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Japan, NITDA to Launch Incubation Scheme for Nigerian Startups

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The Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) working with Nigeria’s National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), is set to launch iHatch.

iHatch is a startup incubation scheme designed to expand the number of innovation-driven enterprises by Nigerian youths.

The scheme will include a 5-month free intensive incubation program where entrepreneurs’ business ideas are shaped and perfected, through a series of coaching, lectures, and boot camps, to generate viable and scalable business models.

The initiative launched through NITDA’s subsidiary, the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR) will focus on developing Nigerian youths’ innovation, entrepreneurial skills and technological know-how.

According to the Head, Corporate Affairs and External Relations of NITDA, Mrs Hadiza Umar, iHatch’s incubation program will provide an opportunity “for startups that have innovative business ideas along with a prototype of their products or services”.

The participating startups, Umar said, will receive free offline and online interactive training from experienced coaches and mentors from over the world.

Other benefits would include free co-working space for the duration of the programme and investment opportunities.

In his remarks, the Director-General of NITDA, Malam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi said, “iHatch seeks to establish a programme that will accelerate the process of taking ideas to impact, hence providing the much-needed jobs for our teeming youths, and also nurturing that entrepreneurial spirit in them, which will catalyse the Nigerian digital economy to the next level.”

Joy Uyino is an avid writer who specializes in stories relating to business, agriculture, technology, education and health. She has written for NTA Channels 10, Lagos and Core News Nigeria. Joy is also an educator with many years of experience.

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African Tech Scene Rakes in $2.9 Billion, Nigerian Startups Dominate

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The technology space is growing to become a very necessary one, with the existence of the pandemic and with the rate at which the world is advancing. This is reflected in the revenue gathered, as tech startups in Africa alone made well over $2.9 billion in 2021.

Of the total income brought in by African tech startups, startups owned and managed by Nigerians brought in the most, with a whopping $1.7 billion (amounting to about 60%) of the total amount coming from Nigerian startups which are creating new products, services and platforms.

Africa is giving a very good account of itself in the tech scene, as a recent report by Maxime Bayen’s – a venture capitalist and business consultant – business database Africa report stated that Africa is currently home to seven different tech heavyweights, referred to as unicorns which boats of valuations surpassing $1 billion.

The United States of America has noticed the blossoming tech scene in Nigeria and is now starting to provide support for the fast-growing, lucrative sector. The United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Berth Leonard at the 2021 Nigeria Tech Summit announced the intention of the US government to provide sufficient support for the tech scene in Nigeria.

The support to be provided from the United States will ensure that the country’s tech scene continues to grow and provide a favourable environment that will boost a sector which will kickstart more global businesses, create more job opportunities and ensure that the citizens live a more prosperous life.

Of the seven African tech “unicorns”, three are owned by Nigerians. These three are Opay, Flutterwave and Interswitch. Mary Berth Leonard lauded the fact that Nigeria owns three of Africa’s seven heavyweights, and went on to say that Nigeria has the potential to do a lot more in the tech scene but only with the proper support.

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BlocPower Obtains $5m from Jeff Bezos’ Earth Fund

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Jeff Bezos’ Earth Fund announced this week the list of environment-focused groups that have been awarded an amount of close to $443 million (in total) to help with their work. BlocPower, an energy efficiency tech start-up with a focus on building construction in urban areas has won an amount of $5.5 million from the fund.

BlocPower has so far completed at least 1,000 green energy projects in the New York area. It makes use of its licensed software for leasing, analysis, project management and monitoring of urban clean energy projects. The company’s customers are saving between 20% and 40% on their energy bills every year. It plans to use the Bezos grant to add about 125 million buildings and more cities to its BlocMaps software database.

The company is based in Brooklyn, and launched a WiFi service this year which gives low-income areas free internet and also gives the energy-saving company a glimpse at local energy usage as well as the potential to bring energy-saving options.

According to Andrew Steer, the President and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund, the goal of the fund is to back agents of change who are facing the challenges that this pivotal decade brings. In a statement announcing this week’s grants, Steer also said that the grants are giving room to push climate justice further and protect nature, two areas that require attention and action.

Lauren Sanchez, the Vice Chair of the Bezos Earth Fund stated the plight of disadvantaged communities, saying that they have taken the brunt of environmental damage for a long time, and that they are important players in providing necessary solutions.

Founder and CEO of BlocPower, Donnel Baird said in an interview that commercial buildings were becoming increasingly interested in cutting costs and looking into energy efficiency. Baird estimates that 100 million buildings in the United States waste over $100 billion a year on fossil fuels, going further to say that there are significant savings that can be introduced to conserve energy.

BlocPower has previously raised $50 million, and is supported by some of the top investors in the world, including Kapor Capital (one of the early Uber investors), Twitter, AirBnB, Lyft, and Andressen Horowitz (an early Facebook investor).

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African Startup uLesson Raises $15m, with Support from Tencent and Nielsen Ventures

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Two-year old edtech startup uLesson, founded by a Nigerian, announced that it has now closed a $15 million Series B round.

Edtech startup companies benefited greatly from the pandemic’s disruption, pulling huge amounts of money from investors worldwide and it felt like African startups were left out. However, the announcement of uLesson shows that this is not the case any longer.

The investment comes almost a year after uLesson closed a $7.5 million in Series A round. and was completed by five different investors, and they are; Tencent, TLcom Capital, Founder Collective, Nielsen Ventures and already existing investors Owl Ventures. The investment is also the largest announced investment in an African edtech startup.

uLesson was founded by Nigerian Sim Shagaya in 2019, and it came into the market when the pandemic ravaged the world last year. Being a young company, uLesson had to keep switching business models in a bid to determine what would be best for a very tough African market.

At its launch, uLesson started by providing a product pack of SD cards and dongles which had pre-recorded videos for K-12 students. They can access lessons either via streaming or through using SD cards to download and save the lesson content.

However, uLesson has introduced some new features for a comprehensive edtech play for the demographic. It added quizzes, as well as a homework help feature that would assist students in connecting to tutors from other universities.

It also started a live class feature, which consists of polls and leaderboards as well as a live experience of DevKids, a coding class that is separate from the core uLesson platform. DevKids has however been rolled back, with Shagaya stating that plans were being made to introduce the feature – which was initially an experiment in teaching kids how to code and at a point raked in about 30% of the company’s total revenue – sometime in January next year.

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