Start Innovation Hub, an ICT incubation hub in the Niger Delta, a hub that has made great impacts in a terrain known for restiveness and militancy. The founder, Johnson Hanson speaks of the ICT space in the region. With the capacity building and skills transfer in the area of software development and Tech-based businesses springing up in the region, Anthony Nwosu captures this in an exclusive interview.
Start Innovation Hub Nigeria is a Nigerian firm that has focused on capacity building. Tell us more about this?
There is need to let people know that we are not a training institution, but we cannot do without robust capacity building in this knowledge based industry. We build capacity to solve our own problems. Talent is scarce globally in the industry, before we decided to establish Start Innovation Hub in Uyo we knew talent will be a major problem. So while modelling our business, then, it revealed that for us to bootstrap from this low income area, we must be aggressive in capacity building. We are glad we ate that frog. Today, we are not hiring technical talents from outside because we have enough internally to work with rather other companies reach out to us globally for talents and recommendations.Whenever we have an opportunity to partner with other organizations to train more developers, we are always glad to take advantage of such opportunities. In the last quarter of 2017, we partnered Hotels. Ng to train developers, at the end of a 3 month programme, we had 50 new developers added to the local ecosystem. That was a massive money cannot buy that. Our Lead Android Developer Nsikak Thompson was featured in January 2018 as 2nd best Android Developer on Code Mentor, an online platform providing instant one-on-one help for software developers by utilizing screen sharing, video and text chat, in order to replicate for users the experience of having a mentor for code reviewing, debugging, and online programming. The company is based in Taipei, Taiwan and San Francisco, California. This is one of the success stories of our robust capacity building. It has given birth to world-class developers solving problem for people all over the world.
“Today, we are not hiring technical talents from outside because we have enough internally to work with rather other companies reach out to us globally for talents and recommendations.Whenever we have an opportunity to partner with other organizations to train more developers, we are always glad to take advantage of such opportunities.”
You have a lot of folks in the area of the Niger Delta, a place that is known for oil explorations. Why ICT?
The Internet is an enabler, there is no Godfather in ICT related opportunities. You don’t need to have an uncle, brother or join cult to get hired. Once you have the solution to the problem at hand, you are the most preferred candidate.
I believe #IctNotOil is the future of the Niger Delta. Fossil fuels are being dumped for renewable energy. Cars are now driving without gas, cars can fly, houses and industries have gone green. The World Bank Group, for example will stop funding upstream oil and gas after 2019 and Nigeria’s economy is being driven by oil. We are just being proactive so that we will not be blaming our highly esteemed political leaders when they will be jobs in abundance and people are not employable.ICT has made it easier for us to get started even without an office. We have skilled people up and they are taking care of themselves now, earning steady income while still at the hub.
Start Hub aims at stimulating economic growth in the technology community, how have you been able to achieve this?
Our programmes are deliberately tailored towards acquiring technical and business skills, identifying problems in our local environment and setting up a team to proffer technology solutions to these problems. These teams eventually become a startup company, these small ICT firm get to create jobs and attract foreign exchange. We have individuals and teams who have taken advantage of the platform we have offered to start and sustain their businesses in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Before now, they would have migrated to Lagos in search of green pastures.In our 3 years of existence, we have been able to create a community where young people learn, share together and create wealth without leaving their local environment. We have 61 developers currently collaborating to build the Niger Delta of our dreams.
Lately, you were at Google event, do you have any collaboration with with the search engine giant?
I founded Google Developer Group Uyo in 2011. GDG Uyo gave me a platform to have access to Google technology resources and paved the way to my becoming the Country Mentor to Google Developers in Nigeria. So if you saw me at a Google event, of course, where else would I have been? I never miss any of those events because they have contributed immensely to who I am today and I will always encourage up and coming techies to join a community and play an active role.We partner Google through the GDG platform to improve the technology ecosystem in Nigeria.
Women do have a phobia for ICT, do you feel that ladies these days are embracing ICT?
