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With Art Of Technology, Lagos Will Soon Become Africa’s Silicon Valley- Pantami

December 09, 2021 · 7 min read
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When a seasoned chief digital officer of a country commends a tech project with passion and dexterity, it is obvious that the project handlers know their onions.

That was the exact picture recently when Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, Nigeria’s Minister of Communication and Digital Economy x-rayed the activities and efforts of Eko Innovation Centre and her partner, The Lagos State Government  

Dr Pantami, who he made his presentation virtually, declared prophetically that the Silicon Valley of Africa in Lagos was in the making. He promised that he would continue to support the state in its quest to achieve much more.

His words, “let me commend the efforts of Executive Governor of Lagos state under the leadership of Gov Babajide Sanwo-Olu and The Eko innovation Centre for their consistency in organising this programme for the last three years.

L-R: Gbenga Omotoso, commissioner for information and strategy, Lagos State; Olatunbosun Alake, special adviser to Lagos State governor on innovation and technology; Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor, Lagos State; Hakeem Popoola Fahm, commissioner for science and technology, Lagos State, and Victor ‘Gbenga Afolabi, founder, Eko Innovation Centre, at the Art of Technology Lagos 3.0, held at the Oriental Hotel, Lagos recently.

“This initiative by the Governor Sanwho-Olu and Eko Innovation Centre is highly commendable as it will definitely turn Lagos into be the Silicon Valley of Africa not just Nigeria. With the number of start-ups churned from this project. That will remain one of the initiatives the will catapult Lagos to a higher position, and even give the state  the capacity to retain top position for very long time to come”.

Pantami added that the federal government is determined to support the growth of startups and businesses especially with the many government agencies working closely to fund and grow the business landscape.

Going into some details, the minister highlighted various project his ministry, under the Buhari administration his ministry has created to boost Nigeria’s digital economy as well as raise funds for budding tech firms.  

In the words of the Minister, “since this year’s programme is focused on funding opportunities for start-up, let me share what we are doing at the federal level to attendees, hopefully they will link up and tap into them.

Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor, Lagos State being interviewed by journalists at the Art of Technology Lagos 3.0, held at the Oriental Hotel, Lagos recently.

“I formulated a policy few years ago that led to the creation of the Office of Nigeria digital Innovation (ONDI) under The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in Abuja.  The purpose of this office is to support tech innovations and start-ups. I believe with time we should the office in all the geo-political zones of the country to make it more accessible.

“In 2020, I also created a policy that brought into existence Nigeria’s first centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, a world class centre in Abuja with modern gadget for our young innovators with all gadget and, the big news is that there are grants for start-ups to access if the need funds for innovative ideas”.

Still in his presentation, he pointed out that the country has the highest numbers of venture capitalists and pointed that the Startup bill currently up for consideration before it is  made into law would further help accelerate the growth of Startups.

He also emphasized the importance of the digital economy and how the ICT sector has helped the country get out of recession, urging businesses to remain innovative about using technology to ease their business to achieve greater result.

Basically, the Nigeria Startup Bill the minister spoke about is a joint initiative by Nigeria’s tech startup ecosystem and the Presidency to harness the potential of Nigeria’s digital economy through co-created regulations.

In Pantami’s words: “The Bill will ensure that Nigeria’s laws and regulations are friendly, clear, planned and work for the tech ecosystem. This, we believe, will contribute to the creation of an enabling environment for growth, attraction and protection of investment in tech startups”.

The Art of Technology Lagos that takes place every year is an initiative of the Eko Innovation Centre organized in conjunction with the Lagos State government.  It is the largest tech conference in Nigeria that brings together key stakeholders from the public and private sector to discuss policies and initiatives that will pave the way for the evolution of a smarter, digital, efficient and competitive Lagos

With such a massive impact in just three years, the Curator of Art of Technology Lagos 3.0 and Founder of Eko Innovation Centre Victor Gbenga Afolabi relishes with excitement as he took time to dissect how the activities of the last few years have been congruent with the core values and vision he had when the project was brewed. 

Deputy Governor of Lagos, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat (third on the left), alongside other panelists at the Art of Technology Lagos 3.0, held at the Oriental Hotel, Lagos recently.

 Afolabi had revealed that the maiden edition held in 2019, recorded over 2,000 participants in attendance. One of the key successes of the maiden edition was the launch of the Lagos Innovation Masterplan which has continued to guide the Lagos state government in achieving its SMART City agenda.

