Co Creation Hub, CCHub, is a social innovation centre dedicated to accelerating the application of social capital and technology for economic prosperity. Over the past two years, CcHub has worked with aspiring tech entrepreneurs who are finding interesting ways to address social issues in Nigeria in areas such as governance, education, trade, water, extractives and entertainment. It has become clear that once these tools are created, the next critical step towards scalability is to connect with end users. In this interview, Chief Executive Officer, CCHub Bosun Tijani, discusses the challenges of doing business in Nigeria.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and CCHub?
Bosun Tijani is Chief Executive Officer and co-founder, Co-Creation Hub, CCHub Nigeria, a social innovation centre. I am passionate about how you apply deep thinking and knowledge to solve serious problems and I have a major focus on social issues. How do you make societies better – by getting smart people to think about solving the problems in society? That passion drove me and Femi Longe, my partner to start CCHub back in October 2010 and we set up the innovation centre in September 2011. We did this to create a platform where the average individual who believes he has some great ideas that can change things and probably also build a business out of it, can come and get required networks they can work with, to take such ideas to the market place.
Our thinking is that people tend to think that funding is the biggest problem in starting a business but we have realised that there are many excellent ideas out there but the difficulty is in moving from the idea phase to having a product. There is a massive gap and people don’t support that which is what we set out to stand for. We understand that there are many issues in Nigeria, and the people within can address so many of these problems – not the government, not foreign organisations because often times we are part of the problems and there are those among us who can help to proffer solutions to these challenges that confront us.
We are set up to identify people with ideas, help them through the process of building their ideas, getting into the market, and finding the right partners to work with. Our lives are like a script and every part of it counts to take you to that place where you are supposed to be. I started my work life with Hewlett Packard, HP at the main HQ in Geneva, where I started as an intern after finishing my first degree in the University of Jos. There, I was project support lead for social innovation for projects across Africa. HP was simply exploring opportunities where technology can be used in schools and societies. I moved from there to join a UN body, the International Trade Centre, Geneva where I also worked on how businesses in developing countries in Africa can use technology to export their goods. After this experience, I left for an MBA – Information Systems in the UK from where I picked up another innovation consulting job for three years working with leading researchers, industry bigwigs across Europe trying to help them find funding for their research while also commercialising their research.
In a nutshell, the trajectory of my professional work experience has led me to where we are today. At CCHub, the biggest business model is community. We understood from the beginning that if we are going to be successful, we needed to have a community of people who can create solutions. We set out to gather people and help them build ideas to prototypes and to market ready solutions. And for us to be able to do that we needed a strong pool of people who believe in that ideology, creative people who believe that they can start something new, organsations that want to support such initiatives like this, investors and government. The secret and business model for CCHub has been to focus on building a virile community and meeting its needs. Then clearly, your monetization becomes a lot easier. As its stands today, we have over 3,500 individuals as part of our community. On a daily basis we see close to 250 people come into our facility which is now on four floors. In terms of our business model, we build a community, add value to it, then you can monetize aspects of it.
What has been your experience operating in Nigeria’s mobile application development space?
The experience has been fantastic. But clearly we’ve seen a lot of barriers as we move on ― the fact that talents are not everywhere. Having an idea is different from having the talent to build it and because we are in the technology space, you need to have the technical know-how to convert that idea to real product. Nigerians are quite ingenious. We have seen a lot of great ideas from different quarters. The challenge is that our universities are not producing talents ― the best computer scientists and most of the people we work with are self-taught. People have to learn on their own to do these things. The pool of talent we have is limited but over the last three years, the growth in the quality of work which people are building is so enormous that you wonder at the transformation.
Three years ago, the mobile applications you see in the market were really basic ― poor user interface, poor user experience. Today the quality is there for all to see. Also, the increase in the diffusion of mobile phones especially the smartphones has helped because many more people have access to affordable phones courtesy of Nokia, Samsung and especially Techno. Internet is also getting better when you look at where we were three years ago. Based on these factors, the interest in mobile applications is growing, more people are using and appreciating mobile apps and we expect to gain a lot of traction in the next one to two years.
How has it been, running CCHub?
