Positioning innovation hubs for sustainability
Innovation hubs have multiple important roles to play in the growth and development of Nigeria. I am of the opinion that some hubs are already playing these roles, in spite of the numerous challenges but a lot more still needs to be done.
There is no doubting the fact that, hubs particularly those outside the key cities need all the support they can get. In the last few years, I have had cause to visit innovation hubs in other countries and each time I embarked on such trip, I have always been fascinated by the kind of support they received from various quarters.
This is partly why I have remained passionate in clamouring for interested hubs to come together under one umbrella, so as to brainstorm on issues affecting them.
These conversations were once again ignited during Start-up Weekend, which held at Innovation Growth Hub, Aba. To cut a long story short, last week various hub representatives spent an entire day having conversations around job creation, entrepreneurship, innovation, social impact, culture, education and many more. It was a day of brainstorming, facilitated by the President of Africa Business Angels Network, Tomi Davies, and supported by other sub-group leads as well as yours truly. That gathering has given me more hope that a lot is indeed possible because a more stable and sustainable hub ecosystem will lead to the birthing of more healthy start-ups, which will, ultimately, impact on our economy positively.
Speaking at the event, Davies shared the POEM framework to serve as a guide for hub owners who have to deal with start-ups. He pointed out that, “in the start-up ecosystem, one must belong in the bracket of either a techpreneur, hub or an angel investor. The innovation hub provides the enabling environment, while the angel investor comes into play when the start-up, through the innovation hub, has demonstrated enough traction to scale.”
POEM is an acronym that comprehensively describes your business vision and can be used to do so throughout the start-up business life cycle, from ideation to the first institutional investment.
It means Proposition, Organisation, Economics, and Milestones, each of which adds a piece to the story of a start-up put together and describing it at any point in time. The framework presents strategic guidance for execution by ensuring that critical information is given consideration while leaving its users with the freedom to determine the level of detail required for each peculiar situation, be it operations, marketing or soliciting for funds.
Moving on, one of the issues that came up repeatedly during the gathering is that of standardisation. For example, what is a hub? Is the hub engaged in incubating or accelerating start-ups? Should hubs have a standardised curriculum or should every hub develop theirs? Can you describe what stage their start-ups are, at any point in time? Do hubs have a model of measuring their impact?
I have heard many individuals including foreigners say that Nigeria does not lack policies or ideas or strategies; where we miss it in most cases is consistent implementation. So, it is possible that the question on the minds of stakeholders is, ‘what next for innovation hubs after such a session?’
Here are some of the key resolutions and the next steps from the session:
Create a member-led group that aims to deepen collaboration and knowledge sharing among innovation hubs. Bring together the existing workspaces, incubators and accelerators who are interested under one body. Ensure open access to information and other resources among member hubs. Work together to influence or support certain policies at all levels. Offer capacity development programmes that will enable hub owners to learn and understand how their workspaces, incubators and accelerators can become sustainable. Build an organisation that will become a shining example for the rest of Africa.
I am aware that certain prominent people in the ecosystem do not believe in coming together because according to them, innovation cannot and should not be regulated. However, Nigeria is such a unique country and I belong to the school of thought that preaches direct engagement with the government and policymakers.
Today, I am on the executive board of the Nigeria Internet Registration Association, managers of the .ng domain, and it remains a shining example of an industry-led association that is managed transparently and sustainably for the overall benefit of our national brand on the Internet. This is why we have confidently migrated most of our key domain properties to the .ng domain string. Therefore, I firmly believe that Innovation Hubs of Nigeria or whatever name is eventually approved can and would be run professionally by the elected executives to the benefit of the entire members.
A top executive of a development body said to me in confidence, “CFA, you guys (hubs) need to start engaging more. As I speak to you, development partners and funding agencies are engaging more with hubs in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and a few African countries, where they see that they are more organised.”
Talking about Ghana, later this week hub owners from across Africa will converge in Accra to attend an all-expense paid summit sponsored by various German organisations. Ghana Hubs Network have swung into action already and the summit is an example of what is possible when people of same interest pull themselves together and speak with a single voice.
My concluding prayer is that may Nigeria not remain a sleeping giant.