Kingsley Eze, the CEO of Tenece Group, is the brain behind the recently concluded GenesysIgnite, the biggest technology startup convergence in Southeast Nigeria.
He is also the Founder of Genesys Technology Hub that serves as a talent refinery and innovation incubator for young minds in all technology-driven sectors of the economy, with focus mainly on startup ecosystem in South East, Nigeria.
He speaks with Justice Godfrey Okamgba, Senior Correspondent at CFAtech on the vision and mission towards developing the Southeast region.
What is the vision of Genesys and where do you see the tech hub heading to?
There three major area for Genesys Technology Hub. One is early-stage funding, two is capacity building, and three is creating a community for creative called Agora. It’s all about building a platform that would encourage a convergence of creative comprising of young talents and take advantage of the ideas that would come out of this community.
Regarding seeing where we are heading, I envisage that the Southeast is going to have reliable availability of skilled talents to be useful to businesses that operate around in Southeast.
Also, we want to be that right place where those people with great ideas would run to for funding because one of the reasons people with great ideas do not make is funding. Although, we may not have all the funds to support all the ideas but we are ready to our best ability.
The GenesysIgnite had about 147 pitch submissions and trust me it looks like all the ideas looked good but we had to choose three. In the next year, we may increase to 10, 20 as the case may be. In subsequent years, we may also increase it.
As our investment in those startups continues to yield result, we are going to invest in other new ideas. I can’t even image how this is going to change the character of the environment from an economic standpoint.
Startup waste seems to be an issue, people pitch their ideas, and nothing meaningful comes out of it, the ideas just come and go away like that, what will do to bridge the gap?
We have been doing this for almost a decade, and what I have realized from experience is that the way you start a business idea will be different from implementation.
In fact, 99 percent of the time it’s going to be different from the way you take it to the market. Most ideas would need to go through a whole lot of refining processes, ranging from different feedbacks.
Now, what does Agora do? Agora is a platform where we are going to bring a whole lot of things that would encourage creativity, the right ambiance. For instance, Genesys Tech Hub has a gym, swimming and more that could boost the creativity level of the startups.
Some of them have fresh ideas; some of them, ideas they have taken to the market but looking a way to refine them. So, with Agora, these people have the platform to meet together and brainstorm. By having Agora, I believe we are solving that problem.
More so, I agree with you there are lots of startup wastes which also lead to some burnout. And when a young entrepreneur experiences such burn out they feel isolated and feel as if their idea isn’t worth anything in the market. With Agora, nobody feels such isolation because they are going to continuously relate to other people where such entrepreneur gets to learn more about how ideas are developed into a marketable solution.
Most of the investors in Nigeria are from Silicon Valley and they adopt this “throw money model of investing” on startups which is quite debatable, which model have you adopted?
I will give kudos to Silicon Valle investors, they are experienced. You might see it as a throw money model of investing. I believe they have their criteria, there are lots of peculiarities in our environment, and it is not unexpected that there would be mistakes.
As for us, we look at the idea and the person behind the concept (experience, attitude, and personality of the individuals behind the ideas). We are of the opinion that people behind an idea go a long way to determine if the idea will succeed or not.
The truth is that we invest in tenacious individuals who have creativity, sincerity and the capacity. We cannot invest on an idea when the people behind it are not sincere enough or give proper account because at the end of the day business is all about trust.
Over time we have seen people bring ideas, they develop solutions and start looking for problems. I would be interested in any idea that will solve existing specific problems.
How do you verify personality?
Track records. There are times you need to trust your confidence, some of these guys do not have track records because they are young and new. In that case, that is why it’s essential to have a solid contractual arrangement which is one thing some of these young entrepreneurs are not familiar with. Those are part of the support structure we are giving them.
I am concerned about investment volume from Tenece, is $30,000 the farthest you can go?
The GenesysIgnite is more or less the public outcome of what we have been doing. The three startups that we funded do not reflect our capacity. For us, it is not about the number of startups that will be supported. We also want to fund as much as we can because funding is not all about cash, it’s all about support and helping them institutionalize as a business.
On the other hand, there are businesses that are not necessarily early stage businesses that we are having conversations with and we are also investing in those businesses.
Tenece is ready and capable of providing the right kind of support, helping them review their strategy; improve their accounting process and other things. So, the seed fund does not reflect our capacity.
As an investor, do you have a particular sector you want to focus on?
We are interested in business ideas that would solve specific problems. That does not mean if someone comes with a fantastic idea, he wouldn’t pay attention to it. But for what we are doing in Southeast, we are specific about ideas that would solve problems. We also want the society we operate from to be a benefactor to what we are doing.
Is value a long-term thing for you?
Value-add is a long-term thing for us, look at our track records. It took us a while to have achieved that. We have trained over 200 persons, as we are still training. We outsource them to other work places.
We pay them N30, 000 while they are on training. We provide staff buses that take them to and fro. We need to understand that some of these guys are so indigent that they find it challenging to provide transport. Some of them live outside the town, and we also have guest houses for them.
Most of the startups do not have the grasp of business models; they are still operating in a way that doesn’t reflect typical business model, do you have a structure to address this?
We have a “Shared Service Team”, a back up startup infrastructure office that supports the startups that work within the area of finance, business models, and processes. We do not just bring this guys, we have a mentorship program and team of experienced people, and we try to get them involve in what we do, other businesses that we have and all that.
What is your financial stake in some of the startups?
We take out about 5 to 10 percent for startups that are still in the early stage but changes as we move further.
Aside from early stage, how farther do you go?
We go as far as the startup wants.
Do you have stakes in the three startups got the seed fund of $10, 000 each, or is it equity free?
We have stakes in them.