440NG Does Not Invest In Innovative Startups

The other day, I posted the list of the startups that had just been accepted into 440’s first accelerator cohort. The list attracted a fair bit of negativity in the comments. So scathing was the feedback that someone at 440 felt obliged to respond. There is some method to the apparent madness, they said.

From experience, real innovative solutions are not simply a new or cool concept, they are the result of delivering products and services in better ways as the startup turns into a business, matures, and listens to customers. They are not always ground-breaking, quite seldom receive awards and accolades, but invariably add substantial value to the everyday lives of its customers. There are many examples of companies or products that were not “first-movers” but went and did it better, and bigger. The iPhone, Google Search, Facebook, Youtube, and many more.  All these business were copies, but executed well and have delivered immense customer value.

In summary, 440 say they care more about the founders and execution than the cool factor or shiny ideas.

The reaction to the 440 startup cohort is not unlike that of Leadpath here as well, only more acerbic. But is it justified?

I am inclined to agree with Oo. Not only is the criticism of 440’s cohort premature, it is also a bit unfair. The Nigerian startup/technology ecosystem has come a ways since pre-CcHub days, but we have to acknowledge that as of today, there is still a preponderance of single-celled fauna that are yet to evolve into fundable ideas.

startup droids

Ademola Morebise has said some things that lots of people in the ecosystem — or at least TechCabal’s notorious commenters — are agreeing with. Right now, there are not that many “real” or “innovative” startups that solve local, relevant problems. Which only goes to show how watery the pipeline is for investors. It’s not as though fundable ventures are beating down the doors of accelerators and are not being let in. If anything, the first wave of accelerators in Nigeria are assuming a great deal of risk, becoming active right now. Although not getting in now is also risking missing out on the rise of the wave. So they are in a right pickle.

Over time, the ecosystem’s tune has changed. Just a year ago, the near unanimous chorus was about how there were no investors. As the investors came in, the cadence modulated to predatory terms and vulture capital. Right now, it’s about them picking shitty startups. Maybe it’s because that’s mostly all there is to pick. For now. Perhaps we need to just accept that evolution (in this case, of our ecosystem) will almost certainly not be a cakewalk, and even that things will likely not turn out exactly the way we’ve imagined they will.

It is almost certain that the first accelerator batches will be duds. To which critics will be quick to say “we told you so”. But these preliminary fails are not such a bad thing. It is on the graves of the first failed ideas that new ventures by hopefully then veteran entrepreneurs will be sown. The false starts are not just inevitable, they are desirable.

I say we take a seat and observe. Let time reveal whom the force is strong with. There might be a few surprises from the current crop of accelerator ventures. For what it’s worth, there is at least one 440 startup I’m genuinely excited about.

Photo Credit: Diego Dalmaso via Compfight cc


  • timchuks87 says:

    I hope that was rhetorically implied!?

  • DFH says:

    Actually there is some sense to this article. But still, the problem remains, of the hundreds of applications this few “mundane” start-ups were the cream of the bunch?

    That is the worrisome part for me, and what that tells me is this, the average Nigerian start-up team has no direction, no real value and does not have any real entrepreneurial instinct and would do better working for a company than running one (Yeah i said it!).

    The bulk of this people with all their programming skills and all lack the business angle that is needed for clearer vision and monetization.
    Most of these hubs are either going to run into trouble or peddle their “investments” to some unsuspecting investor looking for ‘exotic’ investment in west Africa.

    What a lot of this “knives” called startup teams lack is a good wielder, some one who can take their skills and use it to create real products and services that serve some real good.

    Being able to code or design or whatever does not make you an entrepreneur, and these accelerators I believe are starting to see that.

    • Sola F. says:

      “The bulk of this people with all their programming skills” … to be honest are the programming skills that impressive? Some are… but most are not. At least from what I have seen.

    • Prince Oluwasegun Abisagbo says:

      I think you indirectly pointed out what 440ng saw in the startups… an opportunity to weld team members and created something new/better.
      Already, Jaramall has turned to Gingerbox…
      Ourprayerbox has one of Nigeria’s best developers

  • Sola F. says:

    “— or at least TechCabal’s notorious commenters —” dang that was cold. Thought what we were doing was support. Where is the love. Maybe its better we dont comment again.

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