Global interest in Nigeria’s emerging tech sector has been buoyed by the investment of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, in Andela, a Nigerian start-up, followed by a visit to Yaba in September 2016. The visit by the CEO of Y Combinator, one of the most successful and influential tech incubators in the world, in the same month further validates the increasing interest of the global tech industry in Nigeria.
According to Quartz (Qz.com), a digital news outlet, Nigeria raised the 3rd largest ($114.6million) startup funding in Africa in 2017, behind South Africa and Kenya. Furthermore, Techpoint.ng, a leading local media platform dedicated to start-ups, entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology, also reported Nigerian start-ups had already raised about $73.7million in Q2, 2018.
The hardest evidence of an emerging technology ecosystem in Nigeria is in Yaba, Lagos State, which now boasts a relatively high concentration of tech companies, start-ups, incubators and accelerators when compared to other parts of Lagos or the rest of the country. An organically grown cluster, Yaba now accommodates over 60 start-ups and tech companies including Hotels.ng, Afrika’s Talking, PagaTech and incubator/accelerator programs, such as Co-Creation Hub (CcHub), Passion Incubator, and more recently NG_HUB (Facebook), Blue Lab (Stanbic IBTC) and Digital Lab (First Bank).
The cluster is also home to about three tertiary institutions (University of Lagos, Yaba College of Technology and the Federal Science and Technical College), several secondary schools, and connected to major road networks in Lagos, thus making Yaba an attractive place for a hub. According to research, industrial clusters have been empirically proven to create jobs, nurture high growth companies and improve economic development (for example, the UK’s Cambridge cluster consists of over 1500 tech and biotech companies and employs over 57,000 people generating over £13billion annually. Currently 38% of European jobs are concentrated around clusters).
Consequently, the Lagos State Government (LASG) has announced the commencement of the Yaba ICT Cluster project, KITE@Yaba (KITE stands for “Knowledge, Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship”) to provide an enabling environment that will facilitate and support the development of a technology cluster and ecosystem within the Yaba District of Lagos. It is expected that this initiative will contribute significantly to the economic development of Nigeria and position Lagos State as the hub for innovation in Nigeria, and preferred destination for technology investors and innovators. Mr Hakeem Fahm, the Honourable Commissioner for Science and Technology remarks that “KITE@Yaba is a public-private partnership (PPP), driven by the government and supported by several industry experts and advisors along the technology value chain”.
The project will proffer recommendations to the Lagos State Government on 8 critical areas to foster an enabling environment for innovation and entrepreneurship in information and communication technology namely Access to Funding; Access to Market & Demand; Infrastructure; Policy Regulation & Governance; Talent, Skills & Education; Research & Development; Network & Collaboration; and Advocacy & Marketing. KITE@Yaba also includes the design and construction of a world class ICT Park for which LASG has already acquired 30,000 square metres of land in the Yaba area.
The project’s governance structure comprises a Project Steering Committee (PSC), an Industry Advisory Board (IAB), the Project Delivery team and Subject Matter Advisors. The PSC is co-chaired by the Honourable Commissioner for Science and Technology, Lagos State, Mr. Hakeem Fahm, and Dr. Omobola Johnson, former Minister for Communication and Technology and Senior Partner of TLcom Capital LLP, a technology venture capital firm. Other members of the steering committee include Mrs. Uzammat Akinbile-Yusuf, Honourable Commissioner for Wealth Creation and Employment; Mrs. Yetunde Onabule, Special Adviser on Urban Development; Mr. Abiodun Amokomowo, Chief Executive Officer, IBILE Holdings Limited; and Mr. Niyi Yusuf, Country Managing Director, Accenture. Accenture will provide project management office (PMO) support as Project Delivery Lead.
The Industry Advisory Board (IAB) which was inaugurated in June 2018, is chaired by Dr. Omobola Johnson, and comprises notable technology industry stakeholders including CcHub, Google, Microsoft, MainOne, Andela, Flutterwave, General Electric (GE), and Ibile Broadband, University of Lagos, and Lagos State University. The role of the IAB will be to provide overall leadership and direction to the project to ensure its objectives are realised and ensure value for money to Lagos State based on experience and expertise. Dr Omobola Johnson welcomed the involvement of the private sector in this initiative and said, “Lagos State is already well known as the enterprise and commercial hub of the country, KITE@Yaba will further drive technology innovation and entrepreneurship and will directly contribute to the development of a digital economy in Nigeria”.
Over the next 18 months the PSC and IAB will review designs and plans, provide professional advice, and engage in local and international awareness plans to drive further support for interest and investments in the project. The administration of Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode is committed to making Lagos State a world class location for tech start-ups and technology companies comparable to those in other global locations.