President of the Young Innovators of Nigeria (YIN), Andrew Abu, took time out to speak with IT Edge News, Oluwatobi Opusunju, on the challenges of fostering startups and why private with public stakeholders support is crucial to sustaining the startup ecosystem.
What is Young Innovators of Nigeria (YIN) all about?
Young Innovators of Nigeria is a social enterprise, the largest movement for ICT innovation and entrepreneurship platform in Nigeria. What we do is: we identify talents and mentor them into startups. We provide them with our platform to showcase their solutions with people across the world.
So what YIN, has been able to successfully do over the few five years is that, we’ve been building ecosystems across states and institutions in Nigeria. Now, we have formidable talents that we’ve built their capacity from level zero to competency levels in several tech areas including programming, networking and entrepreneurship. This is our mission. We want to see that in the next 5 to 10 years, Nigerians have the right capacity across board. We want to see technology Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) run the economy.
“We are looking at intellectual property remaining in Nigeria; we are looking at building for the Nigerian industry. We have specific hubs we collaborate with… to develop out local content capacity.”
When did YIN start and what have been the achievements so far?
We started the YIN in 2013. It emanated from the NITDA’s Knowledge Hub for young innovators which it was formerly known as. In 2014 we started identifying talents and we took the very first set of Nigerian startups to the United States. We identified and recommended them to NITDA to sponsor them to GITEX to showcase their solutions and give them exposure. The likes of GoMyWay, Wecyclers, Chenigames among others were the very first set of startups we identified.
Then we started going into institutions, the University of Jos to be precise. For example, we started the first ever University of Jos programming club in Nigeria. That club has produced the likes of Emeka Nnamdi, Pascal Okeke and they are doing great in their various startups. This is a seed we planted years ago, when we started building a conscious environment for ICT entrepreneurship in Nigeria. So, you don’t need to spend years in the university, go for NYSC and expect government to create jobs for you; you need to create the jobs for yourself. And so we started encouraging students to do group projects so their solutions can create jobs for them.
Apart from that, we are also training female techies; we have series of Jango girls activities two times in a year. We go to states, we identify problems and proffer solutions, and that has earned us the award for the most impactful youth organization at the Women and Youth Award 2014.
What we do is, we drive social enterprise – we identify what youth can do, we create awareness, mentor them and give them a platform to showcase their ideas.
“What we need is enabling environment, we need infrastructure, broadband and labs that student can access free. We also need national innovation fund which should be domiciled in the Nigerian universities.”
Are you looking at spreading to other geopolitical zones?
We already started that like over two years ago. YIN is present in the 36 states of Nigeria, each state has a zonal coordinator and we have technical working group for each zone identifying skills, ideas and recommending them to hubs. At the moment, there’s a spread of incubator hubs across Nigeria as a result of the work YIN is doing in engaging incubation hubs to adopt and mentor the talents.
How well are you working with hubs like CcHub, Andela and the rest?
YIN is seriously focused on local content in Nigeria. If you look at CcHub, they export talents to the international country. We are looking at intellectual property remaining in Nigeria; we are looking at building for the Nigerian industry. We have specific hubs we collaborate with, for example the CoLabs, the BlueHub, the Kaduna ICT Hub and the Startup Arewa. Those are our initiatives, so we can build for Nigeria; let’s Nigeria build for Nigeria. The first ever agricultural tech focus hub in Benue was conceived by YIN and this is to develop out local content capacity. And that’s what we are doing; we are in collaboration. This ecosystem cannot grow with one person, it needs everybody to plug and play. So we are standing as a platform for young people across hubs to leverage on to showcase their talent to the world and give them the necessary exposure they need.
How many startups have you mentored since starting four years ago?
We have mentored over 100 startups which include hubs like Startups Arewa. When we had the maiden launch in Kaduna, over 50 startups displayed their solutions at a go. These were startups nobody was talking to even though they were great talents, but we were able to put them on a platform and within two to three years they were already making waves.
However, what we do is that we have some set of products at every particular time and at the moment we have three products which include HouseBoy Africa, Agromed, Ileague. These are solutions we are mentoring and testing their solution from ideation stage to the developed stage.
Because YIN is a broad ecosystem, we are using the strategy of having a set of startups for a particular time; we mentor them and push them to hubs to polish their ideas and after bring in another set so they can get value and quality, because that is what we are after as well as the impact of the solution to the rural community.
We are also looking at creating solutions to solve specific problems in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and we will be focusing on goal 2 which is Zero hunger, goal 9 and goal 12 which speaks to innovation and infrastructure development. We are looking at things ICT can enable.
“Young Innovators of Nigeria is a social enterprise, the largest movement for ICT innovation and entrepreneurship platform in Nigeria. What we do is: we identify talents and mentor them into startups. We provide them with our platform to showcase their solutions with people across the world.”
How can we encourage innovators to remain here given the absence of the requisite infrastructure?
Some months ago, we had a meeting of ICT stakeholders in the startups innovation ecosystem in Nigeria with the government and we told the government, regulating the ecosystem will not work. What we need is enabling environment, we need infrastructure, broadband and labs that student can access free. We also need national innovation fund which should be domiciled in the Nigerian universities.
So we engaged the government for about five hours for us to develop a framework on how we can develop the ecosystem, so we can move from talking to implementing. We know there’s paucity of funds but there are several interventions we can leverage and put funds together to create an innovation framework that support the ordinary innovators like people at Alaba Market, Computer Village and so on. It’s an all-inclusive arrangement that takes care of the needs of each and everyone one of us. It’s not easy because we have our labs but they are under construction. We are looking at a state of the art hardware and software lab. Because most software must run on hardware, we are looking at more of the hardware, IoTs and smart infrastructure, but we need more support from the private sector, venture capitalists, etc.
How do you ensure that solutions from your innovators are robust?
What we do is that we always tell innovators to go to the people that will use the solutions, engage them and get their feedbacks, because customer satisfaction is key. So that is what we are building in the minds of the startups.
Apart from that, security is a standard. For example, if you are building a security for the bank you know you don’t have to use anything less than 5 to 6 encryption and there are also ISO standards you must meet if not the solutions are as good as nothing.
So anything that’s coming from YIN boasts of standard and that is why today the whole of ICT industry recognize Young Innovators of Nigeria as a veritable platform for young Nigerian to showcase their ideas.