By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Silicon Valley already positioning itself
Global tech giants are expectedly following up on their top management’s newfound Africa bug. In late 2017, Facebook announced plans to facilitate training in digital and business skills for 50,000 SMEs. It would also be partnering with local innovation hub operators to set up tech hubs in major cities in Nigeria. In Lagos, together with Co-creation Hub, which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited in August 2017, Facebook announced the launch of NG_HUB in December 2017. Starting in 2018, NG_HUB would provide support to tech SMEs, product developers, coders, and the tech community at large. And the hub’s incubation programmes are quite ambitious. It aims to build local expertise and products in such advanced fields as artificial intelligence and machine learning, for instance. Considering NG_HUB would be Facebook’s first tech space in Africa, it speaks to the importance the American tech firm attaches to the tech opportunities in Nigeria and Lagos specifically. It is not just intuition. There are 22 million Facebook users in Nigeria. And 10 million of them log into their Facebook accounts daily via mobile devices. When Mr Zuckerberg visited Lagos in August 2017, he also announced the investment of $24 million in Andela, the software talent developer earlier mentioned.
Google led the way, though. Its own training initiative, launched in July 2017, aims to train 10 million Africans. Its flagship programme in this regard, the “Google Developers Launchpad Start,” was first started in Johannesburg in 2017. In March 2018, Google launched the Lagos leg: “Launchpad Start Lagos,” a “1-week problem-solving bootcamp for early stage startups focused on product strategy, technology, marketing, business development and presentation skills.” The acceleration programme would provide equity-free support to promising tech startups with “a minimum viable product and little or no revenue or users,” with their teams also allowed access to Google engineers for support and mentoring. Incidentally, CcHub is also Google’s partner.
The tech startup opportunity in Lagos is promising. And judging from the recent strides of global tech companies towards seizing this opportunity, this is a fact. What is today a vibrant ecosystem, at first evolved organically with little or no government support. Tech talent is relatively cheap, and the market size is potentially the largest on the continent. There are challenges, of course. Infrastructure remains problematic, for instance. Taxation could be unpredictable and draconian. But clearly, that has not stopped local and international entrepreneurs from chasing the opportunity. Besides, unlike in the past, there is now government recognition and support for the technology sector. Just as Facebook and Google are setting up accelerator programmes to support tech startups, the government also launched its own, for instance. The focus, as has been argued, is for the focus to be on Lagos as a smart ecosystem in which the government’s “Lagos Smarty City” initiative is just one component.
The author, Dr Rafiq Raji, is an adjunct researcher of the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies, a trilateral platform for government, business and academia to promote knowledge and expertise on Africa, established by Nanyang Technological University and the Singapore Business Federation. This article was specifically written for the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies
Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/columnist/rafiq-raji/article/smart-lagos-6-status-prospects-opportunities/