Africa continues to be a spot for innovation because challenges mostly translate to opportunities. Bosun Tijani, CEO Co-creation Hub (CcHUB), during a keynote address at Techpoint Inspired 2019, saw it as “the continent calling on its citizens to take advantage of the opportunities.” And that is based on the premise that Africa unarguably has a lot of challenges like healthcare, education, logistics and mobility, and communication, among others.
However, innovations springing up from each industry are exposed to both generic and specific challenges influenced by the environment. Hence, making a case for how conducive the African economical and technological terrain is to businesses may not be totally conclusive especially when comparing across countries.
According to a report, out of 30 African cities considered to experience startup innovation, Nigerian cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, and Abuja made it to the top ten when favourable business conditions were taken into account. This conclusion is based on metrics like how long it takes to start a business, procedures to start a business, and entrepreneurship culture index.
In a similar trend, the World Bank Group Doing Business 2020 report adjudged that Nigeria is one of the top improvers in creating an enabling business environment globally.
But it appears these claims are not generally accepted. With a particular focus on Nigeria, this piece considers entrepreneurs’ perceptions while highlighting factors that may/may not continue to put them at a disadvantage.
To a large extent, there are some generally accepted unfavourable conditions associated with the Nigerian system, mostly around infrastructure, data, and regulations.
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Emeka Okoye, a tech industry veteran, believes government regulations, for instance, are placing a restriction on innovation in the country.
Another familiar case is the current situation between the Lagos state government and the mobility startup sector. First came the okada ban, and then the clamp down on ride-hailing companies operating in the state. For all we know, regulation may continue to be an issue in places having a lot to innovate around, not excluding developed economies. Only that each region have their unique responses.
Data, on the other hand, has been the bane of the world's rapidly-growing industry, artificial intelligence (AI), in Nigeria. This is why, as explained by experts, Nigeria is still falling behind.
Abdulhakim Bashir, the founder of an AI-enabled theft detection startup, Chiniki Guard, specifically mentioned how even though the nation’s talent pool is inexhaustible, they are still held back by the dearth of an important input like data.
In the case of a startup leveraging the low levels of tech literacy and financial inclusion by adopting agent banking to serve the unbanked and underbanked, Internet penetration may not be as much of a challenge as it is for an edtech startup providing ease of access for technical training via a digital platform (website).
Apparently, some challenges can be specific to the model of innovation. However, what cannot be ignored is that there are still more valuable lessons to be learnt.
Sometimes, it may be difficult to say that there’s beauty in competition especially when the competitor clearly has an undue advantage. Asides funding, the founder of a car rescue-on-demand startup, AutoSave, said another challenge that caused the business failure was having to compete with the state government when it came up with the same solution.
Recall when Ekocab launched in early March, it elicited reactions from existing ride-hailing platforms because of its timing. Reacting, a driver on one of these platforms said that the government did not have to come up with an initiative that put other solutions at a disadvantage before thriving.
According to him, the market is large enough and clamping down on competitors isn't necessary.
Devising unique solutions
While attempting to make healthcare accessible to as many that need it, Adegoke Olubisi, CEO Helium Health revealed that the startup decided to find a way to circumvent the problem of electricity by installing solar power alternatives especially in government facilities.
It goes without saying that Nigeria is gradually moving towards fully adopting digitisation; however, this is still a challenge.
According to Gbadebo Ojikutu, CEO NextCounsel, a legal tech solution, “some law firms are still stuck in the manual processes so much so that having a budget to cater to technological services seems a far-fetched idea.” But enlightening its focus market has been productive.
Though these concerns are fairly comprehensive to ascertain whether the Nigerian environment truly supports businesses, some startups have experienced success nonetheless. But it appears the key to this has been understanding of the environment and the ability to make the most of it.
I am Oluwanifemi Kolawole, and I’m interested in your well-being. I believe the coronavirus (or COVID-19) will not remain an enigma for too long. But while we await a cure, discard the myths and maintain good personal hygiene. Also, stay away from crowds as much as you can, and arm yourself with the right information.
Stay safe 😇