I have followed with keen interest a growing yet varying opinion on the validity of Yaba as a technology cluster over the last weeks. While my initial reaction was to allow the conversations evolve before contributing, I have been reflecting on the narrative, my role in seeding the cluster and potential risk of perpetuating the growing lack of clarity.
I won’t bother going into the details of how CcHUB decided to settle in Yaba as against the option back in 2011; Marina. However, I’ll shed light on a vision I shared with then CommTech Minister; Omobola Johnson, Tomi Davies and Funke Opeke of Mainone back in December 2012/January 2013. To help communicate the vision, CcHUB engaged Clive Anyonye in designing this 2min web tour: http://cchubnigeria.com/i-HQ/. The vision was simple, “We are stronger together”. Yaba wasn’t a model of any other location, just an initiative based on the principle of clustering.
The driver of the vision was simply rooted in the fact that the new and emerging technology industry requires a strong root to allow it attract resources and build strength. This was to be a long and intentional exercise with multiple players independently and collectively driving the growth of the industry.
Without much argument, Yaba has been a success and perhaps the only organic technology cluster on the continent. The vision started around the same time as Konza (Kenya) and Hope City (Ghana). Yaba is the ONLY active cluster amongst the three that has been rooted and alive. Over the years, Yaba has attracted interests, resources and commanded respect for technology & start-ups in Nigeria. From about 6 active technology players in the cluster in 2011/2012 to over 50, we’ll be wasteful to discard the strides we have made as an industry.
In our quest for change and result, we should be careful not to be destructive. Yaba needs further investment, strategic input and engagement; and a lack of it shouldn’t be mistaken for “failure”. As against efforts like Tinapa, no other location in Nigeria and perhaps Africa, can boast of the qualities that make Yaba a unique destination. From proximity to Unilag, YabaTech (Nigeria’s first higher institution), a Vocational Training School, Medical Research Institute and several primary and secondary schools (largest education cluster in Lagos state), close proximity to the Central Business Districts in Ikeja and on the Island…and many more, you won’t find many Yabas.
The below infographics produced after the successful execution of the fibre initiative by MainOne Cable Company, which was led by CcHUB & TechnoVision with immense support from LASG, sheds some light on possible next steps and some key considerations.
The fibre project alone is one we should actively celebrate and leverage to drive missing ingredients to strengthen the cluster. For an organic cluster, which came to life just about 4 years ago, I am seriously saddened to see how many of us think ‘short-term’. Yaba needs more players stepping up to improve it and we don’t need to do so by first declaring it a failure. A lot is going good for Yaba and the seemingly strong case for the failure of the cluster is unfounded. Konga and Andela left Yaba for the same reason, ‘Bigger Office Space’ — this should be a strong business case for smart people to build real estate portfolio in the area. The quality of real estate in the neighbourhood is weak but there is hardly any single affordable neighbourhood in Lagos that meets that same need.
We anticipated this challenge long ago and started conversations at different levels and with different organisations to build solutions to it. Andela — led by Iyin Aboyeji worked extensively on the possibility of a campus in Yaba, CcHUB is still actively putting together a deal for its 10 storey innovation centre to cater for some of the real estate challenges but also inspire others to invest in the neighbourhood. LASG to the best of my knowledge is also working on one while Federal Government also just converted a part of the Library to support the growth of the cluster. Space is not the challenge; it is the investment in real estate, that needs to happen. This investment needs to be approached as a multi-stakeholder effort for it to be sustainable and achievable considering the uniqueness of Yaba.
Yaba is a community initiative that requires effort from diverse stakeholders. The more organisations like Cafe Neo and EasyWash we attract to the neighbourhood, the stronger it becomes. This however isn’t a 4 year project but a lifetime endeavour we should all be proud to contribute to.
I have been intentional about how much information I included in this post to allow us engage through a more constructive platform. It is an important conversation and on behalf of CcHUB, I’d like to invite you to a town hall meeting on the 26th of June to discuss Yaba and how best to move it forward. Invitation will be going out shortly to key players in the cluster including those with strong opinion on its future. The outcome will be for us to collectively agree actions to accelerate the growth of the sector/cluster. In addition, this will be a celebration of the strides we’ve made with barbecue and live performance.
