It is quite normal that most people are very eager to leave the country. I even hear that some people do thanksgiving and share testimonies about being finally granted visa to exit the country. To them, they can’t wait to seek the greener pastures that seems to elude Nigeria.
While I sat watching the various pitches going on at the Lagos Startup Week. I was quite amazed at the different excellent entrepreneurial projects that rolled across. You see, sometimes when you listen to people talking about things they have done or are doing, you begin to shrink and question the size of your own dreams.
However, what struck me most was the amount of people returning to the country to create startups, to solve problems many of us are running away from and make incredible income from them.
On Thursday 30th July, Wecyclers won the 50,000 dollar (that’s over 10million naira) on offer at the pitching event. Miss Bilkiss, the founder, finished from one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she had her MBA.
Her business project centred on waste management and recycling. The core of her services featured the efficient collection of recyclable materials which we all use. She developed an app for it and created a reward system for people to motivate them to submit their recyclable materials. Is this something common? Yes. Is the idea new? No. We have several cart pushers on the streets who collect scrap or recyclable materials.
You remember very well those women that go about paying for old bottles. They usually have this aluminum trays on their heads and I remember trading mine for about 50k to 1naira/bottle then (when our money still had value). There were also these set of women who accepted used clothes and gave new plastic buckets. But Bilkiss added structure to this and gave it a new name. And then placed a reward system you will always look forward to. She went to win another seed funding somewhere else after the following day. It’s the same Nigeria you think you should run away from.
On Friday, there was another pitching session. And believe it or not, there were foreigners, I remember there was one from Ghana and another from United States who had come to pitch a project that would run in Nigeria. Phil Michaels, CEO of Tembo, is American and has been living for several months in Mushin, Lagos all because of his business project.
A deeper insight into his project which won Stanbic IBTC People’s Choice award at the pitching event revealed his focus on education. What was his entrepreneurial project about? Childhood education by parents? Is this new? No! What was different? Phil has introduced education via mobile phones so that parents who can’t afford basic education can be taught how to teach their children basic education. The medium is SMS (aka text messages) and he created a viable income stream which currently mostly goes to volunteers serving as Home Educators.
Let’s go to the Best Nigerian Startup of the day, MyQ. The winners, a group of Northerners solved a very basic problem. Have you ever been to the park and found out you are the first person and needed to wait for the rest of the 18-seater bus to get filled while you think you should be using that time to do something more important? Or have you had a situation where there are several bus terminals and you sit waiting for 16 other passengers in a particular bus while another bus, going to the same place, although on another street, is waiting for one passenger to start the journey? Does that sound very familiar, so familiar you probably faced it recently? What about an app that enables you compare bus fares and also enables someone far away pay for your bus ticket.
Okay. Let’s try it another way. Have you ever had to sit at the bus park waiting for the arrival of a guest while you feel you should be doing something important? How would you feel it you had an app to track the journey and know exactly where the person has stopped and when you need to get to the park. MyQ solves that problem perfectly. And also creates an interesting revenue model which also rewards bus drivers. Well, for their project, they would be going to Switzerland to pitch for an incredible 500,000 dollars (that’s more than 100 million naira or thereabout).
While some of the great pitches were done by Nigerians returning home to tackle native problems and build businesses from it, there were some Nigerians too who are suddenly seeing how much we have yet uncovered and how going in very swiftly was quite important. A team of brothers created a lemonade company, another team dived into furniture, another was equipment sharing, another focused on answering questions of new mothers, and several others. People burrowing fast into the pastures you are quick to disregard, that you ignore and lament on.
Tayo Oviosu, the CEO of mobile money platform Paga, made a very good point when he compared the current state of the Nigeria to that period when the likes of John D Rockefeller turned around the American economy and built dynasties out of it. Tayo, who schooled largely in the United States, is now one of the foremost entrepreneurs in Nigeria. Are you seeing a trend?
What problems present to thinkers and entrepreneurs are opportunities. A problem gives them a chance to swing in and change things, and move things forward. So instead of running to countries with oversaturated players in the market, why not focus on the local and create viable solutions to problems? The gist is even that there are several people coming up who want to invest in viable entrepreneurial opportunities.
Candace Johnson, the President of EBAN (The European Trade Association for Business Angels), and pioneer of one of the largest satellite companies in the world, chipped an important note when she talked to us. She said, Always dream big, it is going to take the same efforts as dreaming small, so why not dream big. However, resolute action is the most important. And her favourite quotes were “Quitters Don’t Win and Winners don’t quit” and “Don’t give up and don’t give in”.
So while many still believe that the country is nothing but hell, there are a few people who are seeing countless opportunities that they are striking in to benefits from. It would not be surprising that many of these people are returning home from the diaspora and filling the void, and taking up the opportunities that you will be leaving behind, or have failed to see.
It is important to note from now that Nigeria is too fertile to ignore, it just needs the right farmers to plant the right seeds.
The question thus is not whether there are opportunities in Nigeria or not, the question is Are you ready to take them?
NB: Look forward to the Market Ibadan Business Festival to witness even more innovative and exciting entrepreneurial projects.