Bold, ingenious: Meet Nigeria’s tech-savvy investors, their stories, their impacts

Audacious, enterprising are the modifiers that aptly describe the growing number of Nigeria’s tech-made successes who have continued to break barriers in solving problems and creating wealth in the process. AKIN ADEWAKUN reports the inspiring world of these Nigerians and their impacts.

 

The dramatic twist in Nigeria’s economic fortune is not without its fallouts. Oil, which had once been the country’s cash-cow, and a major source of revenue, has begun to experience a decline in fortune, in the past few years: a worrisome trend for government, individuals and corporate organisations, eking their living in the nation’s business space.

But apart from government which has a ‘commonwealth’ to fall back on, many individuals and corporate organisations do not enjoy such luxury. Such individuals and corporate bodies are, therefore, being left with no choice, but exploring and exploiting other options, beyond oil.

For many Nigerians, the need to diversify and explore other sectors of the economy and look for more robust ways of sustaining it beyond oil, has become imperative. And while the nation’s policy formulators seem not yet awake to such responsibilities, some Nigerians, especially those in the private sector, are already taking up the gauntlet.

A sizable number of such individuals are beginning to look inwards, and one of the sudden realisations is the potential of technology as a catalyst for both individuals’ and the nation’s economic growth, and its huge possibility of replacing oil which has always been the nation’s economic mainstay.

They are seeing the potential of technology being the next oil, and a major money-spinner, capable of providing another generation of multi-billionaires in the country. Interestingly, they have started availing themselves of the opportunity technology provides to make those billions, from the different sectors of the nation’s economy, ranging from finance, agriculture, transportation to e-commerce.

 

Jim Ovia: Chairman, Zenith Bank

For instance, while many believe that the advent of financial institutions in Nigeria  is as old as the country itself, not a few are however quick to attribute the complete transformation the sector received in the last few years,  to the decision of a few players, in the sector to think out of the box,  leveraging technology.

One of such examples was the smart decision of the founder and Chairman of Zenith Bank, Mr. Jim Ovia, to digitize the bank’s operations in the 90s, when such venture was alien to that sector.

Not only did the decision make the bank the first digitised financial institution in the country, it also propelled it far ahead its competition, making it a business worth over $16billion today.

Interestingly, the Zenith Bank’s boss never fails to tell whoever cares to listen that technology remains the ‘in-thing’ in today’s business. For him, it is capable of transforming lives, as evident from his zero-to-hero story and that of the financial behemoth he superintends.

For instance, while speaking at a fair, organized by the bank, sometimes ago, in Lagos, Ovia had stressed the importance of technology in enhancing individual and corporate economies.

The Zenith Bank boss stated that the argument had become imperative to enable them fit in to the new direction of world’s economy. According to him, the decision to organise the fair stemmed from the need to encourage the nation’s youths to embrace innovation and discard the old ways of doing things and face the new way, the new direction of the world’s economy.

“We are talking about creativity, the Big Data, AI, Blockchains and others. It is a way of encouraging Nigerian engineers, IT practitioners and many others, and make them in tune with trends on global tech space, and, in effect, grow the nation’s economy,” Ovia had stated at the fair.

For instance, in his book, ‘Africa Rise and Shine: How A Nigerian Entrepreneur from Humble Beginnings Grew a Business to $16Billion,’ the Zenith bank’s boss succinctly captured his journey and that of the bank, from a humble beginning to the top.

But he’s quick to explain that a major factor, that fast-tracked the success of the highly- accomplished financial institution, was the decision to go the technology way, especially at a time when internet usage was still alien to many in the sector.

“In the 1990s, few, if any, banks had any knowledge of how computers worked, or how to deploy them in banking. But that gave me a tremendous edge, enabling my bank to make a quantum leap,” he stated.

Expectedly, the result of such decision to take the extra mile was the fierce loyalty, passion and commitment the bank enjoyed then and still enjoys from the brand’s customers till date.

 

Johny Enagwolor: CEO, Plentywaka

The nation’s transport sector is not without its own fair share of technology-induced billionaires. For instance, the decision of Mr. Johny Enagwolor to launch a tech-propelled bus hailing system, known as Plentywaka, in the third quarter of 2019,  is gradually being seen as a major revolution in that sector.

Prior to that period, the sector had been a path, where even angel-investors feared to tread. But Enagwolor and co-travellers decided to dare and for now they are reaping bountifully from the adventure.

Plentywaka, he explained, is simply a bus-hailing system, designed to massively improve the public transportation system in the country, by making daily commute easier for bus riders, via a bus-hailing app.

Interestingly, Enagwolor is quick to add that the company is neither a transport company nor out to put existing players in the sector out of job. What the company is out to achieve, he says, is to democratise the sector and ensure a new class of riders go through public transport, because of the convenience it offers, and without the hassles that normally accompany such task.

