How African Startups Can Navigate Risks and Catalyze Growth - Exclusive Interview with Idunnuoluwa Oluwatola

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November 16, 2023
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9 min read

In an exclusive interview, we sat down with Idunnuoluwa Oluwatola, a seasoned professional with a wealth of experience in the field of Technology Risk and a track record of success at Ernst and Young U.S. LLP. Idunnuoluwa, with her experience across technology ecosystems in different continents brings a unique perspective to the table.

She has worked with numerous Fortune 500 companies to help them mitigate technology risk in their business, and drive consistent growth, and we are delighted to tap into her expertise.

Q: Idunnuoluwa, thank you for joining us today. Could you tell us about your journey and how you got involved in the world of Technology Risk and consulting?

Idunnuoluwa: Thank you very much, I am happy to be here. My career journey began with internships during my undergraduate days in Covenant university as an accounting major. I was opportune to work with two of the big four global audit firms in their risks and audit department. This opened me up to the world of business risks, data protection and policies put in place to mitigate these risks and protect the business data and sensitive information. 

I began working for Ernst and Young, full-time after my graduation from university. I worked in the Technology risk department as an IT Auditor auditing the IT environments of different clients across various sectors including financial services, oil and gas and so on. I worked closely with clients to evaluate IT environments, mitigate risks, prevent unauthorized access to client data, ensuring all changes to the IT environments go through standardized process and drive continuous improvements.

I decided to go for my MBA in 2021 after working for about 3 years because I was approaching the next level of my career which involved making more strategic decisions for my company and leading larger teams. My strong academic background and experience working as a technology risk auditor has provided me with a strong understanding of business processes and their interaction with technology, setting the stage me to take on bigger roles in Technology Risk. I joined Ernst and Young in the United States as a senior technology risk consultant in the business consulting unit where I have had the opportunity to work on bigger projects with a more diverse team of individuals focusing on the financial services industry. 

The key to my success has been my ability to analyze client IT environments in relations to access, change and operations managements. Also communicating effectively and proposing solutions to address complex issues related to technology risk and regulatory compliance.

Q: Your career path is truly impressive. Can you provide insights into the specific challenges and opportunities you see in the African startup landscape, especially when it comes to technology and risk management?

Idunnuoluwa: Certainly. The African startup landscape is evolving and full of promise, but it's not without its unique set of challenges. One of the primary challenges is the limited availability of resources and funding. Startups often need to do more with less, which can expose them to risks if not managed properly. These can hinder the adoption and scaling of technology-based solutions which makes them an easier target data breach.

Secondly, there is a talent acquisition issue. Attracting and retaining skilled talent can be difficult due to competition with more established companies. This a is a big challenge currently, because skilled professionals want to work for more established companies for better opportunities, which makes it challenging for them to find and retain skilled tech talents.

Thirdly, the economic volatility and fluctuation of African markets can pose risks, especially for startups reliant on stable market conditions for growth.

Lastly, the fast-paced nature of technology and the evolving regulatory environment can be overwhelming for startups to navigate.

However, despite these challenges, there are opportunities for growth and innovation within the African start up because the African startup landscape is vibrant and evolving.

For me, the first would be untapped markets. Many African countries, including Nigeria have a large untapped market for innovative solutions. This presents immense opportunities for tech-driven solutions in areas like healthcare, agriculture, finance, and education.

Secondly, I would like to say that Africa has seen significant progress in technology especially with fintech. It's fascinating to see how fintech has evolved and made financial services more accessible in Nigeria. The impact on financial inclusion and innovation has been impressive. Fintech startups have disrupted the traditional banking sector by offering agile, user-friendly, and cost-effective alternatives. This has pushed traditional banks to innovate and adapt their services to remain competitive.

African startups can advance traditional business models, harnessing technology to reach a wider audience and create new markets. To navigate risks successfully, startups need to adopt robust risk management practices that align with their business objectives, understand regulatory requirements, and develop a strong security posture.

Q: How can African startups better prepare themselves to tackle these challenges and emerge as successful players in the global market?

Idunnuoluwa: African startups can start by focusing on the following key areas:

  1. Risk Assessment: Begin with a thorough risk assessment to identify and prioritize potential risks. This includes assessing cybersecurity risks, operational risks, and regulatory compliance.
  2.  Regulatory Compliance: Stay informed about the regulatory landscape, both locally and internationally. Compliance is essential for gaining trust and credibility in the market.
  3. Technology Selection: Choose technology that aligns with your business goals and security needs. Secure your infrastructure from the start to avoid vulnerabilities.
  4. Talent and Training: Investment in recruiting and retaining top talent. They should offer training programs, flexible work modes, opportunities for career growth and incentives to attract skilled individuals. Also foster a work culture of diversity, inclusion and innovation. Skilled professionals are essential for managing technology risks effectively. 
  5. Strategic Partnerships: Consider forming strategic partnerships with established players in the industry. These partnerships can provide mentorship and access to global funding platforms to secure resources for growth and sustainability.
  6. Continuous Monitoring: Regularly assess and monitor your risk landscape. Be agile and ready to adapt to changing circumstances.
  7. Adaptability and Resilience: Stay adaptable to changing market dynamics and be resilient in the face of challenges. Be agile and ready to pivot strategies when necessary.

By combining these strategies with a commitment to innovation, quality, and adaptability, African startups can position themselves to succeed not only in their local markets but also on the global stage.

Q: Idunnuoluwa, given your expertise in technology risk and your roots in Nigeria, what do you think the current administration in Nigeria can do to harness the vast technology and talent potential of the country more effectively, and what are they already doing right?

Idunnuoluwa: Nigeria holds immense potential in terms of technology and talent and has seen significant growth in recent years.

