Google Launchpad for Nigeria
The last week was particularly exciting in the Nigerian technology space as Google put on a show. The CEO of the company, Sundar Pichai, even made a surprise appearance in Lagos for the very first time. The company made a lot of important announcements during this event which would change the Nigerian technology ecosystem forever.
The most notable announcement was that Google Launchpad Space would be coming to Nigeria! This is the first time a Launchpad space is being dedicated by Google to anywhere else in the World outside San Francisco. The dedicated Launchpad Space in San Francisco was only used for the first time early this year, and now Nigeria is getting one as well.
The space in Nigeria is meant to serve Africa. It is also supported by a three-million-dollar investment by Google in early stage ventures. Now, this is BIG! It is validation for all Nigerian technology start-ups. It shows we are probably doing something locally that is worth significant attention globally.
An investment in the tech ecosystem by one of the world’s largest technology companies is a major signal that Nigeria’s tech has come of age. It also means that we are now in “Prime Time”.
What exactly is Launchpad?
On Google’s official site for the program, the description is: “Launchpad Accelerator is a program to empower founders by supporting their startups through mentorship and equity-free support. The Accelerator leverages all that Google has to offer, to help participating tech startups reach their true potential.”
I will try to explain here what Launchpad is about in my own words and why a dedicated space in Nigeria is a huge thing for the ecosystem.I have had the privilege of not only being a mentor for the African “Launchpad Start” events but also been a mentor at three of the four Global Launchpad accelerator boot camps in San Francisco. Kenneth Kinyanjui (from Kenya) and I were the first mentors from Africa to be invited to participate in the program. It was a major eye opener.
When we first got to the Launchpad accelerator, we didn’t know what to expect. We knew that founders and startups were going to come from many emerging market countries but just didn’t realise that they were going to be of such high quality. What I found fascinating in each class is the breadth of ideas from different developing countries. There is always a new big thing. Each startup had the potential to scale to all of emerging markets as the problems they tackle are common to most developing countries.
The startups selected for the boot camp were not early stage ventures, they were those who had already proven something in their markets and were already funded. Some of them had even previously been part of renowned accelerators like YCombinator and 500 Startups. A lot of them came to Launchpad and had to learn everything all over again. With global mentors from different markets and investors from all over the world, LPA has been a humbling experience for both the mentors as well as founders.
It also made me also start to wonder if there were similar startups around Africa who were doing great things but waiting for discovery? My curiosity was satisfied when the first batch of startups from Africa was admitted into the 4th accelerator class which also ended last week. One of the Nigerian startups (GidiMobile) got a cash infusion from Google of one million dollars outside the accelerator, to help 100,000 children learn. This was also another first!
Coming to Africa
As I mentioned above, Launchpad setting up space in Nigeria is a significant gesture as it shows that Google as a company takes the ecosystem very seriously. Local startups, mentors and investors, on the other hand, do not only have to make use of this opportunity, but they cannot also afford to let the initiative get scuttled for any reason.
A lot of people talk about Africa’s technology potential but make small bets on sure winners. Google, on the other hand, has decided to make a large bet and provide a base to lift everyone up. They have also committed to training ten million Africans and provide them with digital skills and also educate 100,000 developers.
Google has done its bit; it is now up to us to do our own. This is a challenge, not just to other global companies, but local corporates as well. I predicted here early in the year in my very first article that corporate venture capital and startup support initiatives will be a significant boost to the ecosystem if the government provides the enabling environment for this to happen. I couldn’t, however, have predicted that something this major would happen even without government support. The ball is now literally in our court. Google has thrown the gauntlet down.
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