Universities have to contribute more to startup ecosystem


Nigerian universities are not doing enough to encourage and support the growth of entrepreneurship needed to contribute to a startup ecosystem – and they are lagging behind institutions in Egypt and South Africa.

It emerged from a publication entitled the The Nigerian Startup Ecosystem Report 2022 published in Disrupt Research in September.

The report presents local ecosystems by analyzing active startups, local support networks and funding over the past seven and a half years.

This is the third country-focused publication after October 2021 The Egyptian Startup Ecosystem Report and July 2022 South Africa’s Startup Ecosystem Report.

Start scene

As of September 2022, the report found that at least 481 tech startups were operating across Nigeria, employing over 19,000 people with fintech the most populous sector, representing more than one third which is part of the total active technology startups.

Almost 50% of Nigerian tech startups have undergone some form of acceleration or incubation, although diversity is an issue as less than 15.6% have a female co-founder.

Nigerian startups are supported by a strong investment ecosystem with total investment increasing more than fourfold between 2020 and 2021, and on course for a further big jump in 2022.

At least 383 individual Nigerian tech startups raised a combined US$2,068,709,445 in funding between January 2015 and August 2022, more than any other country during that period.

The report states that many leading universities in Nigeria are running courses focused on entrepreneurship, and have established entrepreneurship and innovation centers, according to the report.

These include the universities of Ibadan, Obafemi Awolowo, Nigeria, Lagos, Port Harcourt, as well as Covenant and Pan-Atlantic universities and the Federal University of Technology Akure. The most successful business founders in Nigeria disproportionately studied in these institutions, according to the report.

This is consistent with the October 2020 report, Report on the Decade of Beginnings in West Africa published by Techpoint Africa, which shows that some universities in Nigeria are making progress in developing innovative and entrepreneurial mindsets.

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“The Nigerian Student Venture Prize, established in 2019, works to promote and showcase unique business ideas and entrepreneurship among university students, as well as to help bridge the gap between the academic world and the community of business,” the report highlighted.

Low entrepreneurship activity

The report says: “It is not just in terms of government and corporate engagement that Nigerian startups lack the support of their peers in markets such as Egypt and South Africa. When it comes to entrepreneurship support from universities in Nigeria, the activity level is also relatively low.

“This low level of activity contrasts with the likes of the American University in Cairo in Egypt, or the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University in South Africa, which all dedicate in-house incubators or accelerators for external student-founded startups. Some of these, among others, also invest in – and take equity stakes in – startups through their technology transfer offices,” the report pointed out.

“This level of participation is sadly lacking in Nigeria and, like at the government and corporate levels, more needs to be done if the ecosystem as a whole is to create quality businesses that justify the cost of capital coming to this,” the report concluded.

Business skills

Dr Stephen Oluwatobi, founder and board chair of Hebron Startup Lab at Covenant University in Nigeria, spoke World University News: “I believe that there are three categories of skills that universities must ensure their students master before they graduate from school, including technical skills (economics, engineering, and everything they offer as a degree); life skills (leadership, negotiation, communication, work ethic, resilience, etc.); and entrepreneurial skills (which enable students to see problems as opportunities to create progress, rather than something to complain about).”

“Nigeria desperately needs graduates with entrepreneurial skills to create prosperity out of its problems. However, if universities do not see this, they will only increase the number of unemployed graduates, with ‘light-weight’ technical skills, but lack the life and entrepreneurial skills that the world can get,” said Oluwatobi, who is also co-founder of Quanta Africa-Innovative Tech Social Enterprise Innovations.

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“Therefore, for the development of the role of Nigerian universities in building an efficient and innovative startup ecosystem, first, universities and their leaders must be students. They must learn how ‘make’ 21st century graduates to be relevant in today’s digital and entrepreneurial age. If they don’t get it, they will be making graduates for a world that no longer exists,” added Oluwatobi .

“A number of universities in Nigeria are trying and trying to develop an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset through strategic measures; but not many are getting it (right),” he said.

University-industry relations

“Nigerian Universities should also work towards fostering strong university-industry relationships,” Oluwatobi suggested.

“It exposes teachers and students to current problems that can challenge their entrepreneurial minds instead of ‘outdated books’,” he explained.

“Such relationships should also give faculty members the opportunity to intern and have their sabbaticals in the industry where the real problems are.

“When they return to the classroom, they challenge their students to engage their entrepreneurial minds as well as raise better students.

“It takes a king to raise up another king; a slave cannot make a king. Teachers and educators need an entrepreneurial mindset to help students develop theirs,” Oluwatobi emphasized.

Teaching process

“My experience directing the Center for Entrepreneurial Development Studies at Covenant University also revealed the importance of facilitating entrepreneurs in entrepreneurial classes instead of reading-to-teaching teachers,” Oluwatobi pointed out.

“We also use our alumni network of entrepreneurs, who help conduct entrepreneurship classes and mentor aspiring entrepreneurs. Part of the mentoring process involves direct interns with entrepreneurs and founders during their long vacations. ,” he said.

“I founded the Hebron Startup Lab in 2016 to enable Covenant University students to express and exercise their entrepreneurial muscles and capacity as well as provide support to take their validated ideas from concept to product, until the market,” Oluwatobi explained.

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Over the years, many companies have been started by Covenant University graduates, from Softcom to PiggyVest to Korapay to Earnipay to ThriveAgric, to mention a few, he said.

Indicators for measuring university success

Oluwatobi said Nigerian universities should rethink how they measure their success: should it be based on the number of students they graduate (who do not get jobs) or should it be based on the number of first class students (who are still struggling in life) ?

According to him, the success of Nigerian universities should be based on the extent to which their graduates are sought for employment and how many of their graduates launch high-growth startups that solve problems, offer jobs and creates wealth.

“The success of Nigerian universities should also be about the percentage of their graduates’ contribution to the total gross domestic product, or GDP – the total monetary or market value of all finished goods and services produced. within the country’s borders for a certain period of time,” Oluwatobi added.

“If Nigerian universities do not see the real indicators for success and if they do not see beyond graduation, then, they not only lack entrepreneurship, but they fail,” concluded Oluwatobi.

Oluwatobi is the lead author of a 2019 study titled, ‘Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Matrix (EEM): A proposed framework for Nigerian universities to become factories for start-up companies’, which as “universities often destroy start-up companies by setting up platforms. to create value from the knowledge (ideas, concepts, prototypes and products) developed by the university community; it is valid that the value which has become an efficient, effective and available solution; develop entrepreneurial mindedness in the university community; and build an enabling environment, defined by incentives, institutional quality, infrastructure, capital, access to markets, workplace, laboratories for experimentation, technology transfer offices, as well as industry support and linkages”.


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