During the Nigeria Hardware Convention 2021 held at Clintonel Innovation Centre (CIC) Aba, the organizers embarked on a project (Hardware Ecosystem Map) to set out the Nigeria hardware ecosystem.
The Hardware Ecosystem Map is an online marketplace and platform that connects indigenous hardware, engineering and manufacturing companies in Nigeria with customers and end-users.
The map according to the organizers will help to collate data, understand the ecosystem, showcase players in the ecosystem, enhance collaboration, advertise hardware-related businesses, and facilitate the growth of the hardware ecosystem.
The data collection started at the convention and later extended as an online survey. Following the completion of the mapping of the ecosystem and the launch on Thursday, February 10, 2022, we had a chat with Tochukwu Clinton Chukwueke, the brain behind Nigeria’s largest hardware group, Hardware Nigeria Community (HNC), a national network of Nigerian inventors, makers and hardware entrepreneurs committed to fixing hardware in Nigeria.
Tochkuwu is an electronic engineer by training, an inventor with three patents and the founder of Nigeria’s first maker space, the Clintonel Innovation Center (CIC) and the CEO of Advanced Engineering Center (AEC), Aba.
CIC is a solar-powered STEM Centre, makerspace and hardware business incubator. The platform provides training, mentoring and equipment for young people to create different products and businesses.
AEC on the other hand, deploys digital manufacturing technologies, to make tools, machines and equipment for African manufacturers.
Tochukwu took us through how the Hardware Ecosystem Map will reshape Nigeria’s technology ecosystem.
With so much emphasis on software technology, how will the Hardware Ecosystem Map change the narrative?
We can’t overemphasize this enough as we have been stressing this for a long and will keep on mentioning it until we get there.
No nation can advance economically and technologically without paying attention to hardware. No country can survive without paying serious attention to its hardware products and services.
Last year alone, Nigeria spent about $9 billion importing hardware products excluding cars and other related hardware components. These are products that can be made in Nigeria, yet we spend a huge amount on importing them.
Don’t forget that Nigeria has a forex crisis, so how do we solve that crisis when we are spending $9 billion importing what we could make locally?
The unemployment rate in Nigeria is alarming with the figures around 33% among young people. The poverty rate in Nigeria is high as it is the poverty capital of the world. This leads us to the question, can we solve this problem of unemployment and poverty without manufacturing?
Here is the role hardware will play in combating the unemployment problem. Hardware designs and builds the machines and equipment that drive industries. It is these industries that provide massive employment because the manufacturing sector is a labour-intensive part of the economy.
A reason Nigeria has a high rate of unemployment and higher poverty is that the country is not manufacturing enough, we’ve not paid enough attention to engineering and hardware, owing to lacking the capacity to design, build, or even maintain most of the equipment that we use.
We even have to call on expatriates to service these equipment. Until Nigeria pays attention to engineering or hardware, we may never get out of poverty.
We may never make any meaningful economic progress, so that’s the motivation behind all we are doing.
We have realized that Nigeria can’t make progress without engineering and manufacturing, therefore we decided to advocate for national attention to develop capacity in Nigeria for local engineers.
On one hand, we’ll be able to save billions of dollars on forex that we spend importing annually, we’ll be able to provide economic development, and solve the problem of unemployment. That’s the motivation why we are pushing for hardware development.
What role has CIC played in developing Nigeria’s hardware ecosystem?
We’ve been playing in different segments of the economy, we have an ongoing program called Skillup Abia.
This program trains young people in hardware, including computer-aided design and manufacturing, as well as renewable energy.
From there, some of them find employment with the skills they have acquired, some begin freelancing, while some have gone ahead to build hardware startups that have raised over 18 million naira here in Aba.
We’ve also done training in Computerized and Automated Leather Manufacturing (CALM). This program teaches young people how to leverage technology in the popular Aba leather industry.
Aba is renowned in Africa as a leather manufacturing hub, however, the industry has been traditionally manual.
We train young people, with the state of the art technology – a software design from a footwear manufacturing firm in Italy. We formed a partnership with them and obtained a license to use their design software.
