18 December 2018

Nigeria: Building Solution-Focused Start-Ups for Budding Entrepreneurs

Maduabuchi Ubani writes on the drive by Techstars, an entrepreneurship development project, to build solution-focused start-ups for budding entrepreneurs In Aba, Abia State capital. it was the Global Start-up Weekend byTechstars, an entrepreneurship development project that helps grow entrepreneurs globally. It was therefore not surprising that the hall was filled with expectations. Everyone had come prepared. The enthusiasm was almost palpable, because for each person in the room, there was this clear conviction that his/her team was going to emerge the best.

But for Precious Ezema, it was a different case. Yes, she wanted her team to beat other teams, but deep within her, there was just something more. For Ezeama, the next line of action after the competition was just paramount in her thoughts. Her team had come up with what seemed to be a brilliant idea that she is convinced will solve a problem. The next step was what she was trying to piece together after her team came second out of the eight selected teams.

Reminiscing she said: "It was more than a privilege to be part of solution providers and also part of an amazing team. Even though we took the second place out of the eight teams that contested, it really means everything to us. Each and every one of us in the team got to learn something amazing during the course of building the startup. It's just amazing what good heads can do when they focused at solving a problem."

The Start-up Weekend

On the scheduled weekend, the Global Startup Weekend as organised by Techstars, was held across 210 cities globally, with more than 15thousand people in attendance. Nigeria was not left out as the event was held in Aba, Abia State. The set objective of the program is to guide people through the diverse processes of building a business. This includes the process of ideation, validation, building a business model/prototype etc.

The program was also aimed at assisting participants to understand what business model means, improve on their pitching skills, prioritising and working with deadlines. At the Startup Weekend in Aba, the process began with 25 people coming to pitch their ideas.

Then votes were cast by attendees to select the catchy and solution-focused ideas. Eight ideas were voted to move to the next level. At the next level, each idea was assigned to a team from the attendees of the program, and they were expected to come together and build a business out of the idea in just 54 hours- starting from Friday evening to Sunday. By Sunday evening, each team got to present and pitch to coaches and mentors. From their final pitch, the first, second and third team emerged winners.

Collaborative Platform

The Startup Weekend Platform was not only aimed at enabling young people that have ideas to come together and work as a team, ideate over their ideas within 54hours and come up with a prototype, rather, it's a platform that brings like minds together with the aim of effectively collaborating to work towards a common goal.

"One of the unique things about this program is the problem-solving capability it leaves on the young ones", said Hanson Johnson, Google Developers country mentor for Nigeria. He is of the opinion that many Nigerians tend to only see problems and believe only the government that should be responsible for solutions. He added that It's time for us as a nation to be conscious of our environment, adding that, "when we see something that is a problem, we should take it as a challenge to come up with a solution".

For Hanson who is also a hub founder, Startup Weekend helps to synergise startup founders, developers and talented young persons that are at their own corners. He said: "Before now, there was just no avenue bringing the aforementioned persons out to be able to work together to co-found something. So the program goes a long way in bringing people out to spark one another with ideas, and work together towards achieving something".

He also believes the program will help the young ones to master the art of showing consistency on a particular line of thought. "While going round to check up on the teams, one thing I discovered with these young persons is that they seem to be targeting everybody. Targeting everybody means you targeting nobody, and you won't be able to sell to the category of people that really need your product.

"The buyer persona is more than who is going to buy, when he's going to buy and how much he's going to buy. The use of case study matters a lot. We all love Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But what we don't know is that they have profiled us and they are targeting the right people. That's why we are comfortable using these platforms. It's about focus", Hanson pointed out.

Grooming Budding Entrepeneurs

Apart from building focus among young people, the Global Startup Weekend is also geared towards grooming budding entrepreneurs and also fostering collaboration. It is a deliberate attempt to increase the amount of entrepreneurs building solutions and businesses, and it's geared towards a common economic goal for the country to have an economy driven by entrepreneurs and by solution providers for Nigeria and Africa.