You’re invited! RSVP Here.
Nigeria – pronounced to be in its worst recession in 29 years on the 30th of August 2016, received a surprise visit from iconic innovator; Mark Zuckerberg on the same day. Whilst the visit broke all known protocols, it was an instructive coincidence that elevated the energy and creativity of young Nigerians as a valuable opportunity to harness.
The energy and creativity associated with Nigeria are characteristics touted by local players to eventually propel the country to become a leading light within the global technology space. Despite the obvious lack of a coherent innovation system/policy, a handful of industry leaders have been consistently betting on a renewed role for the industry in the development of the nation. The investment in our work at Co-Creation Hub by Omidyar Network, MainOne Cable Company, Sainsbury Family Trust, Google and support by Lagos State Government amongst others; all account for the tremendous contribution we have made in building a vibrant local ecosystem.
Nigeria is notorious for her poor rating on the ‘ease of doing business’ ranking and a stifling regulatory environment for investment. Yet the entrepreneurial spirit of Nigerians and its sheer market size have seen it re-engineer and grow a few competitive industries in the last decade; notably entertainment (music and Nollywood) and now technology. Our entertainment sector not only serves local demand but has also attracted regional and global audiences and consumers. This without doubt is a trajectory the technology industry is already taking.
Mark’s visit, at the least, is a much-needed recognition and a sign that the nation is on a path to becoming a contributor to technology advancement. The visit is a signal of the readiness of Nigerian tech start-ups to absorb further investments and resources. Heading straight to Yaba (Africa’s fastest growing tech cluster) within minutes of arriving on the continent took the world by surprise and will inspire a lot more interest from both local and foreign backers.
Without gainsaying, a strong innovation system and long-term outlook are crucial determinants of a nation’s ability to create superior value with technology. However, advancements in technology provide us the opportunity to create products that connect our teeming population to vital services and public infrastructure. To harness this rare opportunity, the private sector, backed by the government, must be strategic about our focus on technology innovation and entrepreneurship. At a time when the country is sliding into recession, this visit should act as further evidence that greater support for and investment in the emerging tech sector could be a valuable contribution to economic recovery and future development.
However, there are three major challenges that we need to overcome:
Focus on education and talent development – there is an urgent need for us to invest in technical know-how to back our creativity and help harness this unprecedented opportunity. Building value with technology requires technical capability which we currently lack at depth. Initiatives like the Talent Gap Analysis by CcHUB (supported by NITDA) aimed at assessing the technical skills gap in Nigeria’s IT workforce, alongside ‘TENT by Paradigm Initiative’, ‘re:learn by CcHUB’ and Andela provide good starting points. These initiatives provide the opportunity to explore:
- immediate to medium term programmes to bridge the talent demands by the industry
- a progressive and sustainable programme to strengthen STEM education in Primary and Secondary Schools across the nation and
- a revamp of computer science, engineering and entrepreneurship courses in tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
Grow local funding for early & growth stage ventures – despite the obvious increase in foreign investment in the sector, there is still a dearth of funding for early and growth stage start-ups. There is an urgent need to encourage more local funds such as Growth Capital by CcHUB, Greenhouse Capital, Spark and the efforts of the Lagos Angel Network while making it attractive for foreign funds and investors to invest in the sector.
Beyond funding for existing start-ups, we also need strategic programmes aimed at building pipeline and backing experimentation (boiling the ocean). Impact funds led by government and developmental partners can improve the attractiveness of the sector while building a case for further private sector investment.
Invest in the infrastructure that will enable technology and other sectors to thrive and grow – we need to aggressively identify and fix soft infrastructure that hinders ease of doing business, ease of attracting investment and support for spurring growth of start-ups and SMEs in general.
We should also collectively double down on increasing the penetration of Internet across the country. We need to support creative programmes and products aimed at accelerating last mile across the country.
Working with business support organisations, government should invest in repurposing poorly used/redundant public spaces (e.g. Libraries) across the country to serve as resource centres for entrepreneurs and creatives.
