Nigeria’s ICT minister is indeed working. Really. After a close shave with the federal cabinet axe, Omobola Johnson has every reason to move fast and consolidate on the extra time she’s got on the clock. So next week, she will be flying. To the bay area in San Francisco, or that place that most of you know better as Silicon Valley.
What is the minister going to do in Silicon Valley?
To dine on Monday the 14th, with some of the world’s most sought after startup technorati. In a dinner that its organisers hope will be attended by bay area VCs, technology bankers, academics, entrepreneurs and incubator/accelerator types, the minister will be delivering a keynote titled – “Companies, not Code: Opportunities in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Industry in Nigeria.”
It looks like they’ll be there early in fact.
— Fed.Min.of Comm Tech (@ngrcommtech) October 10, 2013
As a sidebar, I find the title of the minister’s keynote sort of puzzling, seeing as the technical skill gap back home is almost as, if not more acute than the shortage of entrepreneurial acumen. It is not without merit, however. As Jason Njoku has rightly noted, and the Tiketmobile saga has taught us, code is not king, and most of the visibly successful Nigerian internet startup founders are the non-technical kind. But let’s stay focused now.
The dinner won’t all be meet, greet and drinks, from what I can see. In the minister’s tow are some of said Nigerian technology cool kids. As far as we can gather from the dinner’s eventbrite page, delegates from Interswitch, Jumia, Paga, Hotels.ng, and Wakanow were invited. I have no way of knowing if they are attending on the ministry’s dime or not. Possibly. It is afterall a rare opportunity to show off the “best” of Nigeria’s tech startup ecosystem.
My invite to join the minister of communication to silicon valley http://t.co/0tLLujUKpQ
— Mark Essien (@markessien) October 10, 2013
“This forum will also be an opportunity for Valley companies looking to learn more about the Nigerian tech market or beginning to explore expanding into Africa”, the eventbrite page says.
But that’s not all that’s interesting about the minister’s Silicon Valley expedition. The dinner will be hosted by EchoVC, a Valley VC firm floated by Eghosa Omoigui. In the past one year, Eghosa has has occupied an interesting, on the fence role in Nigerian venture capital. At first he looked like he wanted to jump into the arena feet-first, but over time he’s gone over to the side lines. An unfortunate misquote, according to him, made him out as saying there were no ventures worth investing in at the time of his visit to Nigeria. But he addressed that in a detailed rejoinder.
“while we have not officially disclosed our fund or publicly discussed its specific goals, what we can share at this time is that we are extremely passionate about (and focused on) helping to build out the technology entrepreneur ecosystems in select emerging markets such as sub-Saharan Africa and SE Asia”, the rejoinder read.
After that episode, Eghosa was rumoured to have been tipped to run the ICT ministry backed iDEA hub initiative. Wild speculation, in hindsight. How that place is run is a mystery I’m currently investigating. But of recent, more plausible word on the street is that Eghosa will be chosen to help administer the ministry’s 20 million dollar innovation fund.
Whatever the case however, it is clear that Eghosa and EchoVC will be functioning as much more than the minister’s tour guide during, and indeed after her visit to the valley, with regard to Nigeria’s technology startup and venture space.
We look forward to hearing the outcome of the proceedings. In the meantime, y’all can get back to work on your startups. If you work hard, maybe you’ll get invited to get on the magic Silicon Valley school bus next time.