10 August 2018

Nigeria: Driving Entrepreneurial Growth Through Technology

The astronomical rise of investment inflow into the Nigerian tech space over the years goes to show the potential in the sector and would point a discerning leader to the vibrancy of Nigeria's burgeoning tech ecosystem.

Not only are tech companies such as Google, Uber, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft valued as some of the biggest companies in the world, their continued incursion into the Nigerian tech space and their investment in building local capacity is a sign of good things to come.

In his resolve to deliver on his campaign promises, particularly the pledge to deliver 200,000 jobs to the people and create wealth in the process, Governor Godwin Obaseki is not one to overlook the immense potential in the unfolding technology revolution in Nigeria.

Recently, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo commissioned the Edo Innovation Hub, located at the Institute of Continuing Education (ICE), in Benin City. A landmark project that provides a space for technology innovators to birth their tech-powered solutions, the hub leverages a mix of conducive business environment, business support services, and training from technology heavyweights such as Google, Facebook, Andela, Oracle, among others, to provide a space to nurture and drive innovation.

At the launch of the Edo Innovation Hub also known as Edo innovates, Governor Obaseki said "the innovation hub would serve as a facility for training youths in the state and it would also serve as a center for follow-up training for youths who are participating in similar training programmes organised by the state government through its skills development arm popularly known as EdoJobs.

"Services on offer by the firms include an incubation and pre-incubation programme, acceleration programme, business clinics and co-working facilities. The Innovation Hub is equipped with thousands of computers supported with high-speed connectivity."

The Vice President, who commissioned the South-South Innovation Hub, domiciled in the Edo Innovation Hub, said that the facility will give young and old people opportunity to provide solutions to everyday problems.

Explaining that the innovation hub was targeted to grow the state's economy as well as that of the South-South region, he charged the people of the zone to take advantage of the facility to end youth restiveness.

He further urged the youths to come up with innovative ideas, saying that the country needs to grow technologically to meet up with modern-day trends and compete with developed nations.

Innovation Hub as Haven for Tech-powered solutions

Ever since its launch, the Edo Innovation Hub has become a beehive of activities, as hundreds of Edo resident have undertaken training in Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, Coding, Python Programming, Solar power engineering, among others.

The Commissioner for Wealth Creation, Cooperatives and Employment, Hon. Emmanuel Usoh, said that the hub accommodates over 25 technology companies, including Google, Cisco, Microsoft and Oracle.

He added that the state government intends to solve youth unemployment through the hub, noting, "it will offer youths unique opportunities to discover their talent in the use of technology, improve these skills and promote innovation."

He maintained that the innovation hub serves as a training facility for small business owners, who will learn how to leverage digital solutions to transform their businesses. "Individuals and groups who own small businesses in the state and intend to transform their businesses in line with global standards can acquire innovative skills at the hub," he added.

Explaining that repurposing the ICE showed a strong resolve to promote innovation, he stressed, "Edo State intends to become a case study in Nigeria on how public facilities can be transformed for effective use. This is why the governor refurbished the former Institute of Continuing Education (ICE) into an innovation hub. The world has become a global village, where technology is key to transforming the society for the better. That is the direction this government is going."

Python, data science programming

Less than two weeks after Osinbajo, commissioned the Edo Innovation Hub, Curators Academy, one of the partners at the hub, commenced training on Python, Data Science, and other programming tools.

The Special Assistant to the Governor on Job Creation and Skills Development, Mrs. Ukinebo Dare, said the Curators Academy opened its laboratory for Edo youths to acquire on-demand tech skills.

According to her, "Beginners and intermediate classes would be held on Python and Data Science programming for youths who were part of the boot camp held when the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, launched the Edo Innovation Hub."

She added, "In preparation for this class, the laboratory is now open for people who are interested in learning Python and Data Science programmes."

She explained that "Those who were trained during the launch of the Edo Innovation Hub are practicing, working and using the knowledge and tools to improve their skills. This kicks off a one-year partnership where 600 young people in Edo will be trained as tech entrepreneurs and tech experts, participate in international competitions and get jobs globally in the tech space."

Co-working spaces, workstations

The Edo Innovation Hub has also opened its doors for entrepreneurs in Edo State and environs to take opportunity of its co-working spaces and other facilities to drive innovation in the state.

Dare said that the Edo Innovation Hub is arguably one of the best equipped and furnished spaces to run a start-up company in Southern Nigeria.

She said, "We are excited to be opening up the Edo Innovates cluster to budding entrepreneurs in Edo State and environs. We are open to working with them, providing the enabling environment to nurture their start-ups, and training and other benefits of a co-working space."

She noted that some of the services provided in the hub include virtual office, shared desks, dedicated desks, private office and serviced office, all of which have access to services such as mail handling, electricity, business support, workshops and trainings and networking opportunities.

Impact and Sustainability

Less than four months after commissioning, Edo Innovation has proven naysayers wrong and is coasting to resounding success, with its impact being felt by youths in the state.

The facility has trained not less than 724 entrepreneurs and its operators, EdoJobs, has drawn up a sustainability plan that will see the private sector drive activities at the cluster.

Dare, who is also Head, EdoJobs, said that the facility houses the South-South Innovation Hub, which has two halls; it also has five separate training rooms, six fully-furnished co-working spaces, four rooms with hundreds of computers, offices, conference rooms, outdoor workspaces, among others.

Of the 724 entrepreneurs, who have been trained, she said "200 females are being trained by Microsoft and Tech4Dev; 32 persons participated in LinkedIn MeetUp sessions to build a vibrant business community and leverage networking for local and international businesses; 49 budding app developers participated in Curators University's Artificial Intelligence boot camp; 23 developers were trained by Hotels.NG on coding and app development.

Others, according to her, include "Makers Academy, which trained 40 students on robotics; Pan Atlantic University's Enterprise Development Centre trained 59 entrepreneurs on entrepreneurship and innovation; Siemens, Impact Hub conducted pre-hackathon orientation for 25 aspiring entrepreneurs in the power sector while Microsoft took 50 teachers on Basic Digital Literacy for Teachers."

She said the sustainability plan is to ensure that the private sector takes the lead in the growth of the state's technology ecosystem, adding that trainings and business incubation would continue at the facility.

She disclosed that the state government's effort has received a boost from the private sector actors in the state, noting that ATC Nigeria donated three fully equipped ICT centers for training in Benin, Irrua and Ekpoma.

Dare explained that this would deepen the penetration of tech-driven development across the state, while a good number of the firms at the hub have expressed interest in long-term partnership with the state government.

The Hack Edo Series

After the launch of the hub, the Hack Edo Series, a multi-dimensional initiative to identify and incubate the best ideas that tackle problems of power generation and distribution faced by individuals, businesses and the digital ecosystem, was birthed.

A N3.5 million prize money is up for grabs for the best ideas in the state that will tackle power generation and distribution challenges.

The EdoJobs boss said that The Hack Edo Series is being organised in partnership with Impact Hub and Siemens Nigeria.

According to her, "Through a series of practical Hackathons, the Hack Edo series aims to equip young Nigerian innovators with the skills necessary to make impact in their various communities."

The series was intended to increase the number of individuals taking action on social and economic issues, build a collaborative community that tackles issues and identify the best ideas that will be supported through the incubation phase at the hub.

Dare said the hackathons will catalyse high-growth start-ups within Edo State, support development of ventures from ideation to commercialisation and promote job creation and economic development.

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