A purposefully supported technology industry in Nigeria will yield multiple benefits of diversifying our economy while enabling superior value creation and competitiveness of many other sectors. We have the human capital and market upon which these value can be built, the missing piece of the puzzle is committed leadership with razor-sharp focus.
The cynics will water down the significance of Mark Zuckerberg’s visit but I am convinced it will yield dividends. The scale of these dividends, is what industry leaders, partners and government need to orchestrate for our common good!
The CcHUB – the dream of two naïve but determined young lads gave birth to Nigeria’s first innovation hub exactly 5 years ago today.
With a deep sense of responsibility, we took on the challenge of building a platform capable of spotting and supporting smart Nigerians to build the future we collectively desire. Albeit our experience of working in social innovation and innovation consulting respectively, Femi Longe and I set out on the journey knowing we were betting against odds in an attempt to create something. That ‘something’ was to simply build a ‘movement’, a renewed social fabric for enabling creativity despite the countless barriers to it in Nigeria.
Our fascination and excitement for technology innovation and social capital was largely disconnected from the start-up movement sweeping the world at the point. While we drew inspiration from the work being done by many innovation hubs across the world, we were adamant on our goal of creating a movement around addressing social issues in Nigeria with technology. Our motivation hinged on the single fact that Nigerians are aspirational and as such desire better – the future without doubt belongs to entrepreneurs who are able to address social challenges in commercially sustainable ways.
To achieve our objective, we would be required to work with start-ups, enable civil society organisations and ultimately inspire PPPs that will strengthen our ability to support innovation as a nation. Without doubt, we have managed to do a lot of good while being commercially viable. Yes, we are one of the few financially sustainable innovation hubs in Africa.
I have been incredibly lucky to work with some exceptional and deeply committed young Nigerians to whom I owe a lot of gratitude. We have collectively created an incredible platform that is about to unleash our talent further and empower us to support the amazing community that we serve.
As we look ahead into a future with promises, I look back at the catalytic role played by Indigo Trust, Omidyar Network and MainOne Cable Company with a heart full of appreciation. These are three unique organisations that took a bet on us even when we had no business plan. Without your investment, there won’t be CcHUB.
Our commitments for the next 5 years will again be on working with a handful of new and established organisations to deepen the innovation ecosystem in Nigeria. We’ll seek to create ways to develop talent, fund both early and growth stage businesses and accelerate the development of smart infrastructure for economic prosperity in Nigeria.
Wish us well!
- ‘Bosun Tijani
This weekend, Nigeria will experience its first Santa Dash fun run/walk!
Thousands of people across 8 different cities in Nigeria will either run or walk wearing the Santa Dash shirts and hats. The event is an opportunity to end the year with a colourful fitness activity and also for a noble cause; putting a smile on the faces of vulnerable children in the community. Participants will get Santa shirts and hats for #1,500 and bring donations to the event where participants will get to choose what charity organisation gets the proceeds from the fitness event.
Kids of participants will get to enjoy from this event as they will also run or walk along side their guardian dressed as Santa or an Elf and get their faces painted for the event.
Today, I celebrate 5 years of working full time on CcHUB and coincidentally; we’ll launch an investment arm that is set to invest 1billion Naira in social tech ventures in the next 2 years. ‘Growth Capital by CcHUB’ started as a dream back in 2010. I still remember the first time I shared the vision with Tunji Eleso and how we ended up crafting a smaller scheme to help build our pipeline and credibility while testing the social entrepreneurship model.
I derive immense joy in seeing the continuous value we are able to add to Nigeria through our work at the CcHUB. It is a privilege to be in a position where we can create and appropriate value with the hope that collectively, we can shape our nation into a more prosperous and inclusive society. The destination isn’t in sight but our individual positive actions will collectively get us there!
Dreams do come true – as we set out to enable the next generation infrastructures in Nigeria through this fund, I encourage ‘you’ my friends to continue to dream. Our nation is blessed but lack critical mass of visionary fearless dreamers who are willing to put the good of all ahead of self.
Join me in raising a glass to a new chapter in the life of CcHUB
Share a pic of you raising a glass and win a surprise “Growth Capital by CcHUB” gift.