The just concluded Aso Villa Demo Day (AVDD) was a success in so many ways. No matter the arrangements involved, Mark Zuckerberg returned to Nigeria for the event and the startups selected had a grand showcase on a national scale.
As an initial government initiative for entrepreneurs, it hopefully set the path for future collaborations and positive attention between the government and startups towards the growth of the ecosystem as a whole.
From the 30 startups that went to the boot camp, 3 were selected to pitch to President Buhari who was represented by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibajo and Mark Zuckerberg. And after the whole session, it was announced that the 3 main finalists -- Tracology, Shuttlers NG and RecylePoints -- would be awarded ₦3 million each.
But in all the excitement and buzz, there was a whispered undertone alluding to Microsoft's contribution to the success of the winners.
Emmanuel Okena, the founder and CEO of Tracology, one of the 3 main finalists to pitch at the event, said his company got seed funding that moved it from an idea level to where it was presently from a Microsoft initiative for startups.
When Emmanuel pitched at AVDD, he thanked Microsoft for believing in idea that had never been explored before. Microsoft funding the novel ideation, enabling it receive a presidential nod and reach readiness to be deployed to over 40,000 Nigerian homes is a big leap of faith on their part.
Godwin Benson, founder and CEO of Tuteria (one of the initial 30 AVDD finalist startups which didn't make it to the top 3), also had praise for Microsoft Nigeria. According to Godwin, "at the point they came, in we were almost burnt out financially and we hadn't even launched yet. Without a doubt, Microsoft kept us from dying".
Both Godwin and Emmanuel are beneficiaries of Microsoft's "Passion to Empire" initiative, where they received ₦3.5 million seed funding.
Tracology and Tuteria are not the first in a long line of Nigerian startups that have received a boost from the technology giant. The story started a long time ago.
Since its launch in 2008, the Microsoft BizSpark programme has given free access to over 100,000 startups all over the world ranging from software tools, marketing, visibility and networking opportunities. The program sustains this startups for up to 3 years.
With these support programmes and lots more, Microsoft has been an integral part of the success of small businesses and startups the world over.
On the innovation front, the Microsoft Imagine Cup has produced quality talents that have made produced worldwide impact.
No matter how much it is shouted, many people do not know Abiola Olaniran, the CEO of Gamsole was an alumni of the Microsoft Imagine Cup.
Abiola Olaniran won the 2010 edition of the Microsoft Imagine Cup Nigeria with his Team Indwell and went ahead to represent Nigeria at the World Finals in Poland. Even though they did not win the finals, the experience and continued support from Microsoft led Abiola to build one of Africa's notable gaming companies.
Following in these footsteps were the Humane Boys, the newest addition to the 'Microsoft Mafia'. After many tries, they finally won the Nigerian Microsoft Imagine Cup, they went ahead to represent the country in the United States of America.
With 285 million visually impaired people worldwide, I was rooting for the team and expected the Humane solution to win at the world finals.
On the other hand, they are already winners as the strength and resilience to hold on and persevere is enough.
In the nearest future, life changing solutions can be expected from the youngest members of this Microsoft Mafia personally or on an individual basis.
According to the Philanthropies Lead at Microsoft Nigeria, Olusola Amusan,“Microsoft aims to enable entrepreneurs take their ideas to the market by providing the right tools and mentorship. In our journey to create a sustainable ecosystem for online startups, we are making a long-term commitment to seeing startup’s using ICT technology to do business better, scale more quickly, create, and consume more IT services, and thus, improve trade and the economy of the Country.”