He however emphasised that what the company is doing is to apply technology to improve the chaotic transportation system in the country, especially Lagos, where the company has embarked on a pilot scheme.

“All a prospective rider needed to do is to download on the Google Play Store and IOS App Store, and begin to book his trips within the metropolis, from the comfort of his home,” he stated.

Oluseun Onigbinde, co-founder, BudgIT

Besides enhancing the fortunes of the company, Enagwolor added that the business is also designed to enhance the financial fortunes of Nigerians, who may wish to invest in its Vehicle Partnership arrangement, where both public and private individuals can also partner with the company.

For instance, one of the vehicle partnership arrangements allows interested bus owners to onboard their buses into the scheme with a monthly sharing formular of 70/30 percent.

 

Onyeka Akumah: Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Farmcrowdy

Onyeka Akumah, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Farmcrowdy, is another Nigerian that has continued to leverage technology to enhance his financial fortunes and meet some gaps in the society. Ever since launching the digital agriculture platform, considered the first in the country, in November 2016, the nation’s agricultural sector has never been the same.

According to him, the digital agriculture platform connects small scale farmers across the country with smart farming techniques, quality farm inputs, and access to the superior markets, to enable them earn a decent profit margin, compared to what they get from trading within their locality.

Interestingly, some of the milestones the business has achieved since founded in 2016 remain the empowerment of over 25,000 rural farmers, across 16 states in Nigeria.

It has also completed several crop and poultry farm cycles, with over 25,000 crop farm units, and reared in excess of 2.8 million poultry birds.

“We are currently working with 50,000 farmers, plan to scale to 500,000 farmers in total by the fourth quarter of 2020 and 3million over the next five years,” he stated.

 

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji: Co-founder, Flutterwave

Nigerian entrepreneur, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, co-founded two successful start-ups in Africa before launching Flutterwave, a business building payments technology and infrastructure, designed to connect Africa to the global economy, in 2017.

According to Forbes Magazine, with $15.7million in funding, the payments company is empowering pan-African merchants to execute business on global scale, and it has so far processed $1.2billion in transactions.

Besides, his previous business interest gained global attention, sometimes ago, when the venture received $24million in funding from Mark Zuckerberg.Aboyeji believes if Africa is to move forward, it must have three things: logistics, payment and commerce.

According to him, Flutterwave has come to provide solution to the payment part of that and solve that problem for Africa. Today, Flutterwave has become a payment platform which other platforms, such as Uber, Booking.com and Transferwise, use to process their payments.

Shola Akinlade, co-founder, Paystack

Shola Akinlade: Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Paystack

Another Nigerian, making wave in the area of e-payment system, is Shola Akinlade, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Paystack, another payment company. The increasing popularity of e-commerce, as part of the nation’s marketing mix, has made the services of payment companies such as Paystack imperative.

For instance, since opening its doors for business, few years ago, the company has continued to grow in revenue and user-base, processing over $20 million, monthly. Not a few Nigerians believe that the advent of payment companies, such as Paystack, has advanced the course of financial inclusion, in the country.

 

Sim Shagaya: Founder, Konga.com

Another Nigerian whose name has continued to ring a bell in the nation’s e-commerce sector is Sim Shagaya, a serial entrepreneur, seen as a role model to many tech entrepreneurs.

Shagaya, who founded frontline e-commerce companies, such as Konga.com and DealDey, is also into digital advertising, through his E-motion company, a digital advertising outfit.

Not a few are of the strong belief that the exploits of Konga.com and DealDey, have raised the stakes of e-commerce business in Nigeria, since they provide the buying public the option of shopping from the comfort of their homes.

 

Seun Onigbinde: Chief Executive and Co-founder BudgIT

Seun Onigbinde, the Chief Executive and Co-founder of BudgIT is another interesting individual, who, through the exploits of technology, has been able to carve a niche for himself and his business outfit, BudgIT.

The essence of the company, he says, is to hold government accountable, especially in a society where the people do not enjoy much respect from the government, except at election times.

BudgIT tracks government budgets and data and presents them to the public in visually-engaging formats. He has been able to leverage technology to be the people’s advocate and the society’s watchdog.

For many, the advent of these individuals has enhanced the different sectors they have found themselves. Perhaps what makes them unique is the revolution such exploits have brought to those sectors. Besides enhancing their fortunes, the buying public at every sector of their engagements also comes out better.

The question on the lips of many Nigerians is, whether further evidence is needed to convince, whoever cares to listen, of the capability of technology, delivering the same benefits, if not more to the nation’s economy, the way oil has done in the past.

Interestingly, the exploits of these individuals have proved to be a clear evidence of what technology can do, if well harnessed.

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