We need more young Nigerians in technology space, says Tijani
In this interview, Bosun Tijani, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of CcHUB, told ADEYEMI ADEPETUN more about the partnership, challenges facing technology deployment in the country, funding and other sundry issues. Excerpts
What do you consider the greatest challenge facing Nigerian startups?
Startups by nature are meant to be innovative, and I always tell people such challenges are opportunities.
If there is no challenge, there is no point coming into the market. For instance, financial technologies startups are thriving because are services the banks do not provide.
This explains why smart people deploy technology to deliver these services in ways that banks could not.
But if we are going to be more practical, I think one of the biggest challenges would possibly be the penetration of the Internet.
The products these people are pushing to the market are digital.
At the very basic level, they need to work on devices that have access to the internet.
So, if you find out that internet service is unavailable or unaffordable, there is a limit already to the number of customers you could approach. So that is a significant problem.
But obviously, you can point to things like funding as a potential problem.
It is a problem, but I also think it is not as much of a problem like Internet penetration.
The more the ecosystem becomes vibrant, the more you find that investors who want to invest in technology businesses would also find a market there.
Another common problem, which I think is becoming major, is talent. As these talented entrepreneurs seek to build technology businesses, they need technology talents to run these companies.
I think the demand for tech talents is way higher than the supply in the country at the moment.
So, there is serious competition for software developers or creative persons within the tech space, user experience, designers and things like that.
And the implication of that is that it is expensive for most of these companies to find good, quality talents that they can rely on to run their businesses.
These are some of the challenges. There are several others, but I will leave it at these three.
How can the paucity of tech talents in Nigeria be bridged?
I think the fundamental things need to be done. We need to make sure that our universities understand that we are now in a digital economy and they revamp their curriculum in a way that is relevant for what the world is seeking.
A university graduate should have the basic knowledge.
If you study computer science at the university, you should have the basic knowledge to function in a software related company.
At the moment, that’s not the case.
The curriculum in the country is weak, so you find that most of the good software developers we have are self-taught by people that have learnt from places like Andela or are members of CcHub.
And the problem with that is, it’s not sustainable, because how many software developers can Andela train?
Imagine if we our acts and curriculum is in order. Imagine if we equip our universities and tertiary institutions to train.
Imagine how many software developers that schools like UNILAG, UI and others can train in a year.
CcHub is known to have been involved with a number of partnerships with foreign bodies. How has this helped STEM in Nigeria?
STEM is bigger. As you know, it is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
So, we can’t say what we are doing in technology is affecting the entire ecosystem, but I think what we’ve seen is.
There is a growing interest among young people to want to go the route of engineering, even though the level of engineering is more of software, and we have seen few people that are becoming interested in hardware engineering.
But what I think would then happen is more people that would take biology, chemistry and all these kinds of things seriously.
But if we stay at the level of just technology and not talk about STEM, I think the obvious thing you can see today will continue to happen.
That is, it is easier for young people to say they want to become software developers, software engineers, user experience wizards.
The reason for that is they now know that it is one of the highest paying jobs. There is an opportunity to make a good life out of being a software engineer.
There are so many software engineers in Nigeria working remotely for foreign countries and earning in dollars; young people doing really well for themselves.
So, compared to eight years ago when we started CcHub, where when we have a technology event, you see two or three hundred people, today if there is a technology event, they are in thousands because more young people are excited about becoming software engineers.
So, I think that awareness has been good. The fact that they can relate, they can see companies that they only use their products, but now they can see them in real flesh.
Facebook has something here. So, all those kind of things puts it in their subconscious minds that “this is for me. It is not strange. I can do it”.
Can you talk about the Accelerator programme?
It’s a demo day, and if you were here during the launch of the NG Hub, which is an innovation of Facebook and CcHub, you will see that it is a continuation of our partnership. It is focused on supporting deep technology and digital economy in Nigeria.
So, Facebook through this Hub is providing support to different initiatives, from basic things like digital security training, digital literacy training, support for small businesses and technology ecosystem in the country.
CcHub is responsible for it, but it gives Facebook the platform to do much more for the larger economy in Nigeria.
The initiative is an accelerator programme for early-stage deep technology start-ups. This is something that is quite new in Nigeria.
We’ve been supporting startups for a while, but there has not been a specific acceleration programme that is focused on looking for people who are building things like augmented reality, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and application of robust technology to solve serious problems in Nigeria.
How were the participants picked?
We started by putting these guys in a boot camp for one week.
These are startups that have been selected from different universities and other institutions.
It is a combination of people owning companies as well as students undertaking their first, Master’s and doctoral degrees.
We were able to pick about 16 of them after a tour. We did visit quite a number of cities nationwide.
We received lots of applications from where we sieved the lucky ones.
Over the next few months, they will get funding and other support for the businesses of their choice.
After the boot camp, how will the follow up look like?
The ones that are not students-led startups will be incubated in this space, so they will have access to the building where they can run their business from.
Their teams will also be able to sit here for the next six months. But beyond that, they will also be receiving funding.
The ones that are students-led would be getting support from what we call Partner Hubs.
And the partner hubs are hubs in other parts of the country that are closer to their universities.
So, if you are from the University of Abuja and you have been accepted on this programme, the Venture Platform will provide support for you.
You can go into Venture Platform to work as well and Facebook would cover that cost.
For those that are student-led and are not based here, there will be virtual incubation support.
This means our incubation team would work with them over the next six months to actually build, launch and test their prototypes and ensure that real users are actually using the prototypes.
For the ones that are led by non-students, we will have daily support for them to build their businesses beyond the money and hopefully launch and help them raise further form of finance.