Emma Okonji

The Office for ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIIE), the special purpose vehicle of Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has said it has empowered technology startups with grants and mentorship programmes, worth over N50 million.

The OIIE also said it gave over N50 million grants to tech-driven startups in the country in 2015.

National Coordinator of OIIE, Bunmi Okunowo, who disclosed this at the launch of the maiden edition of StartUP Friday at the OIIE office in Abuja, explained that OIIE, in its first of many rounds of disbursements, gave the grants to incubators and accelerators that have proven records of nurturing and producing startups with growth potential. OIIE is currently expecting the approval of its 2016 budget before it implements 2016 disbursement.

“One of the major challenges facing startups is the seed funding. That early stage funding that helps the startups to get the idea off ground to prototype, to working product and commercialisation stage. Seed funding is very scarce in our society, despite the increased rates of ICT products and services springing up every now and then. What we are doing is to assist thriving incubators and accelerators with grants in bankrolling the cost of incubating or accelerating promising tech-driven startups to successful businesses”, he said.

Speaking at the StartUP Friday in Abuja, which hosted over hundred entrepreneurs, Okunowo informed that the programme was a component of its StartUP Café, designed to bridge the gap by enriching the development processes of new tech-driven businesses through “meet-up”. The “meet up”, he said, would connect the tech-startup with investors, mentors, technology buyers and enthusiasts in major tech clusters in Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna and Enugu as well as Port-Harcourt, Ibadan and Ife.

Explaining the idea behind the programme, he said StartUP Friday remained a product of the feedback gotten from a study the OIIE conducted in 2015 when it launched an online application for grants. The results of the poll revealed that Lagos state has the highest number of startups that applied, while Abuja and Kaduna came second and third respectively.

“For us, it was surprising that Abuja was second. This brought out so many questions such as. Where are they? Where do they meet? Where do they go? Is there a forum where they connect and share resources, experiences and so on? We began to strategise on how to create a community of startups, an ecosystem where everyone belongs to just as we have in Lagos. A place where it doesn’t matter what hub or community you belong to, rather where all connect to share and grow. That’s how StartUP Friday came into being,” Okunowo added.

According to him, the event, which attracted over hundred entrepreneurs from various works of life was out of the desire for the OIIE to create an environment for startups to learn, interact and, re-scale their business. Through this process, startups would also get to socialize with investors, technology buyers, and technology enthusiasts.

Speaking at the event, Senior Special Adviser to the President on Job Creation and Youth Employment under the Office of the Vice President, Afolabi Imoukhuede, reiterated the focus of the government in catalysing the creation of jobs in some sectors, which includes ICT, especially tech innovation clusters across the country.

CEOs of some of the tech-driven startups spoke on their experiences. The founder of Mamalette, a young ICT-driven business that provides existing and new mothers with technology-driven access to continuous quality content and network with those going through similar experiences, Anike Lawal, narrated her experience on how she kept on pushing against all odds and learning many skills to enable her company take off. Today she has over 80,000 members on her platform, reaching 200,000 people weekly and managing 1,800 registered forum users on their platform.

Founder of Health Tech Global Solutions, Dr. Neto Ikpeme, also spoke on how he started three businesses that he had to stop until he found this current one. He said, “Rejection from sponsors or buyers should not deter an entrepreneur from pursuing his passion.”