Nigerian tech startups are increasing and growing at a fast rate. The Nigerian fintech startup, Flutterwave recently raised $250 million in its Series D round, pushing its valuation to $3 billion. For startups to create sustainable change in Nigeria and Africa by large, they will need more than investments.
As it stands, artificial intelligence and technology are the top trends and, in a few years, may become the regular trademark. And as this happens, Nigerian startups should build their products towards this innovation—not to be left behind in this new wave. Startups need to invest in science and technology research to achieve a much-needed edge in the coming years.
As science and technology research spans various disciplines, Nigerian tech startups must focus on data, emerging technologies, and health science research as these drive faster innovations.
Below are the deep dives on specifics to focus on during research.
1. Science Research and HealthTechs
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed Nigeria’s need for a strong science research system. Despite our unpreparedness, the timely sequencing of the coronavirus by the African Centre of Excellence For Genomics of Infectious Disease (ACEGID) facilitated testing and detection of Covid-19 cases.
However, Nigeria still felt the impact of having a weak science research system. We have had to rely on other countries for ventilators, testing kits, and vaccines.
HealthTechs have to collaborate with researchers to build the research system. 54gene, a health-tech company located in Lagos, recently launched the African Centre For Translational Genomics (ACTG) initiative.
This non-profit will fund and support training and internships for scientists and research on translational genomics and precision medicine. Furthermore, investing in research provides better solutions, innovations, and, most importantly, a high return on investment. An example is BioNTech. The German-based biotech startup invested in mRNA technology, a product that has made millions of euros for the company. The mRNA technology was also instrumental in creating the Covid-19 vaccine.
Moreso, collaboration can occur in specific science fields central to the HealthTechs focus. For example, Maternal care based HealthTechs can work with researchers on drug production, pre-eclampsia, and even chronic diseases.
Geriatrics (older population) based HealthTechs can also invest in chronic and neurodegenerative diseases research. The prospect of an improved healthcare and research system in Nigeria and Africa is too promising to overlook. However, if another pandemic occurs, will HealthTechs be able to change the narrative? Yes, if they invest in research.
2. Data is Key
Nigeria has one major problem: data. We either have insufficient data or underutilized data. The popular method to cover up this data gap is the use of estimates. Sadly, even the country’s current population is merely an estimate, based on the 2006 census—numbers that were heavily contested for their validity and authenticity.
Moreover, data collection in Nigeria is entrenched in politics and corruption, which throws a shadow of doubt on each publication. The country also lacks good equipment and resources to collect, clean, and analyze data. Unfortunately, most of the data we have about Nigeria is sourced from outside it.
For example, most of the data on maternal mortality in Nigeria is sourced from the World Health Organization and other foreign bodies. Despite the information being over three years old, several publications still reference it—since it is one of the few credible sources they know.
On the flip side, Nigeria also has sufficient data, as in the case of traditional banks. These banks have gathered years and years of customers’ personal data and demographics—all of which are unused. These data could change fintech operations overnight. Fortunately, the Open banking system in Nigeria is building a set of open APIs standards. These Application Programming Interfaces, known as APIs, will allow banks to share customer transaction history with third parties like Fintechs.
In turn, this allows these startups to design their products to meet customers’ needs and assist those working to improve data collection and analytics in Nigeria. AirSmat is a tech startup that helps farmers make data-driven decisions. This startup provides and analyzes data on weather trends, crops, and soil conditions using drones, satellite, soil-level, and IoT sensors.
The value of data to every organization can not be overemphasized. It reduces the risk of making errors and also helps startups save time and money. Moreover, Nigeria turns out many statisticians every year (unfortunately, there is no verifiable data on their number). Startups can invest in data resources and training for statisticians and data scientists to build a better structure.
Technology is beyond virtual realities like Metaverse. It also includes the fields of robotics and machines. Startups, particularly Agritechs, need more than optimized software to improve agriculture in Nigeria. Advanced equipment and infrastructure can drive agricultural innovation forward and increase food production. Releaf, an Agritech startup based in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom, is using its proprietary patent-pending machinery, Kraken, to revolutionize oil palm production in Nigeria.
The Kraken technology is used to crack palm kernel nuts, which are then supplied on a large scale to food production companies. This equipment helps to provide an easy market for both smallholder farmers and companies. The Kraken technology is to operate at 100 tonnes per day, 200 times faster than a smallholder farmer with a rock.
In Owerri, capital of Imo State, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu established ColdHubs to help farmers avoid post-harvest losses. To give some context, Nigeria has an unstable power supply, which means smallholder farmers have no storage for their produce.
ColdHubs is a solar-powered walk-in cold room for smallholder farmers to store and preserve fresh produce. This equipment can extend the product’s shelf life from two days to more than 21 days. More inventions are needed to drive and push Nigeria to the next level. Startups need to invest in the infrastructure and manufacturing of their own equipment. Moreso, we can build a technology hub for Africa and the world.
Nigerian tech startups have a lot to offer in pushing the country towards growth. However, to achieve this, tech startups need to explore and maximize the power of science and technology research.