Support for tech start ups in Nigeria has been increasing but there is still room for more. In this interview with Onengiye Dokubo, Hanson Johnson, CEO of Start Innovative Hub shares his vision about Nigeria’s newest Innovation Hub. Hanson who is also the Manager of Google Developers Group Uyo (GDG Uyo), gives an insight into the tech scene in Uyo and an opportunity for tech start ups in Nigeria. He also tells us about the GDG Uyo and how they have changed the way we see technology.
What is Start Innovation Hub, what does it offer?
Start Innovation Hub is a startup hub. A platform that will help startups in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State to develop at a faster rate.
What services does it offer to achieve this aim?
Members will have access to key ingredients like seed funding, mentoring and access to business expertise. The icing on the cake is the work space, power supply and internet to accelerate their growth. Others are networking opportunities, peer review, pitch development, product testing and introduction to investors.
How long has Start Innovation Hub been in existence and how do start ups get eligible to join the hub?
Start Innovation Hub existed since May, 2014 as a registered company with CAC, the website was launched yesterday (3rd September 2014) and we are opening the hub with a hackathon in October after a 4 week android training that is supported by Google, iDEA Hub, Tinapa Knowledge City, Calabar and Google Developers Group Uyo.
Start Innovation Hub membership is open to those interested in technology innovation with deliberate intentions of contributing to Nigeria’s dream of becoming an IT driven economy. Our membership community is made up of investors, tech entrepreneurs, hackers, designers, tech companies and researchers etc who fall into these 4 membership levels;
The first level is Red and it’s open to those that are interested in feeling the warmth of our community. The basic requirement to be admitted here is to have interest and value for what we do in Start Innovation Hub. Benefits include access to our virtual community, newsletter and invitation to our events. Red members can also apply for Yellow membership. They have regulated access to the hub and the membership fee is N10,000.00 annually.
Start HubYellow membership is offered to Red members who want to wear the yellow badge. For an application to be considered, the applicant who is a Red member must come to the hub for an interview. Also, he must be involved in an ongoing project. Benefits include physical work space, full access to the hub facilities for non-commercial purposes, space for meetings and other hub resources, growth acceleration to help turn their ideas to minimum viable product or service that is ready for help to scale, invitation to contests and pitch event. Membership fee is N10,000.00 per quarter.
Green membership is for Yellow members with a minimum viable product or service who need working space, business centre services at a subsidized rate, mentoring, access to funds, community of experts and users. Benefits include desk and locker for an agreed period, access to meeting room and event spaces, use of Start Innovation Hub as contact address, business centre services at a friendly rate and mentoring. This level also comes with access to funds and a community of experts and users. The membership fee is N30,000.00 per quarter.
Silver membership in Start Innovation Hub is for tech companies in Akwa Ibom State and other technology enthusiasts in Nigeria who are interested in innovation. Benefits include Yellow membership benefits for company representatives in the Hub, access to our community, invitation to our programs and events, access to the Start Innovation Hub’s event space for corporate events at a friendly fee, access to the Hub’s board room for meetings at a discounted fee, access to business centre services at a discounted rate, membership fee is N150, 000.00 per annum.
What are the long term goals and ambitions of the Hub and how would it affect the Nigerian and global tech industry?
Our dream is to become the biggest tech hub in Africa within 5 years from today. We want to grow and become a full flesh accelerator in 2 years time. We also hope to grow from a 0 member startup hub to a 200 member startup hub by the end of 2015.
The startups we will be giving birth to are all going to leverage on Nigeria’s strength and capitalize on opportunities in the global economy. We will encourage our startups to see the need to believe in what we believe (Think Local but Hack Global). With these I see Nigerians waking up and using local hands to solve local problems using local brains. The challenges are ours so we are in a better position to use all the information we have to create better solutions.
It will also open doors to us as a nation globally, instead of seeing us as scammers, we can be seen as business leaders. Instead of denying us access to products that are accessible by others globally, especially online transactions; Nigeria should be the first place to test- run such products.
There will be jobs for our people and we are doing this deliberately to contribute to Nigeria’s dream of being an IT driven economy soon.
The Hub will be organizing a 4 week event in October, can you tell what effect this will have and what we can expect?
To scale up members of the community and we expect that our first 5 startups will come from the result of the Hackathon.
What are your challenges and how did you get sponsorship for the event?
Our challenges include funding, skilled personnel, testing, equipment, power supply, cost of internet and reliability. In terms of sponsors, we wrote to them and they responded.
Being the manager of the GDG Uyo, what effect has this had on the Hub?
Trust, reliability and relationship, with big names in the industry internationally. As a matter of fact getting funding can be less of a pain.
How far has Google Developers Group Uyo come, and what is their member strength?
Google Developers Group Uyo was formally Uyo Google Technology User Group, inaugurated 5th November, 2011, maiden event as Uyo Google Technology User Group. We have 134 members.
How challenging has it been for you managing both GDG Uyo and the HUB?
It’s not easy that’s why I had to relocate from Abuja. I don’t work alone anyway, I delegate duties to members that I know their strength or area of expertise. For example in event management, purchases, logistics, food, facilitation and so forth, mine is to follow up and ensure success at the end of the day. I don’t delegate and relegate.
In GDG Uyo, I work with Uche Aaron, Kennedy Johnson, Esitime Ekaette, Emem Brownson, Ubong Nsekpong, Oviemuno Imara, the list is endless. In the HUB, Solomon Samuel, Ralphael Asuquo and Patrick Willie. Three new people are joining us from Monday 8th September, 2014 and one by 6th October, 2014.
Tell us about yourself and why you have chosen to invest in the tech industry?
I am from Ikot Ette, Ibiono Ibom LGA, Akwa Ibom State. Bachelor of Engineering (Communications Engineering) from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo State.
From Childhood I was in love with gadgets and since my parents could not buy me as much as I wanted, I choose to be creating them for people free of charge. By the way I did not know the world was not a free habitat.
I engaged my free time in reading physics textbooks from my dad’s library and trying my hands on hobby projects like applications of electric motor, electric bell etc.
I used to represent my secondary school in JETS and STAN competitions, some of the projects then were Chemical extracts from plants. STAN Project – came first in Akwa Ibom to represent the state at the National Level in Oshogbo, Osun State (1998/99 Session). 2-way communication system (JETS Project that won at the Schools and Zonal level) the same session.
In my university days I worked on Lifts, Dot Matrix Displays, Controlled Access System and other embedded systems using micro-controller.
I had no investors and I could not package the products for the market and I kept on spending same energy and money if I need to mass produce them. So I decided to switch to software.
So to answer your question straight: Passion is what is driving me crazy.
What is your advice for developers and owners of start ups in Nigeria and what do you want to see in the Nigerian tech scene in the future?
Simple advice: Think Local, Hack Global. It’s no rocket science and we must not want to develop another Google or Facebook. Let us solve our problems at home. The same problem may be faced by millions of homes world over.
What I want to see in the Tech Scene: Love, Collaboration, plenty money, startups from everywhere, trust in ourselves etc.