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The technology space in Abuja has in the past been a quiet one just like any other thing in the city except for civil service, real estate and NGOs. In 2011 when I came into Abuja, it was really difficult to see the city as one that can be tech driven. There was nothing suggesting a quick revolution. The buzz was strongly around Lagos and there was nothing anybody could have done about it.
The much that was in the public domain was the usual government contracts that every tech related company bids for. Almost anything tech centered around one government solution/initiative or the other. It’s no body’s fault though; it’s usually good money when it comes through.
Simply, Abuja has been popular for government and recreations and not tech.
This may as well explain why “Abuja did not meet the mark when Information Technology Developers Entrepreneurship Accelerator (IDEA Hub) was established in 2013 in order to leverage information technologies for disruptive change. Lagos and Calabar were the choice cities for the hubs” according to this article here
Were they tech people?
Yes, I met a handful of IT managers, IT directors, social entrepreneurs and very few developers. We were all locked up in our silos, everyone busy writing one procurement proposal or the other.
So how did it all start?
I followed tech blogs like Techloy, Otekbits (of blessed memory), Innovation-Village, Mobility and then TechCabal (All Lagos tech blogs. Nobody was/is interested in writing or blogging anything technology in Abuja. Anyway, who cared?) from my aggregator on technigeria.com.ng. On TechCabal, I read Bankole announcing “his coming to Abuja” (who doesn’t know that Lordbanks is a celebrity) and his desire to meet up with the tech community or any one that loves technology (The latter sounds more like it as of then).
It was in November, and it sorta started like a joke. I was going to be at PIN’s internet intermediary liability workshop on the 14th, but was billed to arrive on the 13th. With an evening to kill, I wondered if there were any cool folks in Abuja that wouldn’t mind hanging out.
I tweeted my thoughts. Enspire’s Bankole Oloruntoba got in touch. Between us, we pulled in about fifteen honest-to-goodness geeks into one room with barely a day’s publicity.
You can find the rest of the story about that hangout here
“Still, a roomful of technology inclined people gathered for an ad hoc drink-up isn’t exactly a technology community in the true sense”. But that meet up for me was the beginning of what is today “Abuja Technology Community”. And just like Bankole of TechCabal pointed out, Bankole Oloruntoba accepted the mantle of tech maven and has been convening informal meet-ups. Enspire became the first point of convergence. We started knowing ourselves one after the other. One beautiful thing he did was to make the space open for us. Yes the growth was slow but he never relented. In my own opinion, Bankole Oloruntoba did the hard work of clearing the coast and pulling techies out of their silosbut you see he cannot continue doing it all alone.
What has the challenges been?
- A lot of techies have been locked up in office cubicles as IT managers and software leads.
- There was less technology driven companies in Abuja. Most of what we saw and had was government offices and real estate businesses. This has not considering changed but there is a shift
- There was little or no major tech product/startup built out of/or in Abuja
- The market seemed not to be there. It was non-existent (so we assumed) or it was very slim (Just too many things about the market).
- Then, that of suitable skill sets: Developers, Designers and of course investors and their money
- High cost of living and accommodation was a deter to attracting talents
So what has changed?
Irrespective of these challenges a lot have happened that have lead the course of shaping a community that we all have come to embrace. In Abuja, the technology community is beginning to gather steam and 2016 has unarguably been the year it took a leap.
Meet-ups are springing up: There are now more meet ups and informal gatherings than before. I can’t even attend all of them. Some of the meet ups #BizClinic; The event is to enlighten startup founders and business people on how to run their businesses especially in customer acquisition and generating revenue, #TheHive; It is an opportunity for anybody to come discuss his or her idea and throw it open for people to give you feedback, #AbujaDevMeetup; For lovers of code and #UXAbuja/Useable; It is everything about user experience, user interface, design principles etc.
With the presence of more hubs now, there is going to be more meet-ups such that I may not be able to count or hand pick them again. CCHub re:learn center just organised #BuildForMyCity Abuja while Enspire hosted #NextEconomy.