For Bruce Lucas, a coach at the program, the networking and team spirit has been amazing. Apart from forming teams, he believes the different teams will leave the program not only learning how to validate their business and generate different business models, but will also learn how to pitch.

"It really gladdens my heart to see that participants can apply what they've learnt to any existing business that they have before now.They can also apply charts, templates and strategies they've learnt at the event to their jobs," he noted.

Lucas also sees the program as a pipeline for startups. This is because in the startup ecosystem, there are different players - community builders, incubators, accelerators, venture capitalists, angel networks, trainers, innovators etc.

Therefore, in the entire ecosystem of startups, there is always a constant need for new ideas to come in and new businesses to be built. This is paramount because businesses that come in are the ones that will fuel the incubators, accelerators, hubs, capacity trainers etc. So if people are not coming with new ideas and building new teams, then there's a cut-off for all other players in the system.

"Critically, the global startup weekend is like a primary pipeline to feed the startup ecosystem. So the great ideas that have been birthed at the program are the ideas that will integrate with the hubs, they are the ideas that will pitch in the next competition that you hear people pitching for. They are the ideas that would apply to venture capitalists for funding. They are the ideas that would pitch to investors.

"So it is crucial that this event holds most frequently in order to generate new pipeline of ideas, problem solvers and entrepreneurs that will fuel the remaining part of the ecosystem. So it's very critical to the ecosystem," he noted.

Encouragement

As an encouragement to the teams, startups at the Global Startup Weekend were given resources, which ordinarily would have been a clog in their wheel of progress. To this end, teams at the program were assisted with free domain name and hosting with the aim of assisting them to gain strong online presence and also grow their customer base.

Organisations like Google and IBM also provided platforms that the teams can leverage to scale-up their work.

On their own also, Techstars has a platform for attendees with endless resources. These platforms are filled with tools for startups to use and build. There are also mentors in business, and technology experts assigned to work actively with teams and provide support serices for them.

Indeed, it is the continuous growth in value when it comes to the program that has made Daniel Chinagozi, co-founder of igHub (Innovation Growth Hub) to continuously play a major role in ensuring that Startup Weekend holds in Aba, just like the rest of the world.

Chinagozi, who is the facilitator of Startup Weekend in Aba, has successfully spearheaded the program in five back-to-back successions across the state. He is delighted that more strategy has been added to this year's program which will assist ideas to move on to the next level.

"I am most amazed because most of the people that attended startup weekend this year are all in the community. Before now, we hold an event, people from everywhere will attend, and then after the startup weekend we won't see them again. But right now, they're all together in the community. Some of them see themselves everyday, and they are building a solution that is solving a problem in the community. Some the problems they are solving are the ones they have seen the need for.

"We have enough developers, business enthusiasts and designers in the teams. So its an amazing thing that is happening amongst our young people that are building businesses. For some of them, their startups can in the next one year start employing people , and some of them can leave a business they build to move on and even build something that is even far better with the same skills they've learnt through the weekend," he beamed.

Continuous Support

But it still doesn't end there. After the startup weekend, igHub will get to identify some startups from the program and work with them. The hub will provide them free space for three month, mentorship, coaching and tech support.

According to Chinagozi, "one team will join our incubation program that will start in December. That incubation program will invest ten thousand dollars inside the team. I didn't say the team that took the first position, no. I am making reference to the team that shows high level of commitment between now and December.

"Some persons will come first but they won't eventually push their work, but someone will take the eight positions and be the team to push their work forward. We will admit the team into our incubation program called igHub Biz Boost. It's a 12 weeks incubation program that invests 10 thousand US dollars into startups. And then provide them with mentorships and help them get to the market and grow their businesses.

"All of the rest of the team, we will be mentoring them, they will be part of the community. We get to provide them with internet, electricity and access to the community free of charge for the first three months. They are all solving practical problems that they've found in the society, and it shouldn't be something to underestimate", he stated.

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