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Two Takeaways from a tour of Facebook’s NGHub

A quick check of the Google map will situate NG_Hub by Facebook along Montgomery, Sabo, Yaba, a commercial hotspot in Lagos with direct links to two major universities in Nigeria, University of Lagos and Yaba College of Technology. A few streets away from Sabo is a National Library and a state library.

Launched in 2018, the three-story edifice is managed by the Co-creation Hub. The hub brings together developers, startups, and the wider community to share their ideas, skills and time.

Facebook says it is part of its efforts to turn Nigeria into a hotbed of high-tech entrepreneurialism.

“So for startups and students focusing on advanced technology such as AI, machine learning, and extended reality, we’re launching an accelerator programme to turn their ideas into reality,” the company noted on its website.

On this particular day, several startups providing solutions that cut across many sectors have been brought together to showcase their innovations and ideas to a gathering of some of the prominent people in Nigeria’s technology space. Among them is Funke Opeke, CEO of MainOne and the chairperson of the presidential committee on National Broadband Development Plan 2020.

So much more to offer in tech

While NG Hub’s proximity to CcHUB – also located in Yaba – may be to provide it with seamless support, its closeness to the two popular tertiary institutions also makes it an ideal location for young people bubbling with bright innovative ideas.

The startups displaying at the Innovation Showcase Week 2020, as the event was themed, did not come to disappoint.

Bosun Tijani, co-founder and CEO of CcHUB described them as those with the most practicable solutions capable of driving societal change.

“The innovation that we are showcasing is not just for showing these guys what is possible, it is bringing people that are important within the innovation ecosystem together to see what people are doing,” said Tijani. “What it would do is inspire them to understand how they would put more resources and energy and support behind ensuring that their information can thrive in Nigeria. That is what the showcase is about, showing the possibilities.”

They range from bluey-eyed entrepreneurs with loads of ideas eager to sound off on anyone willing to listen, to those whose solutions have passed the stage of ideas and ready for crunch talks with investors. Their ages notwithstanding, their ambition and zeal to succeed are tangible from the moment they open their mouth.

Airsyng founded by three young people is arguably the most ambitious. The technology uses balloon satellite and intelligence software for automated assessment of surveillance feeds giving rise to real-time monitoring, event detection, analytics, live-logging, etc. The balloon satellites which cost $15,000 each to deploy are built with mostly recyclable materials many of which are sourced locally. The company sees an oil and gas industry where pipeline vandalism and fire are drastically reduced using its inflated balloons as surveillance.

There is also Gricd which uses rechargeable and trackable cold boxes to transport temperature-sensitive items like vaccines, perishable foods, medical supplies. The Gricd devices are equipped with real-time GPS modules that allow for real-time monitoring and location tracking of commodities in transit. The boxes can fit on top of any motorbike or can be conveyed on the back with batteries lasting for about 24 hours keeping the iced-items safe.

Vinsighte‘s innovation, in many ways, stands out as one of the best innovations on showcase. Developed by students of University of Ibadan, Kolawola Tomisin, Erioluwa Morenikeji, Caleb Oyolola and Dairo Tosin, Vinsighte is a computer vision and sonar technology that aids the visually impaired, in navigating (through a guiding aid), environment, independently and read books, convenient and independently. Their products include Viri, a technology that assists the visually impaired to navigate their environment, independently, through the sensing of obstacles ahead and alerting the user; and Visis a smart reading glass that aids, the visually impaired, in reading books conveniently, by converting texts to the audio input, for the user, to listen to.


Tech Journalism fellowship

Beyond empowering entrepreneurs in the tech ecosystem in Nigeria and Africa, Bosun Tijani says the tech ecosystem would not be complete without the people telling their stories. Hence, the CcHUB plans to create more opportunities for storytelling for Nigerian journalists covering the tech space.

“How do we help storytellers within the technology space to be better equipped, to tell stories in ways that could benefit the society because what we do within the technology space is not enough if you cannot get the people that work within the space to also understand what we do,” he said.

He says a lack of understanding of the ecosystem is behind policies that affect tech entrepreneurs and their businesses negatively. Conversely, the rest of the world seems to be more knowledgeable of the potential in the tech space in Nigeria and this is partly because of the contributions of international platforms like TechCrunch which deploys enormous resources to covering the space. While this is not the case within the country, the journalists who represent the bridge between those innovating and those who need to know about it can be empowered to tell similar stories in a better way.

I think we are going to start a fellowship programme for journalist where we pick probably between 15 to 20 journalists every year and we try to pair them with the best journalists in the technology space in the world to give them access to modern thinking and how you tell technology stories and the resources that will empower them,” Tijani said.

Although he said the plans for the fellowship will start soon after the showcase programme, he did not specify when it will finally kickoff.

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