Increase of hubs and incubation centers
In 2016 alone, we have seen three hubs spring up in Abuja (Startpreneurs Hub, Ventures Platform, and Co-Creation Hub re:learn center). Before now, it used to be only Enspire Incubator. I strongly believe that the hubs will be key driving force of success for the entire technology and startup community . My believe is that this hubs and accelerators will provide priceless access to mentors, allow founders to receive expert product feedback, gain relationships with investors, pitching opportunities and seed financing. We can never undermine the importance of hubs and accelerators in an ecosystem. Whether they can produce successful startups is a matter of time.
More startups and products – Before now, we could have asked the question “Where are the startups?” but that is no longer obtainable. Startups like Simple Pay, PayPorte, My-Ads all have its root in Abuja. There are names like ChowHub; a food discovery platform, Food-i-Like; a food ordering and delivery platform, HelloTractor; deploys smart tractors to farmers and ProJaro; a talent acceleration startup that trains and deploys world class software developers. You also have Taskit, Acadar, MobiDoc, Nkaata, YourTaxiNow.com, FreshDirect, MyQ App etc. Gradually, we are beginning to see people think of building solutions, products and technologies that will solve Abuja’s problem and the nation at large.
Tech Events are Coming: Today Tech events such as Coders4Africa, EmergeTech, StartupGrind and others are heading towards the capital city. There is also #NIITEX which was put together by Andy Madaki of Decy-4. It was very successful and was a good converging ground for technology and innovation in Abuja. Recently, with NITDA’s support, OIIE have launched #StartUpFriday which has commanded the biggest crowd in any tech/startup event I have ever attended in Abuja. The goal of #StartUpFriday is to help startups and entrepreneurs “Meet, connect and grow”.
What do we need to do:
This article from TheNextWeb clearly recommends what we need to do
- Local concentration of founders and other ecosystem players – It is quite common to see investors and well-known founders intermingling. It is through this intermingling, across cafes, pubs, bars, and restaurants, that creates the serendipity that is required to have more ideas and decisions just happen.” OK let’s meet at Salamander, Classic Rock Café, etc
- Quality of local education and engineering training – This is one I am quite passionate about. ProJaro was birthed to fill this gap and surely, we are on course
- Access to successful mentors or serial entrepreneurs – I strongly believe that the hubs and incubators will make this a strong offering for the community.
- A strong and growing media presence – Unfortunately, we score a zero on this and I share in the failure. Abuja needs its own technology/startup blog. There is need to always have a conversation about the beautiful things that are happening in the community, we need to tell our own stories.
- Access to infrastructure and cheap housing – Building a tech startup is near to impossible if you don’t have access to a reliable and fast internet connection and access to cheap and affording housing. Sometimes FREE
- Access to capital and funding – Most of the businesses and startups I know here are bootstrapping or in their early stage. Scaling up or moving to the next level will entail access to capital and funding.
- Tax relief for startups and investors – Please just give startups at least 3 years tax holidays maybe with the condition of reinvesting the money any social responsibility of choice.
- Access to experienced legal counsel – Lawyers are there to help you make things easier and protect you from things going wrong in the future, and not the other way around, but not all ecosystems have legal counsel that is well versed in venture law.
- Collaboration and more collaboration – There is more we can achieve when we take out time to leave our silos and network with people of like minds. For instance, if Enspire, CCHub re:learn, Venture Platform etc should come toegther and advocate for accessible and affordable internet infrastructure like fiber cables, it will be a huge problem solved or industry players should come together and provide a flexible housing plan for startups, talents and young innovators. We will definitely attract and retain more people for the development of the community. All am saying is this: we can do more together than separately
Abuja Technology Community is growing but it must take a leap. With the number of higher institution in and around the city, we are bound to attract a lot of talents. Hence, making the environment attractive and retaining these talents should be a priority. People build communities.
Other stories about Abuja Technology Community
- Tech In Abuja Ever Liveth – TechCabal
- Sensitising Abuja with Tech Innovation Ecosystem – ThisDay
- Nigeria’s original startup city is making a big play for Africa’s young entrepreneurs – Quartz
- Tech Trends Interview On Building A Tech Ecosystem with Kola Aina – ChannelsTV
- The Enspire Incubator and Abuja Technology Ecosystem Story – Enspire Incubator
I will try to update this list when I can
“Startups need more than just money. They need a framework and community to support ideas,” – Kola Aina.