Tech Hubs As Catalysts For Creativity and Innovation In Nigeria By Inyene Ibanga

Information Technology (IT) hubs, simply called tech hubs, have continued to gain recognition in many countries across the globe as the most potent catalysts for the promotion of economic growth across all sectors. IT facilitates and provides access to information that enables creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship, towards the development of a knowledge-based economy.

Tech hubs are rapidly changing the landscape of local and international business operations through impactful disruptive technologies. And, Silicon Valley in the United States of America, rated the world’s tech powerhouse, is home to the world’s biggest technology companies.

Facebook, Apple, Google, Intel, Cisco, Hewlett Packard and Adobe are a few of the giant tech companies founded in Silicon Valley.

In recent years, many successful tech hubs have equally been springing up in London (U.K.), Singapore, Tel Aviv (Israel) Tokyo (Japan), Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, and India. Unarguably, these cities boast of modern digital infrastructure to drive high level creativity and innovation. This makes them attractive to young professionals, startups and global tech players.

A tech hub is a community that fosters innovation by technology startup companies. It offers support and facilities to tech entrepreneurs, and consists of incubators, accelerators, university-based innovation hubs, maker spaces, technology parks, and co-working spaces.

It creates an environment or location specifically for encouraging experimentation and helping firms network with like-minded individuals and enterprises. Over time, the hub steadily attracts enthusiasts, innovators, angel investors, as well as venture capitalists who help to nurture startup companies in all sectors of the economy.

Essentially, a tech hub makes it easier for firms to meet investors in order to get funding for their ideas and innovations. Moreover, it helps in speeding up the application of technology and social capital for economic progress.
Currently, Nigeria is probably the continent’s leading home of tech hubs. Lagos and Abuja boast of the highest number of this communities that nurture economic growth through creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Many firms are fast springing up in these cities to exploit the opportunities offered by existing clusters of educational institutions, banking institutions and digital infrastructure.

Consequently, the upsurge in tech hubs has altered the face of business operations in Nigeria. As IT continues to expand, several disruptive technologies are evolving with newer approaches to solving age-old problems for consumers, industries and business operations.

Recent disruptive technology in Nigeria include those related to e-commerce, online news sites, ride-sharing apps, e-health/ e-learning applications and GPS systems. Electricity, banking and television services (digital pay TV) are the most prominent aspects of these technologies impacting us today.

Evidently, the technologies are created by startup companies, rather than their established counterparts. This is because most startups embrace risks and are open to experimenting with fresh ideas or revolutionary changes.

With over 100 tech hubs spread largely in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, many upstarts are beginning to impact their sectors through the provision of efficient, cost saving and easy to use applications. These companies cut across the critical sectors of the economy such as education, health, agriculture, transportation and even power and energy.

Certain factors are necessary to enable tech hubs to thrive, including the availability of digital infrastructure, high speed Internet bandwidth and supporting ecosystems, i.e banks, law firms, and accounting firms. These are major attractions for startup to flock to certain cities, which also have markets for their products and services.

Moreover, tech hubs offer startup companies access to CEOs, entrepreneurs and captains of industry who link them to mentoring and innovation networks.

Nigeria is now witnessing a significant increase in the number of tech startups, skilled workforce, investments and meaningful partnerships. In the process, hundreds of jobs are being created across the IT value chain, while also offering new solutions to some of the citizens’ most critical needs.

A case in point is myclinic.ng, one of the winners of the Nigeria Covid-19 Innovation Challenge recently organised by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

Myclinic.ng is an online, on-demand platform that enables people to see and talk to doctors at anytime of the day and from any location at an affordable price, in comparison to the cost of physical consultations. Subscribers either use the mobile app or dial a smart number (for non-smart phone users) to talk consult a healthcare professional

For me, this disruptive and innovative app is unique because it targets all classes of people, especially those at the lower rung of the economic ladder. Through this tech intervention, ordinary Nigerians gain unfettered access to medical personnels, from anywhere and at any time.

Thus, the app successfully minimises the problem of self-treatment/self-medication. Considering the grave consequences of self-medication/self-treatment, it is heartwarming to know efforts are underway to reduce the menace.

Abubakar Hassan, co-founder of myclinic.ng, explained that his healthcare startup is one of those currently undergoing incubation at one of NITDA tech hubs in Abuja. According to him, the agency has continued support the startup through effective mentorship and the monitoring of their project.

“You can call a doctor from anywhere at any time, so you have no reason to self-medicate. It’s never a bad idea to talk to a doctor. We provide access, which is the problem we are solving.

“NITDA has been part of our journey, since the participation in the competition with NITDA. It has been supportive. They are not like other organisation. They monitor the progress to success.

“We are currently running an accelerator programme under the supervision of NITDA. We’ve had a great deal of mentorship from NITDA. They monitor the projects, its execution aspect, and marketing and also connect us to opportunities till it is successful”, he said.

NITDA has established several tech hubs in strategic locations nationwide to attract and support stakeholders toward the promotion of IT for industrialisation. Through these hubs, the agency is poised to provide the right enabling environment through a combination of high quality infrastructure and support services in a specific place.

Moving forward, it is expected that many persons and organisations will utilise the facilities available at the centres to create a full value chain across the IT sector to engender economic expansion.

Agreed, NITDA has done well by establishing tech hubs nationwide, there is plenty of room to do more. It is imperative for the agency to seek partners that add value to the core mission of startup tech companies.

Tech hubs require partnership with mentors and people with the right skills, alongside sound experiences, who are running and managing business operations across the IT value chain and other sectors of the economy.

Beyond mentoring and monitoring startups, the agency should as matter of priority ensure that the public is regularly informed about the progress of projects under incubation. Nigerians need to be aware of and monitor the progress of startup companies, while equally keeping track of the great value they are adding to society.

Inyene Ibanga is Manager Image Merchants Promotion Ltd, Wuye District, Abuja.

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