Tertiary institutions remain key players in the growth and development of any functional ecosystem as far as technology innovation is concerned. This is evident in their ability to feed the ecosystem with the requisite skilled manpower to scale its growth.
In Nigeria, most tertiary institutions have been widely criticised for their unusual penchant for theories and abstract knowledge as opposed to adhering to practical and real life situations.
However, in recent times, a few have begun implementing strong practical technology curricula -- the kind that allow students take up a career in tech or easily blend into careers outside of tech.
However, a living technology incubation hub within the premises of a Nigerian university is what many wouldn't have envisaged at this point.
Interestingly, ever since Stephen Oluwatobi (Director at the Centre for Entrepreneurship Development Studies, Covenant University) took to his private Facebook account to post pictures of what appears to be a technology incubation hub situated within the premises of Covenant University Otta, he has received outpouring of interest as well as commendation from members of the public for his role in birthing the Hebron Startup Labs.
The Hebron Startup Labs is a living technology hub wholly funded and run by the management of Covenant University.
The core drive and motivation for setting up the hub was to help produce more entrepreneurs (regardless of their academic level) from within the institution rather than just certificate holders contributing in part to unemployment in the country. So by this standard and many more, the Hebron Startup Labs could possibly pass as the first to be launched in any Nigerian university.
Having run in different experimental phases for over 4 years, the management of the hub decided to give it a more serious approach in 2015. It wasn't until early in 2017 that they finally secured a work space approved by the school authority to carry out full operations.
Coming a long way from the era its pioneer students lacked a space to work from, the facility now looks ready; occupying an entire floor at the university’s innovation building. Of course, it’s a laudable feat, but it doesn't go without wondering how the programme will run in pari-passu with regular academic classes.
Ordinarily, regular academic activities at Covenant University could prove a little exhaustive due to extra curricular activities and religious commitment in-between lectures. This surely accounts for why the incubation programme is allowed to span for a year, covering a full academic session, to allow the students ample time to go through it.
Inclusion for the outside community
While most private universities in Nigeria have strong practical technology curricula, they remain pretty expensive. This raises some concern for non-Covenant University students. Will the programme be exclusive or will its impact extend beyond the four walls of the school?
“The original intention was to see what we can do with our students, but since photos of the hub surfaced online, a lot of persons have been asking how the external community can enrol,” Stephen affirms.
This has led the management of the Hebron Startup Labs to consider opening up the programme to members of the outside community. But in doing so, pricing and the absence of bottleneck processes within the system is what would probably make a difference.
Stephen however weighs in on a few expectations from students if they are to be incubated into the programme. According to him, “what we are looking out is someone who is passionate about what they are doing, has a solid team and a solution that addresses key problems in the society.”
Indeed, it would be interesting to see what becomes of the Hebron Startup Labs as it joins other technology hubs across the country in creating visionary-minded entrepreneurs capable of moving Nigeria as a country forward.
So, for every Covenant University student, this is just another bragging right, one well earned. As for technology enthusiasts, the Hebron Startup Labs adds another level of validation to the Nigerian ecosystem and also signals that investment in entrepreneurship is necessary to spur economic development, with technology as a frontier.