Supporting the next generation of tech entrepreneurs – Punch Newspapers

Supporting the next generation of tech entrepreneurs – Punch Newspapers

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Two days ago, I moderated a one-on-one session with a proudly Nigerian entrepreneur, John Tani Obaro, who for close to three decades has focused on building solutions designed to transform inefficiencies to effectiveness as well as ensure that transparency is enthroned in financial transactions as witnessed with the Treasury Single Account.

The session was part of the fifth edition of the FATE Foundation Alumni conference, with the theme ‘leapfrogging with technology’. The conference brought to the fore the need to constantly innovate by staying ahead of the curve. This is why the place of mentoring remains extremely important, otherwise younger entrepreneurs might end up making some avoidable mistakes. Anyway, I have no doubt in my heart that attendees left the conference with a better understanding of how to build more entrepreneurial resilience, leveraging technology.

Indeed, technology has changed every aspect of our daily existence and one key lesson from the whole pandemic experience is that countries not prepared for what is ahead will have themselves to blame. The world is in constant flux, and for us to be better prepared, there is a need to start positioning the next generation of tech entrepreneurs.

Positioning them involves exposing and giving them access to the right tools, platforms and information, so that hopefully, they become builders or, if you like, employers of labour someday. Frankly, one of the things that scare me the most about being a Nigerian living in Nigeria is the high rate of unemployment. Nigeria’s Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige, once pointed out with concern the rising unemployment rate in the country which at that time stood at over 15 million jobseekers.

That was in 2019, by the end of the second quarter of 2020, the number increased to 21.7 million and this is according to a recent unemployment data report published by the National Bureau of Statistics. This is alarming by any stretch of the imagination; we cannot continue to act like there isn’t fire on the mountain. Indeed, it is a scary situation.

While I accept that technology does not have all the answers, I do believe that technology can help us answer so many questions around our future as a viable, prosperous country. Think about it for a moment: Irrespective of whether we are prepared or not, technology is advancing rapidly; so it is in our best interest to at least do something so that if and when our major source of revenue gets affected, we can fully pivot to the knowledge economy. This is not just a reality confronting Nigeria but also the entire African continent.

The government and the private sector are encouraged to assist young tech entrepreneurs in developing their startups and hopefully, scale them globally. “Now, we are able to go out as Nigerians, when we want to or you choose to be anonymous. You can run your software and nobody really cares where it is coming from, so long as it works,” said Obaro, managing director/chief executive officer of SystemSpecs, while encouraging young techies to bring their work to fruition.

Once these startups are fully established, they become a creator of jobs, rather than joining the long queue of white-collar jobseekers. Engaging the young people in meaningful, strategic activities that will further enhance their growth and help them to create additional jobs is the way to go in Nigeria.

Bill Gates quit school, not because he couldn’t further his education but because he was so immersed in building his product and needed more time to focus. And today, Microsoft is one of the biggest tech companies in the world. This is not to discourage anyone from completing their studies before they go into entrepreneurship. Education is important and has its role, which cannot be over-emphasised but one has to go beyond just possessing multiple certificates.

As an example, the late Gokada Founder, Fahim Saleh, was already developing a network of social media apps, from his parent’s home, when he was just a teen and in 2006, Saleh’s first company, Wizteen Inc., made more than $400,000. This is really the sort of can-do mindset we need to encourage more young tech entrepreneur to have.

There are many more Fahims out there, and we just need to find ways of discovering and supporting them which is something I am personally involved with via the Founder Institute. I believe that the more startups and tech entrepreneurs we build and support, the more we are able to prepare for an interesting future that will be driven largely by technology.

The most impactful piece of advice shared by Obaro at the FATE Foundation Alumni conference is that entrepreneurs should develop the attitude of always wanting to learn and adapt. Irrespective of what stage your business is today, you need to continuously look inwards and come up with strategic ways to reposition your business. If I might just add: we need to build and support our startups through mentorship and investments as they build.

This is the time to leverage technology to solve some of our major problems, such as unemployment, social unrest, agriculture, logistics, education, security, corruption and infrastructure deficiency, and the time to start is now. And one way to make sure this is achieved is ensuring we support the next generation of tech entrepreneurs.

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