How SME Center pushed Enugu to top 5 startup ecosystems in Nigeria

How did Enugu State go from being the “unnoticed” in the global market to making the global ranking as the 5th top Startup Ecosystem in Nigeria, leaving 31 states behind?

Following the recent release of the Global StartupBlink Ecosystem Index Report of 2021, there has been a whirlwind of multiple emotions; surprise and happiness. But the common question on everybody’s lips is ‘how’? With the rise of Nigeria’s ranking fueled by its massive consumer market and more than 500 active startups, one of the largest in Africa, very few expected that Enugu will make a huge contribution to this. More surprising is Enugu’s rank as the first Southeastern Nigeria state to make the list and the 978th globally.

Despite the wave of the pandemic shaking the very roots of businesses across the world, Enugu has made an evolution to become a startup hub in the heart of Nigeria. This is tied to the essential role of the Enugu Small and Medium Enterprises (ESME) Center, led by Arinze Chilo-Offiah, special adviser on SME Development. Starting as the head of the Enugu SME Center in 2019, Chilo-Offiah’s major focus under the government of Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, governor of Enugu State, was on human capital development. “One of the key things I focus on is to define human capital as a sector that should be funded and invested in, just as it is done in the agricultural sector, manufacturing, the creative industries and all,” he explains. The mission to put Enugu on the global map led the centre to embark on numerous projects that were specifically designed to empower the people of Enugu and provide them with the necessary skills to thrive in the advancing society.

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Chilo-Offiah understood that there is no startup without skills, as startups thrive on the skills of the different individuals involved. Hence, he led many training programs aimed at enhancing the skills of the people of Enugu, so they could become entrepreneurs. This also alleviated the challenges of unemployment in the state. The programs include; Enugu Skill-Up Apprenticeship Project (Construction Artisan Training), Enugu Tech (Programming and Program Design), Enugu Fenix Power Champions (Solar Power), Enugu Youth Empowerment Scheme (Digital Marketing), and the Auto Revamp Training Academy (Automechanic and fabrication), with programs in fashion, cyber security, data analytics among others in the offing.

The Enugu SME Center partnered with private sectors known for their expertise, to ensure that the technical, professional, and vocational capacities of the youths are fully built. The Enugu Tech, in partnership with Utiva, dealt with training on programming and product design. This was born out of the conviction that tech is the future, and for Enugu to thrive, it had to have a future in tech. The presence of tech experts in Enugu can also ensure a place for tech giants like Google and Microsoft to operate in the state. Enugu Tech has graduated over 500 persons, with an additional 500 yet to be trained.

In a bid to guarantee funding for the training, Chilo-Offiah, in collaboration with the private sector, subsidised the training fee from ₦250,000 to ₦20,000. To those who still couldn’t pay this amount, a human capital development loan was made available for N20,000 at zero interest to be repaid in eight months.

The Enugu Youth Empowerment Scheme has also contributed immensely to the rank that Enugu currently holds. The digital marketing program has equipped and is still equipping the individuals in the state with the skill through which they can promote their businesses, placing them on the global map. The youths are trained on high income earning digital marketing skills. In November 2020, 300 youths graduated from the program, and have gone ahead to establish trailblazing startups, an establishment whose reflections are widely acknowledged presently. The cost of this training, alongside others, was also subsidised to N50,000 from N250,000 with the funding provided by the Enugu SME Center to participants through the Human Capital Development Loan; one of the many programs under the Human Capital Development Loan Initiative.

Of course, the vision of Enugu SME Center, which is “To facilitate easier access to resources required by entrepreneurs, SMEs and players in that ecosystem to achieve sustainable development in Enugu State”, is gradually metamorphosing into reality. With the number of programs, Chilo-Offiah has spearheaded in Enugu, the successes and development in Enugu have taken a positive turn, as the State Government successfully registered Business Names for over 6,000 Startups, a number which is key to the recent global recognition. For everyone asking ‘how’, let them hear the stories of “giving back to the society,” the foundation upon, which Enugu is weaving her tenacious garment.