News / Africa

Nigeria Online Start-ups See a Future 'Silicon Lagoon'

Nigerians browse the internet at a cybercafe in Lagos, Nigeria. (File)
Nigerians browse the internet at a cybercafe in Lagos, Nigeria. (File)
Nigeria may soon purge its reputation as a center for Internet criminals and gain fame as an innovator of online businesses and tech start-ups.

Since 2010, there have been more than 50 tech startups in the country.  Although still in their infancy, many of them have shown great promise attracting investment from financial heavyweights like Google and JP Morgan.

These young tech savvy entrepreneurs say they have been inspired by popular online platforms such as eBay, YouTube and Craigslist.  They say they are fashioning their enterprises for tech-savvy Nigerians seeking a break from traditional ways of doing things.

Jumia.com.ng provides online retail; Wakanow showcases travel deals; Ibakatv and Irokotv take movies and Afrobeat music online.

Others are uniquely created as solutions for local problems.  Pagatech offers mobile money transfers; Jobberman.com is a job search website; Co-Creation Hub Nigeria develops local software and mobile phone apps. CC-Hub, as it is also called, recently developed Wayopedia - a repository of scam keywords and phrases that intelligently identifies scam e-mail. They have also developed a mobile social quiz platform, based on the high school curriculum, designed to enhance learning through self-assessment and to fight the high rate of dropping out from high schools.

With 45 million Internet users and 100 million mobile phones, Tayo Oviosu, the CEO of Pagatech says the potential for growth is huge.

“I tell people who look at Africa, generally, the consumer opportunity of Africa is Nigeria. It is the largest market by far. I think the entire size of Kenya is [the size of] Lagos state," said Oviosu. "The engine of growth in any economy is really start-ups.”

Oviosu says Nigeria is in the same position as China and India were 15 years ago. He says, in another 15 years, Nigerian startups could grow into global conglomerates like Tata.

After only six months, one of the movies on Ibakatv, “Sexy Criminals”, a Nollywood flick about a female robbery gang, has attracted four million views.

Irokotv already has a million subscribers.

In just six months of business, Jumia.com.ng, a subsidiary of Rocket Internet, a Berlin-based incubator has already built a 12,000 square foot warehouse close to the Lagos airport. According to a website rating company, Alexa, it is the eighth most-visited local content website in Nigeria.

Ayodeji Adewunmi, CEO of Jobberman.com, says his job platform has 500,000 users and 4,000 registered companies on its portal.

Pagatech already has more than 300,000 users.

Lagos Angel Network, a consortium of 15 technology investors, is already talking of the creation of a Silicon Lagoon modeled after Silicon Valley in California.

But Femi Longe, Co-Founder at CC-Hub, says copying success stories elsewhere may not be the way to go in Nigeria.

“We’re very obsessed with cloning successful technology products from different parts of the world and trying to force them to work here. Until we get to a stage we start looking at what is the reality and the need here in Nigeria and then creating technology solutions that can address those needs and doing it such a way that we can capture a huge chunk of the Nigerian market, which is sizeable on its own, and then capturing maybe West Africa, then Africa, until then we wouldn’t be able to create solutions that can conquer the world," Longe. "You cannot create a clone here in Nigeria and expect it to be among the top-valued technology brands in the world. Until we can get to that stage where we can look inward and from there look outward, I think the whole idea of Silicon Lagoon is a joke.”

Perhaps the strongest sign of the viability of these startups is their ability to endear themselves to notable global investors, says Tayo Kehinde, the co-managing director of Jumia.com.ng.

“If you can get someone like JP Morgan to commit a significant amount to invest not just in Africa but in a Nigerian start-up, to me, that is to say Nigeria is open for business and in particular e-commerce in Nigeria is open for business and investment,” Kehinde.

Global investment bank, JP Morgan, has invested in Jumia.com.ng. Irokotv got $10 million from American and Swedish investors. Pagatech has a string of foreign investors and Google is partnering with Ibakatv and CC-Hub.

Although there is no clear policy thrust from government on how to support these tech startups, there are some signs that this might not be the case for long.

The Lagos state government launched the Innovation Advisory Council in 2011 to help promote innovations in the state. Nigeria’s government says it has provided $3.5 million to build two tech incubation centers in Lagos and Calabar.

Part of the reason that government involvement may be necessary is that doing business in Nigeria is very challenging. The World Bank ranks Nigeria at 131 out of 185 countries for the ease of doing business. This hostile business environment is even more suffocating for tech startups.

After years of global notoriety as a center for Internet fraud, Ayodeji Adewunmi says correcting the negative perception is the biggest challenge the tech startups in Nigeria grapple with.

There is also the challenge posed by decaying infrastructure. Tayo Kehinde says heavy traffic in places like Lagos severely hampers the delivery of items bought online.

Erratic power supply is also exerting huge financial pressure on startups. Bosun Tijani, Co-Founder at CC-Hub, says the company spends more than $2,000 a month to power its own generators.

Despite the obstacles, these young Nigerian tech entrepreneurs say they remain optimistic and still say a day is ahead when Nigeria will have its own Silicon Lagoon.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More