The Shortcut Slush GIA — Owerri

The impressive start-ups at Oluaku Institute

The Shortcut Note

Sometimes it might feel like the Finnish startup scene is stewing in its own juice. Slush Global Impact Accelerator (GIA), an event organised in partnership with the Shortcut, proved otherwise. It took place in more than a dozen countries, in 5 of which the Shortcut’s School of Startups’ speakers were facilitators. We are grateful that Aape Pohjavirta, Michihito Mizutani, Moaffak Ahmed, Nina Martin and Tomi Kaukinen went out there and talked to people. We would also like to give special thanks to Aino Piirtola from Slush for making this cooperation possible!

The text below is a short version of an article written by Tomi Kaukinen, who went to Owerri, Nigeria, together with Nina Martin, to talk about business development, technologies, and design. This is the first post in the series of stories written by School of Startups’ speakers about their adventures in the countries they went to.

The Shortcut Slush GIA — Owerri

“Are you available for jumping in for a trip to Nigeria for mentoring? Blina” (Blina — Events Lead at The Shortcut at that time). It’s around nine o’clock in the morning on a sunny Friday in mid-august Helsinki. I am sketching a scenario in my head where I am in Nigeria, a country I basically know nothing about disregarding some legendary football players in Kanu and Okocha. Suffering from an exceptional wanderlust and interest in meeting people from the African start-up scene, the offer strikes a nerve. After some final coordination with the organisers, the flight tickets are in my mail, the hotel is booked and I am wondering what I’ve just signed up for.

Descending through the clouds, thick bushy hills surrounded by an almost entirely green mat, appear between the scattered clouds while the Lufthansa flight prepares for landing into Port Harcourt, Nigeria. After a short taxi ride, we park in front of what looks like a terminal building, and ten minutes later a lady in a safety west guides me to the entrance. My companion on this trip, Nina Martin, is nowhere to be seen. All of the sudden a man inside the tent points at me and tells me to come. Behind him is Nina and our representative on site, Kolapo, and our driver, greet us with a smile and they take us to the car, a large Land Cruiser with darkened windows. We drive for 1,5 hours on bumpy roads and through armed police stops until we reach Owerri and the hotel. After what seems like an eternity on the road I fall down on the bed and sleep like a baby.

Nina, our host Kolapo and me.

We meet Kolapo and our driver at 9 in the morning and we head out to Oluaku Institute and the Heartland innovation hub where 12 top Nigerian startups have been training for the last four weeks. This week, the final one in their training, includes me and Nina coaching on design, financing and start-up life in general, followed by a pitching competition on Friday, where three of the best startups will be sent to Slush in Helsinki later this year. We arrive on site around 20 minutes later.

Oluaku institute contrasts the overall buildings we’ve seen around Owerri. We are greeted by the lovely Lydia, who helps with arrangements at the hub, she hands us some coffee and then we go through today’s agenda together with Kolapo. The plan is to start the day with introductions on the 12 start-ups, followed by a design session with Nina until lunch and then it’s time for me to run a session on my journey as an entrepreneur. We move to the eastern two storey building and enter a classroom full of people.

We feel welcome and very appreciated. Hopefully we can now also teach them something they don’t already know. I will come to learn an increasing amount about the Nigerian start-up scene and business climate whilst providing my own experiences from European and Asian markets. Nina, in turn, keeps impressing the crowd with interactive learning, group tasks and other valuable aspects of social impact business models.

Nina mentoring on an Impact Business Canvas

The start-ups at the Heartland Innovation Hub were chosen out of several hundred applicants and the traction of some of these companies was impressive. What impressed me even more was the drive to change and improve Nigeria.

Here we found teams whose motivations lied in making sure no more of their friends died from hospital bureaucracy, by digitalising patient journals (Viva ICT), friends that died because of slow blood transports between hospitals due to bad roads, aiming to solve the problem with drone-based logistics (Arone), providing healthcare to the elderly (Gerocare), helping the visually impaired with eye-tests (Crispvision) and much more.

What becomes evidently clear is the lack of a structured financing network. Angel and VC money is difficult to get. Some companies have reached break even and still struggle with pre-seed financing. In a massive market like Nigeria (but with low purchasing power) there is room for disruption and innovation even if the profits might not be as staggering as elsewhere.

The good part is that most of these startups have ideas that are, in fact, scalable into other markets, in Africa or elsewhere. The majority of the startups here have no clue how to deal with investors since they have never raised any financing.

Financing workshop

After Thursdays sessions the start-ups will be getting ready for Friday’s pitching competition, with a prize of joining Slush in Finland later this fall. The three judges are highly qualified Nigerian startup specialists and one of them is one of the most famous TV-personalities and tech gurus, Chukwuemeka F Agbata. All companies pitching provide impressive high impact solutions for the local market, but with a scalable execution possibility. After an intense two hour pitching the judges withdraw for deliberations. 15 minutes later we are back on stage announcing the winners.

  • Gerocare — elderly care SaaS
  • Afagreen — garbage into furniture
  • Arone — drone-based blood delivery
The winners — Gerocare, Afagreen and Arone

The search for meaning has become more important than ever for the younger generation and the empty promises of material well being are being torn down for an experience- and emotionally driven economy. This impact movement lights up the start-up scene with its focus on practical, meaningful solutions in an ever confusing world. It is this generation that is going to solve the problems created by ours.