By Bamidele Salako
The existence of a flourishing tech ecosystem within Nigeria reads like the presence of an oasis in the desert. The remarkable technological leaps in innovation and industry have not exactly been because of but in spite of the Nigerian government. That’s to say tech has thrived in small spaces all across Nigeria in spite of the absence of robust government legislation, action and the required infrastructure to stimulate the growth of the sector. The gains do not however obscure the massive room for growth left.
With all of that in perspective, no local tech company epitomises the outstanding success in the growth of tech in Africa’s most populous nation better than the Co-creation Hub, widely known as CcHub.
CcHub is Nigeria’s first open living lab and pre-incubation space which offers an enabling environment for creative individuals with ideas and passion for creating tech-based solutions that tackle social challenges to give expression to those ideas and bring them to life.
Co-founded in 2010 by the duo of Bosun Tijani who’s Chief Executive Officer and Femi Longe, Director of Programmes at the incubator’s Open Living Labs, CcHub has positioned itself effectively in the vanguard of shaping the face of innovation and technology in Nigeria. Such is the impact and influence that it has had on local innovators that when the local tech game caught the attention of one of the big players – Mark Zuckerberg, CcHub was his first port of call, its co-founders having been privy to prior hush-hush arrangements.
Bosun Tijani and CcHub’s Managing Partner, Growth Capital Fund, Tunji Eleso, with Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg during his visit to Lagos last year.
Undoubtedly the poster boy for global tech royalty, Zuckerberg experienced first-hand the incredible genius of Nigerians when he interacted with local developers and entrepreneurs at the innovation hub.
When the journey began seven years ago, CcHub was conceived as a social innovation centre where commercially viable social impact solutions are born and bred. That dream took on a life of its own with the take-off of the hub’s innovation centre six years ago in 2011. Today, less than a decade on and driven by this underlying impact investment slant, the hub has spawned several success stories.
Since 2011, over fifty ideas able to solve real domestic challenges have enjoyed support through its pre-incubation program prominent of which are Budgit, Wecyclers, Truppr, Traclist, Genii games, Vacantboards, Jobs In Nigeria, 500 shops, Efiko, Nigerian Constitution app, NaijaTeenz, Open apps, and Church+. The program provides idea proponents or teams with mentoring, pre-seed funding, project planning, usability testing, and customer validation for their solutions.
Arguably the most notable, because of its impact on the critical aspect of governance and national life in Nigeria, is budgit, a civic start-up cofounded by Oluseun Onigbinde and Joseph Agunbiade.
Budgit deconstructs budgets and public data into comprehensible bits and places the information in the hands of ordinary citizens in an engaging format – mostly through infographics and an interactive app. The goal is to stimulate civic discussion on government finance and public sector efficiency while driving transparency and institutional reform. In addition to its Nigerian office, Budgit now has offices in Ghana and Sierra Leone – helping to bridge the gap between the governments of those countries and their citizenry.
Another glowing testament to CcHub’s growing impact on the country’s raging cross-sector tech disruption is Wecyclers founded by Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola – a graduate of MIT’s Sloan School of Management – where the she first conceived the idea. Through an incentive-based recycling initiative, Wecyclers gives low-income communities in developing countries a chance to capture value from waste thus keeping their neighbourhoods clean and safe. The start-up which has thousands of families signed up to its recycling drive has featured on CNN’s African SMEs-focussed programme, African Start-up and has received local and international recognition for its work.
In a relentless pursuit of its goal of connecting creativity with capital, makers with mentors, CcHub combined with Google for Entrepreneurs (GFA) only recently to take 14 African ventures on a pitch tour of Europe’s foremost tech capitals including London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Zurich and Paris. The idea was to get these top, high-growth start-ups to pitch to investors, explore international opportunities and learn about frontier technology markets. The initiative aptly tagged PitchDrive was illustrative of CcHub’s expanding role in the frontier of not just Nigeria’s but Africa’s tech movement.
One of the start-ups in its incubation programme, Lifebank, founded by Temie Giwa-Tubosun, and whose work has earned her global acclaim, participated in the tour. Lifebank is creating a smart blood system in Nigeria, making blood available when and where it is needed in the country to save lives.
The start-up engages in massive mobilization of citizens for blood donation drives, takes inventory of all blood available in the country, and delivers blood in the right condition to the point of need. Lifebank’s work has featured on the BBC, the Guardian of London and several other international media platforms. Temie was recently selected as one of five winners from over 200 applications from women entrepreneurs all over the world to participate in global insurance giant, AXA’s women entrepreneurship program.
At the heart of CcHub’s operations is a multilateral objective that dovetails into its overarching vision of being a platform with the capacity to spot and support smart, socially innovative, tech-based start-ups poised to shape and transform Nigeria and by extension, Africa and the world.
That guiding vision is to position CcHub as a place to facilitate creative thinking and collaborative problem solving, encourage technology innovation for improved social accountability in Nigeria, incubate novel tech ideas that promotes good governance/provision of public services, encourage shared accountability between technologist & innovators, serve as a living lab for prototyping and testing socially minded tech tools, build new skills and competencies, and connect, share, create and find expertise.
A while back, CcHub set up the ‘CcHub Growth Capital Fund’ in partnership with the Bank of Industry (BOI), Venture Garden Group (VGG) and the Omidyar Network with the objective of investing ₦1billion to support ‘next generation infrastructure’ technology builders in Nigeria over a couple of years. So far, the fund has raised and invested ₦280million in such high potential, early stage businesses involved in building Nigeria’s next generation infrastructure using technology.
Asides providing funding ranging from as much as ₦10million to ₦30million in exchange for equity, the beneficiaries of the fund also enjoy unfettered access to business advisory regarding the organisation of their businesses, standardization of processes, insight on setting up quality teams and proper governance structures that would position their businesses for scaling, as well as advisory on product development from research phase to build test all the way to a feedback loop.
Owing to the fund’s extensive partnership base, the entrepreneurs have the added advantage of a strong network from which to pull business-specific support as the need arises. Where required, they’re furnished with office space.
“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,” said Bosun Tijani a while back in reflecting on the start of a journey that has seen the incubator contribute in immensely significant ways to the actualisation of the dreams of several entrepreneurs.
Buoyed by the firm belief that “the future belongs to entrepreneurs who are able to address social challenges in commercially sustainable ways,” the Tijani has continued to reiterate the innovation hub’s commitment to working with 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,” he affirmed.