It is no longer news that tech is the future of enterprise. And it is not surprising that the Nigerian tech universe is centred mainly in the nation’s economic hub of Lagos and the capital, Abuja. But there are tech start-ups doing amazing things in lesser known cities and towns across the country, with many faltering and failing in the absence of proper guidance and care. Roar Nigeria tech hub is catering to such start-ups in the eastern state of Enugu.
Roar Nigeria, which is co-founded by Engr Charles Emembolu, is currently managed by Chinwe Okoli. It is located in the heart of Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and it has the distinct advantage of being situated in an academic environment. Thus, there isn’t a shortage of ideas and startups to explore them.
“Currently we have three cohorts and we are about to take in the fourth,” Chuke Obikwesili a top staff at the hub says. “Cohort four comprises of 14 teams and Cohort three comprises of between 14 and 16.”
From organising pitch competitions and identifying great ideas to incubating, mentoring and exposing them to investment opportunities, Roar Nigeria tech hub nurtures startups from within and outside the university environment through its incubation program. The hub has been funded majorly by the university since its inception in 2017.
From edtechs to healthtech and even energy start-ups, Roar Nigeria tech hub is presently home to start-ups developing some of the most brilliant ideas that look to solve developmental problems, not just in Nigeria, but across Africa. Most of their start-ups have a pan-African focus. They want to scale across the continent and touch lives positively while doing so.
I decided to talk to some of the start-ups present at the time of my visit, get their exciting stories and share their experiences and generally understand what Roar Nigeria tech hub means to them, their solutions and their businesses.
Schools Focus is one of the tech start-ups incubating at the Roar Nigeria tech hub. Founded in 2018, Schools Focus is an edtech which, according to its co-founder Chukwuemeka Precious Asadu, is a one-stop educational technology platform that is trying to simplify school management through affordable digitisation as well as democratise and accelerate digital literacy and ICT penetration into the grassroots.
“In practice, what we do is we provide technology to schools and before we do that we train them,” Chukwuemeka Asadu says. “We organise ICT literacy empowerment for schools especially the grassroots schools that are not that privileged like the schools in the cities. Thereafter we provide a technology solution that helps the school actually digitise the major parts of its operations.”
Schools Focus began working with five schools in 2018. While it proved to be a very challenging period for the young startup, it was also a huge learning curve for its founders as the period helped them develop their solution to a certain level.
Currently the startup is running an open public beta testing phase with over 58 deployments of its solution. However not all 58 deployments are active in terms of generating revenue as there is a period of free trials before a user enters the paying stage. But currently 21 deployments are under paid subscription.
“Our solution is not only for Nigeria so we are trying to adopt a pan-African or at least sub-Saharan scope. Currently we have schools from Ghana, Liberia and of course Nigeria using the solution,” Chukwuemeka says.
The startup is definitely building with scalability in mind but for now, the team is focused on building the value first before going out for investments. The start-up however has gotten grants especially from Venture Corp National Innovation Summit where it was one of the winners, and Startup Nigeria. These grants have kept the team going at the moment.
Speaking on the role Roar Nigeria tech hub has played in all these, Chukwuemeka says the hub has been a very wonderful place.
“They have been very instrumental to our progress,” he told me. “The fact that it is situated in the university environment is also wonderful as there is access and you don’t actually have to go very far to find people that will deliver one or two things for you.”
Schools Focus is in Cohort 3 of Roar Nigeria’s incubation program.
Africa has some of the largest youth population across the world. It also has one of the largest population of unemployed youths across the world and solutions are needed to solve such an explosive problem. Upskill Networks is one start-up providing a solution to that problem.
Upskill Networks trains and connects youths to in-demand jobs. According to its founder, Philips Everest, the platform’s mission is to eradicate youth unemployment in Africa through tailored skills training and job sourcing.
“Our solution is an online/offline centred solution which means prospective users can access us both offline and online. We partner with higher institutions using their ICT centres and converting them into training laboratories where prospective youths and young graduates can register for our program, get trained on a tailored skill and be connected to prospective jobs. Online, they can also onboard into our programs through our website.”
The startup also serves as human resource consultants of sorts as it helps employers curtail excesses of futile recruitment processes. By partnering with the business, employers can be connected to workers without going through rigorous processes. It’s therefore offering a two-way solution.
Because companies don’t employ just people, they employ skills, the thinking behind Upskill’s business is the conversion of those unemployed youths into skilled labour which will make Africa the number 1 destination for skill sourcing. To make this skill learning easier, the team is developing a system that enables anybody to learn any skill using a gaming technology.
“The average youth can spend a whole day playing video games but can’t spend two hours to learn a skill online,” Everest says. “So instead of wasting your time playing games that are quite fruitless, we are now converting skills and programming them into gaming system so that in finishing a particular game you’ve acquired a skill that you can solve problems with.“
Upskill Networks has so far attracted about N1.5 million in grants from Facebook AWAS credit and startup Nigeria and other bodies. It also has a pan-African focus and it looks to scale into every state in Nigeria within the next 6 months to 1 year. In 18 months, the team hopes to be spreading into Ghana and other African countries.
A key factor in the start-up’s progress so far has been Roar Nigeria tech hub.
“I would say that Upscale Networks was invented in Roar Nigeria,” he told me. “They massaged our ideas until we were able to come up with something that was sellable. They gave us that environment to grow and in the six months we have been here we have recorded tremendous growth.”
Upskill Systems is part of Cohort 3 of the incubation programme. They have been awarded office space, access to basic office needs, business training, mentorship and exposure to other tech communities, investors and tech/pitch events.
The proliferation of fake drugs have continued to be a serious challenge to the country. To make matters worse, most patients can’t even track or provide accurate drug usage history when needed. Blade Limited is one start-up looking to tackle these problems and provide a scalable solution to them.
Incubating at Roar Nigeria, Blades limited focuses on drug information data collection, control and management. While it has not yet launched, the startup nonetheless looks to create a centralised database system for drugs and processed foods in Nigeria. Thus it looks to eliminate or greatly reduce the occurrence of fake drugs and adulterated/imitation products in Nigeria.
“The platform we are developing is also going to help healthcare professionals and givers to manage and understand their patients better,” says Ndubuisi Chiagoziem, Founder of Blades Limited and a student of the Faculty of Pharmacy at UNN.
The start-up hopes to achieve this by integrating the pharmacy management database system and the hospital management database system into one platform to create a scenario whereby a patient has a unique code with which he could access all his drug and drug use history, information and data.
“We have been working on the solution for the past two years,” Chiagoziem told me. “Before I came to Roar, I felt blocked because I didn’t even have resources and I was just sharing my ideas with friends. But when I got here, I realised that this was what I have been looking for for a long time.”
According to him, incubating at Roar Nigeria has granted him access to other people doing similar stuff as himself. The people he has met at the incubator have helped motivated him and given him direction.
“This is the best thing that has happened to me since I came to this school,” he declared.
While Blades Limited hasn’t participated in any pitching competitions, Chiagoziem is, however, optimistic that with the results they have so far, they would start going for these competitions and hopefully do very well at them.
Roar Nigeria is indeed coming through for many of these start-ups. Obikwesili admits that not all of them would eventually scale, but he expressed optimism at the amount of excellent ideas emanating not just from the immediate community, but in the South east as well. He is calling for the decentralisation of tech hubs from Lagos to other less developed parts of the country. He notes that a lot of developers are doing awesome stuff but nobody can see them.
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