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The story of tech entrepreneurship in Nigeria is incomplete without mentioning Lagos-based Co-Creation Hub (CCHub) considering its status as the first extensively recognised incubation centre and enabler of the startup ecosystem in Lagos.
The tech hub’s significance was also felt during the previous administration in Nigeria which, through the Communication Technology Ministry, partnered with CcHub on a number of projects including the development of Yaba, Nigeria’s version of Silicon Valley.
Comparing the number of successful ventures that have emanated from CcHub, however, has prompted some stakeholders in the ecosystem to believe that it is underperforming in that regard. But in this exclusive interview with Ventureburn, Bosun Tijani, co-founder of CcHub, shares the initiative’s success story from a different perspective — one with the Nigerian market as a whole in its sights.
Ventureburn: Why is it that out of all the startups launched from CcHub, only BudgIT has moved out of the hub and is doing well so far?
Bosun Tijani: The question you need to ask yourself as a business is whether moving out of a space the determinant of your success? I guess the focus should be on how many businesses in CcHub are making money, or are profitable?
They are in an environment like Lagos, if there is an infrastructure that subsidises facilities, services, tools and things they need, and they are not ripe on their own. Think of the fact that the CcHub spends about US$5 000 on diesel alone in a month. Is that the kind of thing a startup should be worried about when you are not even making money? Using BudgIT to judge is not going to be good enough. Traclist has also left.
We are in the technology space. Think about companies like Hotels.ng, for how long were they in business and how long did it take them to really raise serious funding. I’m not even talking profitability. Technology businesses don’t just come in six to twelve months and become profitable. It takes a while and we need that infrastructure to be able to help them through the gestation period so that by the time they are moving out, they will not going to be looking for who is going to take them in, in six months.
VB: Let’s talk about how CcHub’s support for startups has changed over the years
BT: We don’t train startups at CcHub, we are an entity that don’t believe in entrepreneurship training — a lot of people believe in that but we have our psychology, philosophy and reasons why we don’t believe in training.
VB: Why don’t you believe in training?
BT: Entrepreneurship is more personal. It is not necessarily something you can train. We don’t believe you train people to become entrepreneurs.
You can’t really train people to become entrepreneurs because becoming a businessman is by choice — it’s something you decide to do. You’ll find out that training is not what is going to get you set, because if your business is not successful within 12 to 24 months, what is going to separate you from the person who is desperate to be taught how to become an entrepreneur is the motivation. It’s that inner drive that is going to keep you going and they don’t teach those things. What we do with our entrepreneurs is to give them personalised support.
We offer personalised services and support to entrepreneurs. There are things someone starting a business will know and will not know. What you don’t know or what you need will probably be different from what I need.
Somebody could come and say as an entrepreneur you don’t know the basics of accounting and law. To be honest, you don’t need that as an entrepreneur. If you come to CcHub, we have an accounting team that will sit with you and help you draw templates and samples of how you can record your bookings and at the end of the day, every week or every month, they balance your account for you using software.
What we need to do is work with you one-on-one, help you understand the market, and approach that market; how do you come up with a solution that will really help you to solve that problem that you’ve set out to solve?
It’s more difficult than people can imagine because tech in this environment is still in its early days. We’ve also assumed that we know what people want to use but by the time you finish building it, people don’t want to use it the way you built it. So you get to the market and you learn from it. At that stage, if you are one of those that all you do is engage in trainings, you’ll get frustrated.
But if you are passionate about doing the business, you will quickly learn in the market, go back to the drawing table, redesign the solution and push it back to the market. This is the kind of support we offer and entrepreneurship is that way.
If you build a solution that solves real problem, other people will do the admin work for you. The story of Google is a good example. Facebook is another. What we should be doing is break things, break boundaries, create solutions that a lot of people don’t know. Create things that people will say this not going to work, and make it work. That’s what we need our innovators to do.
VB: What is common thread that connects CcHub startups?
BT: The common thread is that you are in a space that supports serendipity, you are in a space where other people are trying to do crazy things and a lot happens in that space. That’s an aspect many people don’t talk about when it comes to CcHub.
CcHub was what led to Yaba. The concept and vision of those of us behind CcHub is not on of an investor that is desperate to make money. We are in this because we think Nigeria can’t move forward as a society if we don’t use technology smartly. Technology drives the world now and if you don’t use it smartly as a society, you are not moving forward and that’s what CcHub is there for.
We want to invest in helping to build the ecosystem and also to build the mindset of people who will eventually lead and make things happen. That may take five, 15 or 20 years before people start to see the benefits. We are not worried. People may measure us by how many startups we produce, but CcHub is not all about startups. Our work led to Yaba for instance, who is measuring us on that? Is that a big value to Nigeria or not? It’s impact is bigger than being a founder of a successful company.
VB: What’s next for CcHub?
BT: A lot. We will soon announce a couple of things that will change how people view us. There are several other announcements we will be making soon but I’m not at liberty to talk about them yet, but you will definitely know them when we are ready to launch them.