Tech hubs are great, they support startups via accelerators program and provide amazing office and workspace for early stage startups. we love them for they are the foundation of which an ecosystem is being built on. but being focused on the growth of software startups alone is something I just happen to be fussed about.
Port Harcourt has about 4 tech hubs, start innovation hub in uyo is one of the biggest in Nigeria, not to forget Oluaka institution and tech hub Africa in Owerri, just to mention the few of the 50 something hubs in Nigeria. I even heard Facebook recent launched one. they all focus majorly on software is one of the reasons why we still suck at diversity(economic and sections).
not to blame anybody but echopraxia of the silicon valley model. although silicon valley has progressively transformed the way innovation and entrepreneurship is viewed globally, we still forget that the tech capital of the world is just one place in America and is a collective effort and contribution of other clusters.
Nigeria is a country with inside of it, 36 different states. a habitat of about 200 million people with different skill set that includes software and hardware skills- tech hubs play a significant role of discovery and to help skilled persons create successful software businesses. but in terms of hardware not so much.
I’m not saying hubs in cities should not continue to support software companies but be a foundation of support to already existing hardware startups. uyo and Aba(maybe the whole southeast) are two cities on the rise to be hardware capital of Nigeria as Lagos has done with software.
Uyomakers club in uyo and hardware Nigeria community in owerri are already doing great jobs in building hardware communities. Aba gave us Clintonel technologies a company that develops, manufactures and commercialises local innovations while also in Enugu, GreenAge technologies is making indigenous solar inverters using locally sourced materials.
I know hardware is hard and takes months or years to design, prototype and iterate before being ready for purchase, innovation hubs shy away from investing in hardware startups because they requires lots of creativity, money, an enabling highly equipped facility combined with the unavailability of a marketplace. (Although in a survey by techpoint or 499 respondent 65% said they’d buy a Nigerian made hardware)
But we still need more dedicated spaces for makers and hardware entrepreneurs to design prototypes and also collaborate.
What should be done?
The start innovation hub in uyo has a corner dedicated to embedded system and firmware engineering leveraging on the use of raspberry Pi and Arduino devices. Other hubs should also key into usage of these devices to kickstart building an infrastructure for learning and for development of hardware products.
The Nigerian Government via the National Agency for science and engineering infrastructure (NASENI) could partner with private sector stakeholder and existing hubs to set up well-equipped spaces for makers. We can take a cue from Gearbox in Nairobi- it was formed by four existing tech hubs.
South-southeast Nigeria, now has a dedicated Angel investors network – south-southeast angels (SSEangles). setting aside funds by the network to invest in hardware Research and development would be a great move.