What the government is doing right is recognizing the importance of the tech industry and its impact on the economy. The choice of the minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy who has a wealth of experience in African startup.

To harness the technology and talent potential more effectively, several key areas can be addressed:

  1. Investment in Education: Fostering a strong tech ecosystem starts with education. The government can focus on improving educational infrastructure, curriculum, and access to quality STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education from an early age.
  2. Digital Infrastructure: Ensuring reliable and widespread digital infrastructure, including access to high-speed internet and constant reliable power supply, is crucial. This facilitates remote work, online learning, and the growth of digital startups.
  3. Support for Startups: Implement policies and programs that support the growth of tech startups, such as tax incentives, access to funding, and streamlined regulatory processes.
  4. Cybersecurity and Data Protection: Strengthening cybersecurity measures and data protection regulations is vital to foster trust in the digital economy and protect sensitive information.

The Nigerian government has shown recognition of the importance of technology. Initiatives like the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy focus on leveraging technology for economic growth. There are efforts like the 3 Million Technical Talent (3MTT) program by the minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, which is aimed at developing a new generation of technical talent and workforce power our digital economy and position Nigeria as a net talent exporter. Previous youth focused initiatives like N-Power Tech Program aim to engage and empower young Nigerians in the tech sector. There have been some efforts to ease regulations and create a more enabling environment for tech startups, such as tax breaks for small businesses and initiatives like the Nigerian Economic Sustainability Plan.

The government needs to create an enabling environment that fosters entrepreneurship, innovation, and investment in technology. With the right strategies and investments, Nigeria can fully harness its technology and talent potential to become a leading player in the global tech landscape and drive sustainable economic growth.

Q: Idunnuoluwa, as the global economy faces uncertainty and downturns, how do you see the economic challenges affecting technology startups, both in Nigeria and on a global scale, and what steps can they take to mitigate these risks?

Idunnuoluwa: The global economic downturn undoubtedly poses significant challenges to technology startups, both in Nigeria and around the world. Reduced consumer spending, disrupted supply chains, and uncertain funding opportunities can hamper the growth and sustainability of these startups. However, adversity often breeds innovation.

Technology startups can mitigate these risks by diversifying their markets and revenue streams, optimizing operational costs without compromising on quality, and being agile and responsive to changing market dynamics. Exploring alternative sources of funding, such as grants, partnerships, or venture capital, can also help secure the necessary capital to fuel growth.

Maintaining a strong focus on customer needs and satisfaction, strengthening cybersecurity measures, and collaborating with other startups, industry peers, and governmental bodies are additional strategies to navigate economic challenges more effectively. While economic downturns present real risks, they also offer opportunities for innovative solutions to emerge. Startups that can adapt, pivot, and demonstrate resilience in the face of economic challenges stand a better chance of not only surviving but thriving in the long run.

Q: Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things are rapidly evolving. How do you see these technologies shaping the future of technology startups in Nigeria and globally, and what advice would you give to startups to stay ahead of the curve in this fast-paced environment?

Idunnuoluwa: The impact of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT) on the future of technology startups is profound. These technologies present both opportunities and challenges.

For startups, embracing these technologies can open doors to innovative solutions, enhanced efficiency, and improved customer experiences. AI, for instance, can automate processes and provide data-driven insights, while blockchain offers transparent and secure transaction systems. IoT can connect devices and collect valuable data for analytics.

However, staying ahead of the curve in this fast-paced environment requires a few key considerations. Startups should prioritize continuous learning, adaptability, collaboration, security, and regulatory compliance. Understanding how AI, blockchain, and IoT can be applied to your specific industry is crucial. Flexibility and the ability to evolve are essential. Exploring partnerships and collaborations with organizations or experts who specialize in these technologies can accelerate your integration of these innovations. Lastly, cybersecurity and compliance with applicable laws and regulations are vital as these technologies are adopted because of the growing numbers of data breach and unauthorized access to sensitive data. Bad players would try to exploit these technologies at the expense of these startups for their personal gain.

In conclusion, emerging technologies are reshaping the landscape for technology startups. Those who embrace these innovations, stay informed, and adapt will have a competitive advantage in the dynamic tech industry.

Q: Lastly, Idunnuoluwa, what would be your top piece of advice for African startups looking to make their mark in the global arena?

Idunnuoluwa: My top advice to start up founders would be to stay resilient and learn from failures. Invest and prioritize robust risk management strategies, especially when entering new markets or dealing with regulatory complexities. In the world of technology and risk, adaptability and the ability to evolve and sustain the integrity of their IT environments is crucial to success.

Startups should also ensure that their IT environments are always protected and safe guarded against unauthorized access, change and operations. The implementation of strong internal controls cannot be overemphasized based on my experience, I have seen how startups can have an exponential growth within a short period of time and the internal controls implemented at the foundational stage will be key to defining how they adapt to the changes which they experience as they advance.

Q: Thank you, Idunnuoluwa, for sharing your valuable insights with us. Your experience and guidance are sure to inspire many African startups aiming to navigate risks and catalyze their growth on the global stage.

In this enlightening interview, Idunnuoluwa Oluwatola, a technology risk expert, has shed light on the challenges and opportunities facing African startups. Her journey from Nigeria to the United States and her experiences at Ernst and Young provides a valuable perspective on how startups can tackle risks and embark on a journey towards success. African startups, take note - the path to global recognition and success begins with a strong focus on technology risk management and resilience.

This article is a Brand Press post. Brand Press is a paid service for brands that want to reach Techpoint Africa’s audience directly. Techpoint Africa’s editorial team doesn’t write Brand Press content. To promote your brand via Brand Press, please email [email protected]

This Brand Press article was not written by Techpoint Africa’s editorial team. To promote your brand via Brand Press, please email [email protected].

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