Yes, we’re still on this matter.

Despite my efforts to steer the startup funding conversation from undue focus on Celestine and Tiketmobile, it would seem that both are inextricably linked. But none of that changes the fact that there are more important dynamics at work here. Celestine’s tirade being whatever it is, it calls into question the role of the Co-Creation Hub in Nigeria’s tech ecosystem. To the casual observer, it might seem like the Hub is the sun around which the rest of the Nigerian technology ecosystem revolves. But that heliocentric theory is far from the accurate. The way I see it, the Hub occupies but a fraction of a larger innovation continuum.

So the question for me is where does the CcHub fit in that innovation pipeline? I imagine many people have asked similar questions about the Hub. What is their function? What is pre-incubation? What are their self-assigned terms of reference, so that we don’t conflate what they’ve set out to do with what some of us want them to do, you know, in case they are very different things?

Then there are the broader questions of what constitutes an innovation pipeline in the first place, and what part of it the Hub occupies.

I’ve spent I’ve spent hours talking to Bosun and Tunji about that question, and the clearest impression coming through at me from those interactions is that they consider themselves an ideas lab that enables rapid prototyping. At that level, most people are still fooling around with mockups and wireframes. The more promising ideas might get a $5k nitro catalyst boost.  The thinking is that in the long term, that primordial soup that they are currently stirring will eventually erupt in a cambrian explosion of technology solutions that solve Nigeria’s biggest social problems.

Of the myriad single-celled ideas that are born in the Hub, only a few are expected to actually evolve and make it to the market. But a few have. Right now, the CcHub’s current claim to fame are a handful of poster children — the likes of BudgIT, Efiko and Traclist. None of them runaway business successes, but there is promise in their futures.

Now, asides its pre-incubation facility and other programmes organised in tandem with corporate partners, like the Nokia Growth Academy, the CcHub doesn’t offer any sort of structured entrepreneurship support that is apparent. So after the laws of natural selection have run their course and you finally have a prototype that works, what happens next for a CcHub “startup”?

a startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. A business model describes how your company creates, delivers and captures value — Steve Blank.

Yes, you start thinking of them as startups as some point, not mere ideas. Now if we’ll go by Steve Blank’s definition of a startup (now’s not really a good time to have the “what’s a startup” debate), it kind of exists in that place of limbo between an idea and a real business. It’s no longer a mere idea because it works — ideally, you’ve got a prototype. But it’s not quite a business because they might not have figured out how exactly they’re going to capture value, become sustainable and grow. There might be a number of good assumptions about how they’ll do that, but until they’re validated, they aren’t quite, are they?

I kind of agree with whoever tweets for Tony Elumelu. This is a critical juncture in the life-cycle of an entrepreneurial pursuit — that really early stage where you’ve identified a clear opportunity, but haven’t quite figured out how to capture value. At this point it’s not just a question of how much financial runway you’ve got left. Tinkering with code is a markedly different activity from figuring out a business, and how that phase is managed decides everything.

From the Tiketmobile fiasco/saga (take your pick), it is clear…that place between valid prototype and business exists in our ecosystem. The problem is that where there should be sturdy tunnel walls, there are gaping cracks instead, that many otherwise promising startups are in danger of, and indeed are falling through. The Hub realises this and has opened a new “serious” space that will ostensibly cater to this need. But one question that the Hub’s handlers will need to honestly ask themselves is if this will be enough.

Personally, I’m not convinced it is. I mean, they’ve probably earned the right to tell everyone to shut the fuck up and build, but laudable as their pioneering efforts in building a robust tech innovation pipeline in Nigeria are, a real need that they can’t possibly fill exists. It’s not only in the best interests of the ecosystem but also of the CcHub’s for them to proactively engage with the problem and identify collaborators in the ecosystem that can help turbo-charge the prototype-to-business continuum for fledgling startups.

If we’ve established that the Co-Creation Hub sits at the beginning of the innovation continuum and is a launch pad for unproven ideas, what needs to come next? YCombinator? TVC Labs? Lagos Business School? SPARK? Lagos Angel Network?

Whatever it is, there’s dozens of startups like Tiketmobile that need it. And they need it yesterday.

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Bankole Oluwafemi Author

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