experts. Among all, you (the media) have the most critical role to play
“Our startups are targeting the global markets. Nigeria is a leader in the digital skills and startup ecosystem in Africa. Investments attracted by our startups confirm the position”, said Kashifu.

The Chief Executive Officer of B2CM, Siobhan Dullea expressed delight in the partnership and promised to connect more Nigerian startups to the group’s global programmes and opportunities for accelerating the vibrancy in the country’s startup ecosystem.

As we look forward to a fruitful partnership between NITDA and B2CM, the government has to sustain the priority attention it is giving to the tech sector in recent times. The government and the private sector must also take steps to increase startup competitions to encourage the growth of tech companies.

It is important to note that the more the tech sector grows, their transformative power would permeate and impact other sectors, thereby stimulating enduring prosperity across all other sectors of human endeavour.

Going by the increasing rate of startup competitions in the digital tech ecosystem, there are more grounds to believe that Nigeria is on course to becoming a digital powerhouse in the nearest future.

But this would largely be determined by the level of collaboration between the public and private sectors to build a solid foundation for digital growth and investments.

Inyene Ibanga is Managing Editor TechDigest and writes from Wuye District, Abuja