Designed to empower 10 early-stage Nigerian startups that are solving challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, in January 2021, the UK-Nigeria Tech Hub launched its iNOVO Accelerator Programme for early-stage startups building innovative solutions to tackle the challenges caused by COVID-19 across the Education, Agriculture, and Health sector in Nigeria.
In partnership with StartupBootcamp Afritech and Ventures Platform as implementing partners, this 3-month virtual programme afforded the top 10 selected Startups to receive capacity building and lean startup training, mentorship, and support to rapidly scale their products and business models.
The top 10 startups across EdTech, AgriTech and HealthTech also received an opportunity to validate their solutions with pilots and proof of concept engagements and use their newfound insights to rapidly pivot and scale. All of this was done with the help of dedicated Entrepreneurs in Residence, mentors, investors, and industry experts. To wrap up the programme, these startups also got the opportunity to pitch in front of an audience comprised of investors, corporate and government partners at the virtual demo day event.
The second pronged strategy of the program was to also provide a great learning experience for selected startups that couldn’t make a cut into the program. Of a total of 750 applications received, the UK-Nigeria Tech Hub also sponsored 100 startups from the pool of applications received to gain lifetime access to the Accelerator Squared platform where they are provided with the necessary insights and modules to help them build products and companies to scale impact.
Speaking on the whole programme experience, some of the top 10 startups gave remarkable feedback on how the iNOVO Accelerator programme had an impact on their Startups.
“These past three months have been the most intensive in terms of product development and customer acquisition since we launched Agriple in 2019. We have been able to double the number of farmers we work directly with, and have also been able to identify issues and make major improvements to our platform. We have also struck a supply partnership with another participating startup,” says Vincent Okeke, CEO of Agriple, an online agribusiness designed to assist farmers with markets
Education streaming service startup Afrilearn also appreciated the customized support that came with the program. CEO Isaac Oladipupo described the one-on-one sessions as “personalized, insightful and challenged Afrilearn to think differently.” With the help of the Programme, Isaac and his team struck a distribution deal with one of Nigeria’s leading network providers.
The CEO of Schoola Abdul Bature, stated: “It has been an incredible 3 months of hard work. With the help of Startupbootcamp Afritech and Ventures Platform, our gamified learning solution for Secondary and Primary schools has managed to get the attention of corporate partners and key stakeholders. This has led to a partnership with the Nigerian Turkish International Colleges and an onboarding of 25 other partners.
Furthering on this: Damilola Olaopa, CEO of Foodbank.ng, a food loan service startup, stated that through the programme, his team has managed to leverage the partnerships made to get the required support. “The partnerships we have made will help us to scale our operations rapidly. Our partnership with First Bank reduces our exposure to risk as the bank takes on the responsibility of providing the funds, creditworthiness assessment, recollection and reconciliation of loans. This will not only help us scale our operations rapidly but will also lead to more revenue for the bank and for us too,”
In the HealthTech category, Bidemi Nicholas Ojo, CEO of Gleeword, a startup using a telepharmacy and medication delivery platform to enable easy access to affordable healthcare, stated that: “Participating in the INOVO Accelerator has resulted in a massive pivot that has already started positively impacting our startup. We have built AI-enabled drug inventory software, and also signed up to 30 pharmacies and hospitals as users. With the aid of Ventures Platform, we facilitated a partnership with Venus Medicare, a Health Management Organisation and this was a very huge win for us’ to top it all off.”
Emeka Anyaorah , the co-founder of Pharmaserv, an e-healthcare procurement platform stated that; “My highlight was being able to hire a self-driven CTO through Enoch Ayomide, my Entrepreneur-In-Residence. We’ve also been working on plugging our API into First Bank’s e-lending platform to enable their customers to access their nano-lending facility This would have not been possible without the opportunity provided by the UK-Nigeria Tech Hub iNOVO programme.”
In the course of this programme, cloud-based hospital management startup Medipal secured 2 major partnerships with notable Insurtech company, Curacel (a Startupbootcamp Afritech alumni) as well as eTranzact- an African finance giant. Medipal’s client numbers have increased and they have also been ranked as Lagos’ number 1 Electronic Medical Record Company by the governing body of hospitals, the Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria.
The programme also catapulted the agri-platform Farmer First – a startup that provides farmers with microloans and direct access to buyers at competitive market prices. According to co-founder Gyena Jeremiah Iliya, Farmer First managed to strike a partnership with Nigeria’s first mobile-only bank, Kuda Bank.
The Rural Farmers Hub co-founder Gabriel Eze is most grateful for the expertise that came with the Startupbootcamp ecosystem. The entity provides farmers with near-real-time crop advisory services using satellite-based remote imagery and sensing. The programme introduced Gabriel and his team to experts in the AgriTech space.
DigiLearns, an AI-based mobile adaptive learning tool that grants access to high-quality educational content via SMS or USSD believed that taking part in the iNOVO Accelerator Programme was a game-changer. “During the accelerator programme, we were able to transit from a COVID-19 intervention only driven startup to actually exploring areas that could potentially grow our numbers,” said the Chief Technical Officer, Favour Chukwuedo.
Founders were also impressed by the Accelerator Squared platform-the interactive playbook that provides startup founders with more than a dozen graduated modules to progress through every stage of the startup journey was a valuable asset that assisted in helping them fine-tune their business models.
The Interim Country Director of the UK-Nigeria Tech Hub, Lamide Johnson stated that seeing the incredible impact this program has been on the participating startups is a testament to the fact that if we want to give room for innovation to solve some of the arduous problems faced in Nigeria, more interventions such as this are needed to provide the needed information, network, and support for early-stage startups building innovative solutions. Through this program, we readily saw the need to support and provide more springboards for early-stage startups seeking to scale their impact.