Few weeks to the November 2016 Governorship elections in Ondo State, a group of stakeholders in Akure met on the sidelines of the Advancement (an event organised by Olusola Amusan around charting a better course for Nigeria) to discuss the city’s tech ecosystem. The list of people included already existing players like Kitan David ( then PlanetNest), Joel Ogunsola (Prunedge & Tech4Dev), Olusola Amusan (Microsoft Nigeria), Segun Omojola and Sola Illesanmi (media), Adedeji Adejuyigbe (SA to the Mimiko Government on ICT) , Babajide Akeredolu (a representative from the major opposition party at the time, the APC) and a host of others.
The conversation took several turns as stakeholders discussed the opportunities in the state and included a fireside chat where representatives of the two major parties discussed their plans for the tech ecosystem if they come into power. In the end, the AkureTechUp was born to help galvanize talents and resources towards making Akure a reliable tech hub in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2025.
With this rejuvenation, a lot more events opened up in the ecosystem and businesses came in to set up. From a Leadership workshop with the theme Achieving my Dream Nigeria through Technology (that brought tech enthusiasts from across South West Nigeria) to the setting up of hubs like Curators University and Premier Hub to business advisory via different Kitan David Initiatives; the city got the needed boost to announce itself as a destination of choice for talents.
In time, the AkureTechUp launched several activities including the launch of the AkureTechHub (A tripartite arrangement with the Government and the Federal University of Technology, Akure). In terms of mentors, Joel Ogunsola and Kitan David held the ropes for tech startup founders and the not-for-profit sector; FourthCanvas mentored a generation of design and brand enthusiasts, CSI championed excellence in the events space while partnerships with Segun, Mark Afolabi of Whitespaces hosted meetups and supported initiatives, Zumalo and Sola Ilesanmi ensured that the interaction with the media blossomed.
Between 2016 and now, the city has had a wide array of startup founders and enterprises across different sectors which includes but not limited to Studio Neptunn, Flair Underwear, LifePro, TREP Labs, Wii Technologies, 115Garage, Curators University and its data science products, Bimmy Brown, Tab Digitals, Devs District, Qui Chinese, HTML foods with a lot of awards and grants to show for their growth.
However, the train speed looks like it would be needing some oiling to get back to full steam. The city of Akure combines the calmness of a good environment to think and create with the attractive edge of relative lower operating cost for startups in the country.
Technology ecosystems are built by people who are intentional about maximising or creating opportunities that allow for a consistent flow of value. At the simplest core, a startup ecosystem is formed by people, startups at different stages and various organisations (virtual/physical) interacting to create new startup companies.
Without doubt, by facilitating the exchange of ideas, skills, and experience, you are planting the seeds for a thriving, interconnected network of talented individuals who are working to solve different problems.
Zumalo.com had a chat with a few startup founders in the city on the way forward in achieving a buzzing ecosystem in the city:
- A tightly-knit community working together as a team to leverage accretive transactions and attract opportunities as a bloc.
- Especially for technology-enabled businesses, good internet is still a big issue, as the city only has mobile data which is sometimes not reliable. Building an active hub without good internet would be difficult.
- Opportunities for talents in the city to aggregate and develop (this is something the community would solve too).
- Infrastructure and stakeholders to help people scale e.g for those in food processing, the limited number of support opportunities for production, storage and even sales(exhibitions and all).
- Adequate power supply is still a hurdle that needs to be crossed.
- Access to market which includes transportation links to and fro the city.
It is easy to say that these issues are experienced by other tech clusters across the nation, but if the city wants to edge-on with its already existing privileges like geographical location, talent pool, weather, serenity and lower operating cost; stakeholders in the city should be more intentional about solving the problems listed above.
Michael Libes identifies these 6 components as very important parts of building a thriving startup ecosystem and the city of Akure is uniquely poised to experience more startup wins if they get the necessary attention.
This pool of talent needs to extend well beyond the entrepreneurs starting the companies, including others with a variety of talent and experience in product, design, marketing, sales, etc. who are willing to join new startups and help them grow and thrive.
This talent pool is ideally created and augmented locally, at universities and other learning institutions. Better still if these institutions themselves draw in talent, to seed the ecosystem with the latest knowledge.
3. Locations and Events
Ecosystem flourish when ideas are shared. Ideas are more readily shared when startups and their staff are co-located in a single neighbourhood when startups physically meet up at events when there are common physical locations where people often gather.
When these shared ideas include lessons from experienced mentors, fewer mistakes are made by the new entrepreneurs, leading to more successes. This sharing from generation to generation can kick off a virtuous cycle turning a community into a true ecosystem.
5. Incubators and Accelerators
A tool which combines talent, education, location, and mentorship is a business incubator/accelerator. These institutions provide a centralized program to draw in talent, to bring the talent together in a single location, and to provide the necessary education and mentorship to help first-time entrepreneurs speed their way into the market.
Most new ventures require funding to reach profitability. While it is possible to import the necessary funding from elsewhere, the final component of a thriving startup ecosystem is local funding, ideally recycled from the successes of the previous generations of entrepreneurs, who truly understand the complexity and difficulty of creating successful startups.
2025 is just about 5 years from now, no doubt, building Akure into a thriving startup hub would require all hands to be on deck—Government and private sector investments, mentors, skilled talents etc. Only time will tell if the city can maximize its uniqueness to lit a beacon of hope…