In a way, it has been fulfilling, not in the sense that we have made so much money but that you see there’s hope for Nigeria. You see a lot of young and middle aged people who believe in the country and apply their skills and expertise in being part of the change. Seeing so many things like that gives us hope that we are headed in the right direction. Also, quite a number of people in the market have been receptive to the idea of an innovation centre and as such we have enjoyed a lot of goodwill. But it has got its own challenges. As an innovation centre, our spirit has been attuned to the fact that challenges exist for us to solve. We don’t necessarily feel the pain. For example, we run a 200KVA generator which cost a lot of money to purchase and to maintain: we spend about N800, 000 every month on diesel just to run the business. That amount would pay the salaries of five employees, entry level or mid-level in Nigeria. We have had to work around a whole lot of challenges to ensure that we continue to generate enough income to cater for power which is very sad. Also, systemic challenges to support the kind of thing we are doing. Some of the systems we run in Nigeria are archaic and not suited to help start-ups grow. The pain of registering a business is quite demanding, the tax system also doesn’t encourage start-ups. Also, the fact that you have to pay for almost everything like security, which in most societies are taken for granted also does not help matters.
But problems are the reasons why we exist. The Yaba area led by CCHub is becoming the centre of gravity for a lot of techie companies. We are working with Main One and the state government to lay fibre optic cable in the whole area, which was concluded last year and only waiting to be turned on. The internet experience in this area would soon be one of the very best in the country. We are also hoping to work with the state government to ensure that the area has its own dedicated power especially during business hours so that we can spend less on power. These problems present a platform to engage the right authorities to ensure that we find solutions.
What has been your greatest achievement and lowest point?
For people who understand the industry, our greatest achievement is that people now take tech seriously with the investment gradually improving. As a key player in the sector, that’s the way we measure ourselves. The average person out there would measure us by the number of successful start-ups we have – BudgIT, a small group that focuses on budget transparency and is one of the best in Africa today; Effiko is also doing quite well, they have piloted in Lagos and moving to five other states; Wecyclers is also part of the Hub and they are doing very well; Traclist is also gaining traction and other successful start-ups that we have incubated. We’ve seen people come with just an ordinary idea and watch them build a proper organization that can make money out of it. All these have been encouraging for us. Well, we haven’t gotten to that point where we would want to pack it all up and go.
Where is Nigeria’s own Silicon Valley?
It is here in Yaba, Lagos state and not just because CCHub wants to declare it as such. In the whole country, this is the only place where you have all the key ingredients for innovation. If you look at clusters or Silicon Valley itself, they are backed by universities, Stanford and the other big schools around to power the knowledge that drives the place. It’s also backed by an aggregation of businesses doing similar things as well as a conducive environment where top minds want to work as well as accessibility. Here in Yaba, you would find all these traits magnificently etched. In Yaba, we have Unilag, the nation’s university of first choice, you have LASU extension at Jibowu, there is Yabatech, the leading art and design school in the country and a heavy concentration of secondary schools. In terms of accessibility, Yaba is quite close to the Island, it isn’t as expensive as the Island and from here you can easily get to the airport and every other part of Lagos. It’s a no-brainer – the ingredients needed for the ecosystem are here in Yaba.
Where do you see CCHub in the next two to three years?
As we go on, we would like to play a more knowledge-driven role. I know the yardstick in our society is to calculate how many successful start-ups you have, how much dollars you are generating but our interest in this sector is more long term. It’s not about few start-ups making money but helping to build a robust ecosystem in Nigeria so that we have a sector that can power all the other different sectors of the country and make us more competitive as a nation. We are going to be doing more research, invest in long term thinking hoping to grow our capacity by 100% or even 200% in the next two to three years. The implication of this is that we would then be managing a bigger organization which is needed to make the required impact in the sector.
What has been your growth trajectory?
It’s been fantastic. In less than three years, we started with one floor, 190sqm but we currently occupy four floors. We are currently looking for finance to buy the building, it’s no secret. We want this to be a place just for technology businesses so that when you come here, you go from one floor to another talking to techies. If you are an investor, you will find interesting ventures to buy into when you come here. If you are an entrepreneur, you will meet interesting people you can work with to create the next big thing. We want a lot of big businesses to come out of this building. Also when we are together, we can collectively address our problems together and pull resources together to benefit the community.