CommTech Minister: Govt injects $9m to grow tech startups in Nigeria

CommTech Minister: Govt injects $9m to grow tech startups in Nigeria

CommTech Minister: Govt injects $9m to grow tech startups in Nigeria

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[jumbotron heading=”INSIGHTS” tagline=”Industry Insights”]Dr Omobola Johnson, Minister of Communication Technology of Nigeria, delivered this address today at Demo Africa 2014, which kicked today off in Lagos.

Dr. Omobola Johnson, Minister of Communication Technology
Dr. Omobola Johnson, Minister of Communication Technology

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Welcome to Nigeria, the most populous country and the largest economy in Africa.

Welcome to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, a vibrant mega-city and our melting pot.

And for those of you, for whom it is your first time in Africa, welcome to Africa, the Rising Continent.

Nigeria is particularly delighted to be hosting the third edition of DemoAfrica, arguably the most exciting place for African start ups to be. Securing the hosting rights to this event this year is indeed a validation of the Federal Government’s renewed focus on the ICT industry in general and the software development industry in particular.

Africa is indeed rising but this has not always been the case.

On May 13th 2000, The Economist, an international current affairs magazine, had on its cover page a silhouette of the African continent, within it was the image of an armed guerrilla fighter; its caption read: “The Hopeless Continent”. Within the pages of that edition, the prognosis on Africa encapsulated the prevailing beliefs held not only by the majority of those living outside its borders, but also by those that considered themselves ‘trapped’ within it. Africa – a starving, poor, disease ridden, fractured, war-torn, corrupt, dying mass of humanity … described by former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, as a “scar on the conscience of the world”.

[blockquote right=”pull-right” cite=”Dr Omobola Johnson, Minister of Communication Technology of Nigeria”]Importantly, these outcomes also speak directly to our ‘companies and not code’ philosophy in the Ministry of Communication Technology. It is good to show prowess in software development but it is even better to develop businesses and companies that are powered by that software. The recent IPOs of Twitter and Ali Baba are testimonies of what is possible.[/blockquote]
Fast forward a decade; December 3rd 2011, the cover page of The Economist bears the image of a boy running across a savannah landscape at sunrise, flying a rainbow coloured kite shaped in the image of the African continent. The caption reads: “Africa Rising”. Within its pages the magazine paints a scenario of dynamism, resilient entrepreneurial activity, fledging… yet growing economies, nascent… yet stabilising democracies, a population getting healthier and more educated, an expanding middle class signifying a potential to even out the distribution of wealth. An Africa, that is “getting its act together”. 54 countries of different ethnicity, culture , language and different levels of development, home to 1.1bn people, the second fastest growing regional economy (second to Asia) and home to more than half of the world’s fastest growing economies. But not without it’s challenges, which IBM has encapsulated and coined as Africa’s Grand Challenges which include education, access to water, energy, healthcare, financial inclusion, public safety and transport and agriculture. The combination of an Africa Rising and one that still has to overcome challenges represents a significant opportunity for African start-ups especially those in the tech sector.

Mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa are forecasted to exceed 635 million by the end of this year (2014) and predicted to rise to around 930 million by the end of 2019.

The increase in the number of mobile subscribers has fuelled increases in mobile Internet use in Africa and we are considered to be at the cusp of a mobile Internet revolution. Predictions are that mobile internet use in Africa will increase twenty fold in the next five years … this is double the estimated growth rate in the rest of the world. Lower priced devices (in particular smartphones and tablets), increase investment in network infrastructure, and increase availability of spectrum for mobile broadband, are among the factors that will drive this growth.

One report that highlights this potential predicts that the Internet can contribute up to 300 billion United States dollars to Africa’s GDP by 2025; and this is from an estimated 18 billion in 2013.

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Young child listens on a mobile telephoneThis translates directly to opportunities to generate income, to create wealth, to create jobs, new business opportunities, economic expansion etc. … the very opportunities African governments are looking for and need to transform their economies and the economic lives of their populations.

Over the next two days we will witness 40 African start-ups pitch their solutions to these great opportunities and challenges with a hope to secure funding and support to take their ideas and innovations to the next level.

I understand that in the two years of DemoAfrica, alumni have generated over $8m worth of investments, businesses and partnerships. This is how you create jobs, new business opportunities, expand economies, improve social well being of citizens. Importantly, these outcomes also speak directly to our ‘companies and not code’ philosophy in the Ministry of Communication Technology. It is good to show prowess in software development but it is even better to develop businesses and companies that are powered by that software. The recent IPOs of Twitter and Ali Baba are testimonies of what is possible.

[blockquote right=”pull-right” cite=”Dr Omobola Johnson, Minister of Communication Technology of Nigeria”]In the next few days we will be conducting the first close of the government seeded IT Innovation Fund. Government has committed $9m as seed capital to this fund to be managed by EchoVC and we are literally a month or so away from making our first investment in a number of Nigerian/African tech start ups.[/blockquote]
I can’t imagine that it is too often that you get this level of government participation in DEMOs around the world. And this is because government, innovation and entrepreneurship are rarely mentioned in the same breadth. But governments, indeed African governments have an important role to play in catalysing the start up industry as evidenced in the US and of course Israel.

The Nigerian government has done and will continue to do her bit to support the software development industry

We are contributing to the development of a robust pipeline of start-ups with our industry focussed Techlaunchpad software competitions and our IDEA incubators and accelerators (last time in this hall was to graduate 7 companies out of the hub). Today we have added 70 start-ups to this fledgling but vibrant ecosystem and 4 IDEA incubates have emerged finalists for DemoAfrica 2014.

In the next few days we will be conducting the first close of the government seeded IT Innovation Fund. Government has committed $9m as seed capital to this fund to be managed by EchoVC and we are literally a month or so away from making our first investment in a number of Nigerian/African tech start ups.

But there is still a lot to be done, infrastructure to be built to connect more and more Africans to the Internet, more ideas to be birthed, more companies to be nurtured and more investments to be made in these companies. African governments must support and sustain this.

I wish all the finalists well. I know this has been an exciting but tough journey, but you have a great product, you have been extremely well prepared to make your pitch, come up here and blow the judges away, All the very best of luck.

Finally I would like to thank visitors from all over the world for taking an objective view of the Ebola virus disease risk and choosing to travel to Nigeria for this important event. As we speak Nigeria is not treating any cases of Ebola but we remain vigilant in the face of the heart-wrenching situations in other West African countries and are doing everything we can to ensure that we remain Ebola-free. 

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