We acquired an automated leather cutting equipment (laser cutter), that helps them to automate the leather cutting as this process alone consumes up to 70% of the production. We also obtained another partnership and license for a clothing software design.
In addition to that, we implemented a national project called engineering for industry, E4I, a program that seeks to bridge the skills gap in design and hardware between engineering education and industry. If we ever expect to build capacity in a sustainable manner, at scale, we can’t neglect the educational sector.
On that realization, one of the things the E4I does is to train engineering lecturers, students, graduates on modern industry skills and technology, equipping them to solve the needs of the industry.
We have trained students in different higher institutions including, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), University of Uyo, Federal University of Technology (FUTO), and Imo State University (IMSU).
Currently, we run an internship program for engineering students undergoing their compulsory industrial training attachment. We have about 28 engineering students from different universities across the country receiving training on modern engineering and technology at our facility.
In addition, we also organize an annual engineering competition, where we get young people to design indigenous engineering products. while we support them with funds, product developments and manufacturing.
We also started the Nigeria hardware convention, an annual event that brings together all the stakeholders in the Nigerian hardware ecosystem, to interact, collaborate, brainstorm and get trained as well as work together to advance the hardware ecosystem in Nigeria.
An offshoot of this program led to the formation of the Hardware Nigeria Community, the national umbrella body for hardware players in Nigeria. This and many more are what we have engaged with to support capacity development for Nigeria’s hardware ecosystem.
Beyond the Southeast, how are you ensuring a pan-Nigerian movement?
We have to start from somewhere and scale up beyond where we are, We have trained about 5 tertiary institutions in the southeast and we are open to collaborating with institutions from other regions.
As a part of the E4I project, we conducted research on the engineering skills gap as we worked with 11 engineering lecturers from higher institutions across the 6 geo-political zones in the country.
We also interviewed about 304 engineering experts in the industry asking them questions on what they think is the skill gap.
This report will soon be published as it contains industry insights on the steps to bridge Nigeria’s engineering skill gap. In addition, we are also working with the higher institutions to introduce industry-focused designs to engineering courses.
This will be achieved from the research carried out by the earlier mentioned 304 industry experts, as the research will be developed into a curriculum that will contain those relevant skills, lacking in the industry.
We will partner with the schools such that these courses will be handled by industry experts as the students will have the opportunity to interact with them directly.
We already piloted this move with demonstrated results, thus we are set to scale across other regions of Nigeria
Any plans for future partnership with the government and how have they been supportive?
To date, we are yet to receive support from the government at both state and federal levels, but rather than complaining, we have opted to invest our resources, time, and skills in solving the problem
There is no doubt that the government plays a significant role in a country’s development, however, rather than waiting for their approach, we took a step in engaging them. Sometime in the month of February, we visited the Abia State Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.
We discussed with the relevant authorities at the ministry how we can collaborate for impact.
In the long run, how will the Hardware Ecosystem Map impact the Nigerian tech ecosystem?
There are lots of challenges bedeviling the Nigerian hardware ecosystem, and one of the biggest of these challenges is the scarcity of data.
For instance, what is hardware in Nigeria? who are the people using hardware? in what segment of hardware are they playing? what do they need to succeed?
There hasn’t been a centralized and adequate data to answer these questions, thus the map would provide a central database of all the people playing within the hardware space in the country.
The data would make it easier to plan, develop policies and intervention programs as well as funding hardware startups to invest in.
Just to let you know, there are no adequate data on Nigeria’s hardware startup, thus this roadmap will open up more funding opportunities for them.
The Hardware Ecosystem map will also facilitate further collaboration within the ecosystem, for instance, people can find manufacturers of different components of what they need, thus it will strengthen the ecosystem to drive commerce.
Lastly, the Hardware Ecosystem map will help facilitate businesses listed on it, for instance, people seeking any hardware service can simply check out the map and contact their preferred choice.
The map is a marketplace for hardware users and providers, to promote businesses while in the long run making it possible to export our products.
The Hardware Ecosystem Map enables customers and end-users anywhere in the country and beyond to easily find and connect with indigenous hardware companies in Nigeria.
Featured Image: Tochukwu Chukwueke, Founder Hardware Nigeria Community
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