How Startups Can Thrive in Non-Thriving Cities

A few weeks ago we had a meet up of startup founders and tech enthusiasts (Techpoint South-West Tour event in the City) in Akure and some of the conversations revolved around leveraging the opportunities in the city to build thriving solutions.  

It is unarguable that every other state in Nigeria is playing “Catch-up” with Lagos in terms of a thriving ecosystem, access to development partners and market, investors, startup community and a whole lot of other opportunities but in the last few years some other cities have been emerging as budding options to the centre of excellence. So while we cannot do the “Lagos and any other city” comparison,  it is important we share some insights on how we can build other thriving ecosystems despite not having the many ingredients that make up a thriving city.

It is not uncommon to feel your business won’t thrive in a city/town outside the “bustling and hustling” cities in the country, hence the constant rural-urban migration of talents. However, is there a hack to making sales despite working from a low-income community or economy? While small towns can be a good environment for small businesses in terms of operational cost and peace of mind, the availability of clientele to build a thriving and successful business is usually an issue.

However, based on experience and some suggestions shared at the meetup, here are some few tips startups can leverage on to thrive in such cities/towns.

Find the major player(s) in your industry

When starting up in any town, it is important you discover the major players in your industry. This is important to help you know the go-to person when you need help in your business. Aside from that, you can learn from the person afar if he/she is not approachable. What if I’m the first to launch in my industry in the town? Good, you can always learn from others in other industry and apply the strategies that best suits yours.

You must also seek to build authentic relationships. Small towns are all about relationships. Genuinely care about building the community, offer valuable insights and resources and show your support for the issues they care about. This can enhance trust, bonding, and mutually beneficial engagement opportunities where you can do more than just share resources—you can change the community for the better.

Read local newspapers or online media

When you’re in a small town and you don’t get yourself acquainted with the happenings around you, how then do you want to leverage on trending issues or opportunities? Read local news and familiarise yourself with those that matter in the town.  This also helps you to learn more about the community geared toward strategically resonating with the right people.

Attend events

Come out of your shell and attend events. Events are great for networking, collaboration and sharing of ideas. You need to attend events so as to get your business out. You need to talk more about your business to new people. It is also important that you go to events outside your local environment to bigger cities and areas with more buzz related to your area of specialization.

Cross Section of Participants at the Owerri Tech Hub Data Science and Artificial Intelligence Training


Do your homework

You need to understand that each town or cities have its peculiarities. Therefore, you need to research and find what’s peculiar about your town/city and how you can leverage on it. For example, Akure is strategically positioned as a central city that connects to the north and southern part of Nigeria, proximity to Lagos, a working airport, major tertiary institutions including the Federal University of Technology Akure and lower operational cost etc.

The first thing to do is to figure out how to market your product or service to your prospective customers. Who are your customers? Where do they spend their time? What are they interested in? Once you determine who you are marketing toward, then you can start to work on the marketing which is not limited to geographical space.

Look up the demographics of the area before you start to market – find out who is in your audience. Are you marketing to a community with young children, stay-at-home parents, church-goers, Veterans, eco-conscious vegetarians, farmers? In all do some research before you start.


Come up with a business strategy

After finding the peculiarities of the town and you’ve answered the above questions, the next thing is to build your strategy around it.

Develop your message in accordance with the local culture if they are your target audience or if it is just an operational base for you, plan how to hack your market from your base.. Messaging is part of marketing strategy that should be locked down.


Join a co-working space

Co-working spaces are becoming increasingly popular, even in small towns. Join as many as you can and use them to explore networking opportunities.  Spending a day out of the office at a co-working space helps to keep you fresh, and also presents you with opportunities to make new connections and build relationships that can help establish your brand, even in the smallest of towns.

Premier Hub, Akure


Build Trust and a good reputation

No one likes to do business with a dishonest man. Therefore, it is important you stay true to your words and your products or services must deliver the value it promises.

In a small or rural town, you can be sure that word of mouth referrals will be a good way to get the name of your business out. But in order to get people talking about your business, you first have to gain their trust. Don’t barge into small town claiming that you’re the best thing since sliced bread. Aside from the fact that sliced bread is pretty great, people simply will not trust you. If you go in trying to establish relationships with other business owners before establishing a rapport, they will think you’re trying to scam them.

Small towns and rural communities are usually tightly-knit groups of people. They know their neighbours, probably grew up together, and help each other out. This type of community is great for a business’s reputation, but you need to earn the trust of a community first and build your reputation. Start by introducing yourself to people before marketing yourself to them. The most important part of selling your product or services is helping people.

Get to know the people in the small town – not only will they learn to trust you once they know you’re genuine, but they will also open up to you about themselves. This will enable you to figure out how your business can help them – an integral part of your marketing message.


Become a community advocate

This is very important because there’s no better way to find resources than to help create them. Advocate for your community and help to bring in the businesses and partners you need to succeed. You’ll be improving the local economy, helping to improve employment and making those resources available for other businesses that need them. Be proactive; always be a leader.

SeedDev organized a roundtable of stakeholders in Akure to discuss the future of skills and education; L-R Kitan David (Chairman SeedDev), Nkem Ijere (BEMORE Girls) and Opeyemi Olugbemiro (


Be Found Online

Finally, we’d leave you with this, try to be found online. In this era of social media and the internet, you can’t afford not to be online. So many social media sites now provide recommendations tied to your location, while search engines like Google also help you hone in on local resources that could help you build your brand. This includes local influencers, marketers and freelancers that you may not realize are in your area.

By registering your business with online directories, potential customers who are looking up your type of business on Google will come across your business when they need it. Not only are online directories good for reaching local customers, it will also help you get found by people coming into that area. If you’re opening a business that is off a major transit way, you may pick up customers passing through.

In conclusion, you may face rejection at first but never give up, keep pushing. Getting the word out about your startup may seem daunting, but by using these methods, you can soon be on your way to being successful. While some methods may not work for every business, you will not lose anything by trying them out to see which ones work best for you. More customers mean more sales. More sales mean more profits. And profits are always good news for any startup!

Have you been having any difficulties with getting your startup out there? Have you tried any of the methods mentioned above? What was the result? No matter the outcome, good or bad, I would love to hear from you and share your experience. You never know, it may help somebody out there.


Deborah Soyombo

An addict problem solver and an avid writer of unique African startup stories.