Beyond Lagos: Growing Tech in Nigeria
One of the most definitive trends over the last two decades has been the growth of the World Wide Web and internet technology, and with it, the companies that create these technologies. These technology companies have created trillions of dollars in value for the world economy and also for themselves. For example, multinationals such as Google and Yahoo! were founded within that period, and even older companies such as Apple, Cisco Systems and IBM leveraged on the growth of the internet for their own growth and resurgence.
One of the advantages of tech is cost. It costs less to execute a technology-based idea reaching literally the whole world than to execute, say, a manufacturing a service idea. The most important input needed to execute a tech idea is the talent – the people who use their knowledge and experience of computing and programming languages to create new technologies that makes our lives easier and better. We are all familiar with ‘grass-to-grace’ stories of how companies like Google and Yahoo! grew from garages and Facebook from a university dorm room to become multinationals and making billionaires out of their founders, early employees and investors.
Along the way, the tech industry has made a large chunk of California home, popularly known as Silicon Valley. Over time, many other cities and regions around the world have noticed the immense benefits of hosting tech companies and have doubled down their efforts in attracting them either by offering incentives, setting up developer training programs or partnering to set up tech hubs.
It is not surprising that the growth of the tech industry in Nigeria has taken off and been most dominant in Lagos, known as the nation’s economic capital. We can now proudly point to companies such as Konga, Jumia, Wakanow, Kaymu, etc. There are tech companies emerging in Nigeria faster than one can keep up with, particularly consumer technology companies and those that seek to bring the magic of the internet to long-existing businesses such as food ordering, car purchasing and hotel booking.
The city also plays host to two tech hubs, CCHub and iDEA Hub (which also has a hub in Calabar, Port Harcourt) and co-working spaces such as Lagos Garage and CapitalSquare. It is very logical for those tech startups to desire to make Lagos their home, as not only are these hubs and co-working spaces attractions, but also the fact that they will be in Nigeria’s largest market. It also gives them access to potential angel investors and venture financiers.
Even though the tech industry is gradually growing beyond Lagos, it is rather surprising that many states are slow to jump on the opportunity and benefits of growing tech activity within their states by capitalizing on whatever unique advantages they have.
For example, one advantage about every state has over Lagos is the cheaper cost of living. It is not unsurprising to find that the cost of a one-bedroom flat in Lagos can pay for a three-bedroom flat in Osogbo, Osun State, which is three and a half hours away. There is the considerable fact that most of the people involved with tech startups are young people for whom lower living costs will make all the difference in the world as they enter the quite risky world of entrepreneurship.
But beyond just the intense commercial activity that Lagos is known for, what other factors exist to make tech entrepreneurs and creators assemble in a city?
For starters, the presence of tech talent – the geeky programmers, designers, developers and coders from whose minds creativity springs forth. An excellent way for states to attract these talents is to partner with institutions within their borders that have computer science programs or similar tech programs. They could also partner with institutions that are involved in such talent development such as NIIT and Andela.
But another important factor that needs to be in place is the presence of facilities. A great way to provide this is through the establishment of tech hubs which will provide a space for entrepreneurs, with internet access, mentorship and exhibitions through events such as DEMO days.
The combination of these two factors can cause a quantum leap in the number of tech entrepreneurs that a state or city can create. It is still a wonder that states are not latching on to this and in most cases, present a huge stumbling block to it happening.
For example, states still tenaciously hold on to Right of Way (RoW) charges which is the single largest cost impediment to the rollout of fibre optic cables for broadband internet. Waiving these fees could just be the impetus needed for cheaper internet which will definitely attract tech entrepreneurs and startups into the area, like the Lagos State government did in the Yaba area in 2013.
One state that quite befuddles me as to why they do not seem to be doing everything in their power to attract tech talent and startups is Osun State. With a low cost of living, excellent power supply especially around the state capital, proximity to Lagos and an excellent Computer Science program at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife, the next step the government needs to take is to put into place the factors explained above.
States that are serious about job creation and economic development cannot afford to ignore the potentials having local tech industries offers in this regard. And time indeed is running out as tech evolves daily and if these states stay entrenched in their casual disregard for the growth of tech in Nigeria, they just might be left behind completely.