Most women that have access to the right information are not scared of embracing ICT. I know men that are scared too. I will say women are beginning to embrace ICT more of recent as compared to 5 years ago. We need to keep on creating opportunities for women and encouraging them to join us. We need them. At Start Innovation Hub, women are really doing great and even enjoy more privileges than men.We go as far as encouraging women with free laptops, free trainings and access to startup funds. From my own perspective, I think that Nigerian women are coming out and they are beginning to appreciate ICT .
“We have no official partnerships with Universities, we have programmes that require such relationships, but we cannot fund them yet. Unofficially, we are working with students and departments on some of our initiatives. The whole process of university partnerships could be so bureaucratic.”
What are the various notable projects that you have done and how have they been able to impact on the lives of the society?
Training for Software Developers: We have worked with Hotels.Ng and Akwa Ibom State Government to train software developers in 2017. At the end, 300 took part, 50 developers made it to the finals. All of them are gainfully engaged now.
#StartInFeb: This is our training and pre-incubation programme that accepts young people without skills, train them with technical and business development skills, then get them to develop a viable technology solution to a problem in the society. At the end of the programmes, some of them become founders while others are placed on employment
Apps: AfroPot was in the market already founded by a girl. Jiggle is launching in March 2018, we have invested a lot in Jiggle and it even came 2nd during the USPF Changemeaker Challenge in 2017. From our projections, Jiggle will open the entire ecosystem to opportunities and also give Venture Capitalists the confidence to look the Niger Delta region for viable investment opportunities
USPF Technology Transfer Bootcamp: In 2017 We worked with the Universal Service Provisions Fund to carry out technology transfer bootcamp in the 6 geopolitical regions of Nigeria. At the end of each bootcamp, we activated clusters to enable them keep coming together to learn.
DevFest: With support from Google, we are an integral part of successful organization of Devfests in Nigeria.
As a hub , you provide space, internet, power and mentorship for tech entrepreneurs. Can we know how young school leavers can key into this?
We have various membership categories. If you have no programming skills at all, you will need to join us as a trainee in Android, Web or Hardware development. If you have the skills, you can join us as a freelancer or you join a team that is working on a product to be part of our incubation programme. You can also come with your team, if your idea/product is viable, we can accept you into our incubation programme to help you get to market faster.
Nigerian universities are rusty in terms of technology deployment and capacity building. Do you have any partnership with higher institutions in this area?
We have no official partnerships with Universities, we have programmes that requires such relationships, but we cannot fund or fifinance themet. Unofficially, we are working with students and departments on some of our initiatives. The whole process of university partnerships could be so bureaucratic.
Tell us about #StartInFeb?
#StartInFeb started in February 2017. The first batch finished this January 2017. All of them have been placed on jobs before the end of the training. It is our training and pre-incubation programme that starts in February and runs for 12 months. During this period, they are trained on software development skills, business development skills and problem solving techniques.The aim is to help startups start up faster in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Those that do not want to become founders gets hired by technology companies.
How has your relationship with Venture Capital firms been?
I am not in a relationship. 😀 We are bootstrapping our way up, that is why the process is slowing our pace.
Do you feel fulfilled doing this and what is your advice to the young school leaver trying to find his feet in the ICT business?
I am so fulfilled.Advice to young school leavers: It is better to build a career earlier. With access to the Internet, we can live our dreams from wherever we find ourselves. If major cities in Nigeria do not drain their brains, Nigeria will develop faster.
ABOUT START INNOVATION HUB NIGERIA
Start Innovation Hub Nigeria is an ICT firm with the innovation lab in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, South-South of Nigeria. Committed to helping technology startups with software and hardware ideas start up faster. Start Hub is a lab with business centre facilities and all in one open space for entrepreneurs to leverage on Nigeria’s strength and capitalize on opportunities in the global economy.
Apart from developers and hackers, the hub also collaborates with government, social entrepreneurs, investors, technologists, media, tech companies and venture capitalists in and around Nigeria.
Start Innovation hub has made a tremendous impact on the ICT ecosystem in Nigeria, bringing up world class app developers and coders in an area known for oil exploration. With Start Innovation strides in the ecosystem, the Niger Delta narrative has started changing from an oil-dependent region to ICT hub, making the hub in tandem with the economic diversification initiative by the Nigeria Government.