I am currently on a flight from Lagos to Nairobi after a week at the great giant of Africa, Nigeria. I arrived in Nigeria on 20th of September, 2015 and it’s now seven days later; the past week has given me a number of insights to chew on following my first visit to Nigeria. I was attending Africa’s premier early stage tech based companies pitch conference DEMO Africa. Demo is a platform funded by several organizations among them the US State Department, African Development Bank among others where the entrepreneurs get to ‘DEMO’ their products in front of investors, industry, government and any other interested parties. The conference is a good barometer of tech innovation in Africa. Demo was born in the US and has seen many great tech giants pitch including Salesforce, Adobe, WebEx among many others. It has chapters in other countries and regions, some being Brazil, China and Vietnam.
Where to start… visiting Nigeria is both exiting and scary; as an African I have read a lot of content about the country, most being from western based media, seen a number of Nollywood creations and have a couple of friends from the country- all of which has helped to shape my perceptions. As you may imagine, my perceptions include loud and aggressive people, a crowded city with regular electricity blackouts, rampant corruption and of course a couple of witchdoctors to spice everything up. Truth be told some of these aspect exist but there’s much more to Nigeria. The people are quite warm and friendly, the infrastructure is quite impressive in some areas, government is quite involved in the entrepreneurship ecosystem especially in tech, the food is quite spicy…
The visa process itself was rather simple due to a bilateral agreement between Kenya and Nigeria- as a Kenyan you can get your visa on arrival by paying 50 dollars.
My trip to the hotel was uneventful but my friend, a professor at Lagos Business School (LBS), kept me entertained with a few tips for visitors in Lagos. Among them were to beware of the crazy traffic jam, the spicy meals and the mix of heat and humidity but to enjoy the friendly people and not to forget to buy an African print attire to make me authentically Nigerian!
Since the conference was taking place over a three-day period (23rd – 25th), I had two days to spare which I spent at LBS learning more about what was happening around matters entrepreneurship. The visit to LBS was very inspiring for me. First off the building itself is quite majestic; one thing you quickly learn about Nigeria is the need to make statements using buildings. It is a common phrase in Nigeria;“If you are going to do it you might as well as do it big!” The building and driveway to LBS is rather impressive but it is what the buildings that were most impressive. The school set up the Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) in the year 2003 with a philosophy to build capacity in entrepreneurship, but go beyond the classroom to offer networking opportunities, mentorship, follow up and support services. The centre is widely known for its successes in the 10,000 Women Initiative run by Goldman Sachs for which the Nigerian chapter is considered one of the most successful.
EDC has built a huge alumni network of both companies and service providers who work closely with the school to promote entrepreneurs coming through the system. During my visit I was lucky to find a start-up pitching competition in progress which I was invited to sit in and see some of the activities the centre is involved in. I learnt this was a sponsored program in partnership with Etisalat, a multinational UAE based telecommunications services provider, currently operating in 15 countries across Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The program dubbed the Etisalat Millonaires Hunt challenge awards the top 10 businesses with grants of USD 10k to scale their business.
My first take-away point from my trip was courtesy of the pitches I listened to at EDC. Nigeria has a huge market and that means a lot for the entrepreneurs. For starters Nigeria has over 170 million people, Lagos alone has an estimated 20 million. In terms of smartphones, Nigeria has over 60 million of these. To put this into perspective, Kenya has a population of just above 43 million people. The market is so huge that one entrepreneur at the Etisalat challenge was selling automated church bells and from his estimation just in the major cities he had a market of over 3,000 churches! Kindly note: bells are only relevant for Catholic and Orthodox churches. The huge market potential means that its entrepreneurs have the advantage of thinking big from the start and the chance to test and scale their products in ‘safe’ territory before having to go to other countries which comes with its own challenges. These two aspects are very important for an entrepreneur and results in some positives that can be seen by the number of Nigerian start-ups receiving venture capital funding and just how big some of them have ended up being in a short amount of time.
While at EDC I also got to spend some time with the larger than life head of the centre who is also its founder. One quote sums up his vision:
‘I am here not because I need to but because there’s a lot to be done in this country and the continent of Africa. We have just started and we have great ambition to replicate what we have achieved here all over Africa.’