In this week’s edition with AfriLabs, featuring innovation hubs across the African continent, we took a trip to Nigeria’s pioneer Innovation Accelerator, Wennovation Hub.
Founded in 2010, Wennovation Hub is focused on developing viable solutions to local challenges by utilizing innovation from their inventive workspaces and inspiring creativity, advancing the effectiveness and encouraging coordinated efforts among hub members.
Wennovation Hub has its centres in Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna and Ibadan, giving it an advantage of a wide reach in Nigeria. The hub has supported more than 300 innovators and trained over 10,000 youths.
In a chat with Habeeb Kolade, Programs Manager of Wennovation Hub (Lagos and Ibadan), we understand that the hub offers capacity building and enterprise development for young people, MSMEs and startups.
According to Habeeb, the hub works with private organizations, public bodies, and independent initiatives to enable the socioeconomic development of Nigerians and Africans at large.
“As the premier innovation accelerator of the country, for the past 10 years, we have enjoyed a number of successes in businesses we have supported as we work to grow grassroots businesses in the country and Africa at large.”
Why Wennovation Hub?
Habeeb explained that the hub’s goal is to build the capacity to create jobs through innovation.
“We are also focused on developing viable solutions to local challenges by utilizing innovation from our inventive workspaces and inspiring creativity, advancing the effectiveness and encouraging coordinated efforts among hub members.”
While achieving this, Habeeb noted that the hub hopes to create enough jobs for young people in the country while also building their capacity to fill the roles.
“We believe that when young people are gainfully employed, we can drive economic growth and sustainable development.”
Wennovation Hub’s mission and vision
On Wennovation Hub achieving its mission and vision, Habeeb explained that the hub combines small term projects with long-term programs to deliver its goals.
The hub is currently present across four locations across the country, Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna and Abuja with key partnerships that allow the hub run programs in several other states.
For startups and businesses, Wennovation Hub runs incubation, acceleration and investment readiness programs that help build their capacity to deliver on their business goals.
“We have also developed an extensive network of business experts, investors, government officials, that allows us to provide insights, opportunities and partnerships that businesses in our networks need to grow.”
How Hubs foster innovation and entrepreneurship
In the words of Habeeb, hubs serve as spaces for ideas rendezvous.
Universities set a template for this by bringing together intelligent people from all fields to work on individual and group projects that advance innovation.
“We also have much smaller but highly impactful innovation units like the Bletchley Park and Bell Labs.
Having young motivated creative people come together every now and then, to carry out works of research and innovation has proved consistently to be fundamental in the technological and economic growth of communities.”
Habeeb illustrated further, stating an instance of Silicon Valley, which catapulted California to be one of the biggest economies in the world.
“In Africa, when properly done, hubs enable innovation by providing a space for creative people to propagate new ideas, leverage on collective resources to lower cost of execution, leverage on networks to increase accessibility to important opportunities and channels as well as easily access funding to deliver these innovative products and services to the people who need them.”
At the end of it all, these clusters start to create opportunities for employment as small companies build capacities to deliver on their promises.
The state of innovation and entrepreneurship in Nigeria
Habeeb said that entrepreneurship has been part of the parcel of the Nigerian ecosystem. Tech entrepreneurship in the fashion that came with the internet is still early in Nigeria.
“There is a growing environment to accommodate the innovative products being created, but we still have a long way to go, especially in terms of infrastructure to accommodate tech products. We are at a point where more people are building their capacity in digital skills such as programming, design and data science.”
Habeeb further stated that a similar penetration of mobile devices is increasing, although still very low.
Regional inequality exists in terms of access to the internet. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), only ten Nigerian states account for over 50% of mobile internet subscribers in Nigeria.
That means most people who consume internet products regularly are concentrated in a few areas.
Nigeria’s reception towards STEM
Habeeb explained that STEM in Nigeria has been well encouraged, however, it suffers from the same problem a lot of other sectors in the country suffer from, which is infrastructure.
In his words, most schools lack the facilities to deliver science education effectively.
“So while more people are motivated through different programs from both private and public organizations, teachers, who are the key drivers of STEM education need access to better tools to share science knowledge.”
Wennovation hub challenges
Habeeb said that several challenges come in terms of cost adding that hubs are primarily projects of passion for development.
“Although we have continued to navigate our way around sustainability. The recent pandemic has also decimated our ability to bring people together for programs. While digital options exist, the quality of participation that comes with physical engagement still supersedes virtual programmes, especially due to the poor quality of the internet in Nigeria.”
Government and AfriLabs’ role
The government may create an enabling environment for hubs and use them as channels and partners for delivering capacity-building programs aimed at Nigerian youths.
“This can help the sustainability of hubs in the country. Governments may also do more to consult hubs while creating policies that directly affect startups and businesses as hubs serve as a space for these organizations.”
More favorable policies with regards to innovation and technology businesses are fundamental to hubs across the country.
On AfriLabs’ role in supporting hubs, Habeeb said that AfriLabs has been very supportive to Wennovation Hub.
The hub’s recent engagements with AfriLabs include getting funding for the capacity building for women founders.
“We also have check-in hours where they try to keep up with our development. We’ve also had initiatives where they support our product development team with skilled professionals while also helping us improve our impact by connecting us with some expert guidance.”
Women’s participation in technology
“We are learning a lot about this. As an organization, we have been bullish in our recent strategies to improve inclusion and balance in our programs.
While women’s participation is obviously low, we are focusing more on why and trying to use these to improve the quality of our programs to enable more inclusion.
Organizations need to specifically design for women when creating technology programs as we are finding out the regular designs may not work efficiently.
Program flexibility is one key way of doing this. While improvements are being made across the world along gender equality, we must continue to build for present realities which means customizing programs along with the capacities of women to participate.”
Wennovation Hub’s Milestones
One of Wennovation hub’s most recent success stories is the development of Crop2Cash over the past three years.
After emerging winners of the FCMB-Wennovation Hub Agri-Tech Incubation Startup Demo Day 2018, Crop2Cash has now grown from the idea stage to become an early company.
“We continue to support in ways we can to the development of the Ibadan-based startup. Crop2Cash leverages on the partnership with FCMB, and other key organizations, to provide access to finance and other necessary agricultural resources for farmers.”
Crop2Cash has gone on to participate in global programs like Seedstars World program.
Rounding up the chat Habeeb informed us that this March, Wennovation Hub moves to its new expansive space at Victoria Island coupled with the hub clocking 10 this year and this move aligns with its drive to improve its capacity to support more individuals, private and public organizations, as well as the independent initiatives.
“For the past ten years, we have supported local businesses and young people with resources and knowledge to advance their ideas and careers.
We look forward to more partnerships with interested organizations keen on supporting the development of young people and innovative initiatives in Nigeria”.
Wennovation Hub was co-founded by Wole Odetayo, Idris Ayo Bello, Damilola Agboola and Michael Oluwagbemi
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