Also, the second edition hosted last year attracted about 8,700 participants and witnessed the launch of Startup Lagos as well as Eko Open-source projects, with key participation from over 30 countries worldwide.

Any curious observer would know that consistent success of AOT Lagos would not have been possible without the partnership and involvement of the Lagos State government under the charismatic leadership of Gov, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

The values-based, “no excuse” leadership of responsibility, integrity, compassion, and excellence of the Lagos state government under Governor Sanwo-Olu was the game-changer in the impact of AoT Lagos in the last three years. 

Many bold and progressive initiatives of the present government of Lagos are poised to leave legendary impact on citizens for years, in a country’s polity known for failure and excuses.

One such masterstroke was when Governor Sanwo-Olu raised the bar for government participation in Tech with a seed funding of 250 million Naira to grow the Lagos Tech community at the maiden edition of AoT Lagos.

This action was congruent with the wise saying of Tibetan Spiritual leader, The Dalai Lama which says, ‘In order to carry a positive action we must develop a positive vision. 

Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu (4th right) flanked by his Deputy Dr. Obafemi Hamzat (left); Chairman, Lagos State Science Research and Innovation Council (LASRIC) & Vice-Chancellor, University of Lagos, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe (right) and beneficiaries of Research category of the LASRIC grant during the presentation of cheques at the Art of Technology Lagos 3.0, held at the Oriental Hotel, Lagos recently.

 In his actions and policies, Sanwo-Olu has always reflected the personality of a man of great vision. Even in his presentation at the event, the Executive Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu declared that the state recognizes the life-changing implications technology can have on the living standards and quality of life of citizens. This must have shaped the high level of passion the Lagos state government has shown yearly in the activities of AOT Lagos.

The Lagos State government has taken an active approach not just in technology enablement and investment but has begun to develop a culture of scientific research and development in Lagos to drive the process of total integration.

Speaking further at the 2021 AOT, The Executive Governor of Lagos State said that his administration has been deliberate about deploying technology to make governance seamless and has been funding the technology space in line with its smart city agenda which has further helped the state to be the 5th largest economy in Africa.

He added that from traffic management to security it is deploying technology to make the state better and as regards supporting businesses with funding, he explained that the Lagos State Science Research and Innovation Council (LASRIC) raised the bar in assisting the state in achieving its smart city agenda of making Lagos a 21st-century economy to transit to a smart city through the application of science and information technology and by also providing grants to innovators.

 A segment of the event that has attracted massive interest and involvement is Collaborate Lagos. Here 8 startups pitch their products for a chance to receive up to $100k in equity investment from Eko innovation Centre. Collaborate Lagos is an initiative that seeks to give visibility to the best startups in Lagos. The selected startups pitched to 8 judges, 50 VCs, and a global audience.

Cross section of participants at the Art of Technology Lagos 3.0, held at the Oriental Hotel, Lagos recently.

This segment is also close to the heart of the Curator Mr. Afolabi. In pre-event chats, he stated that “Over the years, we get blown away by the number of startup entries for Collaborate Lagos. This year we had 168 top quality applications and we are lucky to have the best minds to help with the difficult task of selections. The startups pitching this year include, ThinkBikes, Healthstack, Eko Carbon Exchange, Retailar, Vinsighte, EonsFleet, SabiTeach, and many others. These Creative ideas are designed to address local issues and eye global expansion. Good luck to the selected few”

After an intense pitch, the judges selected three of the startup as winners. SabiTeach clinched third place presented N250,000, Retailar emerged second with 500,000 and Vinsighte clinched the first position with N1,000,000.

Afolabi said the African startup ecosystem has witnessed tremendous growth over the last few years. Albert, a lot of startups in Africa still finds it difficult to secure funds for their businesses which is the reason for the two-day conference. “Our conference had made decisions that have impacted Lagos State in Irreversible ways.”

The two-day 2021 summit really consolidated on the successes of the last two years which recorded a large turnout both physical and virtual. All attendees both physically and virtually would readily see that this year’s impact has been a phenomenon. 

 Some of the decisions taken during deliberations at the plenary sessions are calls for more government and private support for startups through funding, friendly policies, leveraging technology, adopting sustainability in business among others.

Afolabi and his team at Eko Innovation Centre deserve great commendation for their focus, expertise, competence, and bold developmental initiatives in the area of tech development. In any economic environment where very limited resources always surround numerous needs, the issue of focus must go beyond a concept. It must be a conscious and consistent practice. 

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