American Business Council and US Mission foster dialogue on supporting the Nigerian startup ecosystem amid economic challenges

March 28, 2024
5 min read

The American Business Council (ABC), in collaboration with the United States (US) Mission, convened key stakeholders from the public and private sectors in the Nigerian startup space for an economic update themed "Navigating the Startup Landscape in Nigeria amidst Economic Challenges."

The event, held on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, attracted diplomats, policymakers, startup founders, industry professionals, banking experts, academia, and media representatives, creating a conducive environment for robust discussions on pertinent issues.

Michael Ervin, Senior Foreign Service Officer and Political-Economic Chief at the United States Consulate General in Lagos, Nigeria, delivered a keynote address, highlighting the pivotal role of startups in fostering economic growth and job creation.

Ervin underscored the importance of Nigeria's tech and startup ecosystem, citing its substantial contribution to the nation's GDP. He noted that the tech sector accounted for over 17% of Nigeria's GDP, nearly doubling revenues from traditional sectors like oil and gas.

Ervin acknowledged the challenges startups face, noting the invaluable lessons that are learned from failure. He advocated for the creation of an enabling environment conducive to risk-taking, emphasising the U.S. Mission and the American Business Council's efforts to support startups through initiatives like the associate membership category for U.S.-incorporated startups.

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Omoboye Odu, Head of Global Corporates Division at Ecobank Nigeria, addressed participants, recognising Nigeria's entrepreneurial spirit and the nation's abundance of innovative ideas.

Odu said that there's potential for startups to drive economic growth and innovation despite economic challenges, citing Ecobank's role in supporting startups through loans, investment opportunities, mentorship programmes, and digital banking solutions.

She pointed out the importance of partnerships like the one Ecobank Nigeria has with ABC, aiming to equip participants with the knowledge and tools needed to navigate the startup landscape.

In the panel discussion tagged "The Startup Act, its Implementation, and Support Structures to Enhance Growth," moderated by Professor David West, Associate Dean, Lagos Business School, stakeholders explored the definition of startups within the context of the Nigerian Startup Act.

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The session had Folashade Ambrose-Medebem, Commissioner for Commerce, Cooperatives, Trade and Investment, Lagos State; Chinedu Mofunanya, Deputy Head, Externally Managed Investors, Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA); and Yakubu Musa, representing the director general of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

Musa defined startups as tech-enabled companies focused on innovation and less than ten years old. He pointed out the collaborative efforts to support startups since the enactment of the Startup Act.

The commissioner emphasised the state's commitment to nurturing its startup ecosystem. She highlighted government initiatives aimed at supporting startups financially and creating conducive environments for growth, including the establishment of startup hubs under the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Technology.

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Ambrose-Medebem also mentioned that the state and her ministry are working to bridge the gender gap and empower more female entrepreneurs and they are doing this by also partnering with the private sector.

Mofunanya spoke on the role of NSIA as fund managers, as stated in the Act. He said that for them to fully achieve their mandate in terms of sourcing for funds as well as disbursing the funds, certain actions have to be fulfilled as the Startup Act fully comes to life. He also mentioned NSIA's partnerships with both local and global venture capital funds, citing their global mandate and efforts to create synergies across all partners.

Mofunanya added that they have been working on strategies to catalyse startup growth, including the National Innovation Programme and investments in digital infrastructure such as data centres to enhance local hosting capabilities.

The dialogue concluded with a commitment to fostering partnerships between public and private sector stakeholders to accelerate the implementation of the Startup Act and drive growth in Nigeria's tech and startup ecosystem.

The event had another panel session, titled "Startup Expansion: The Hedges and Opportunities," featuring speakers such as Samuel Eze, CEO of Ourpass; Nnaemeka Clinton from Spark Africa; Modupe Odele, managing partner at Vazi Legal; and Ashley Immanuel of Semicolon Africa, who moderated the discussion.

The panellists discussed the importance of building solutions locally before considering expansion and advised startup founders to consider the unique characteristics of various countries, especially those in Africa, including understanding the terrain and culture.

In the final panel session, investors and individuals working in the venture capital space shared insights on investor expectations.

The panel included Ireayo Oladunjoye, CEO of Endeavour; Oluwatoyin Emmanuel, Investment Director at Novastar Ventures; Ehinimen Abhulimen, Treasury Expert at Ecobank; and Ike Eze, Managing Partner at Beta Ventures.

Oyeniyi Immanuel from Circle LLP moderated the session, facilitating an interactive discussion that allowed the audience to gain better insight into funding strategies, raising funds, and best practices in the industry.

Speaking to Techpoint Africa, Yemi Keri, co-founder of Rising Tide Africa, a women-oriented investment network that also educates and trains women to become sophisticated angel investors, highlighted the efforts her organisation has been making to support female-led startups through mentorship and accelerator programmes.

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She also underscored the importance of female inclusion in the startup ecosystem and collaboration with the Lagos State Government to create gender-friendly frameworks.

Reflecting on the event, Margaret Olele, CEO of the American Business Council (ABC), emphasised the opportunities for economic growth through the startup space and the significance of the Startup Act in supporting startups in Nigeria. She spoke on the need for startups to understand various aspects, such as funding, appropriate registration, and finding the right partners.

Discussing ABC's initiatives beyond the event, Olele mentioned the establishment of an associate membership category for companies registered in Delaware to better understand their challenges and point them towards opportunities.

She also mentioned ABC's involvement in organising the cybersecurity hackathon, which has evolved into a cybersecurity hub. Last year, ABC partnered with winners of the hackathon and developers to provide training in Silicon Valley, exposing them to stakeholders who could offer support.

Additionally, ABC is working on training more information technology and security officers through partnerships with companies like Cisco and the GSDC. Olele expressed her belief in meaningful events, citing the evolution of the cybersecurity hackathons into partnerships and the launch of a hub this year.

Regarding female inclusion, Olele highlighted efforts to increase participation by reaching out to women-focused groups and organisations, addressing the lack of female participation in previous hackathons.

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