As recently as 10 years ago, Africa’s technology industry was sparse. But as a result of advancements in mobile phone technology as well as better internet connections, the continent has transformed – unearthing countless innovators and entrepreneurs who make use of tech to solve everyday problems.
Out of 1.3 billion Africans, there are 477 million unique mobile subscribers, with the mobile industry contributing $155 billion to the continent’s GDP in 2019, according to data from the Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSMA).
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has 90 tech hubs – the most on the continent. In 2019, one report found startups in Nigeria raised nearly $400 million, more than double the amount from the previous year.
In recent years, the West African nation has become an incubator for some of the continent’s biggest startups – including online marketplace place Jumia and Andela, a talent accelerator.
The result is a generation of tech entrepreneurs or “techpreneurs” whose startups and innovations are helping to improve the lives of people in Nigeria and beyond.
CNN spoke to three startup founders to understand how they are shaping the country’s technology ecosystem.
The innovation pioneer
Bosun Tijani, Co-Creation Hub founder & CEO
Co-Creation Hub (CcHUB) is one of Africa’s largest networks of tech talent, with a presence in Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda.
Bosun Tijani, founder of the innovation center, told CNN that he started CcHUB to create a space for Africans to develop life-changing tech. Since its creation in 2010, it has served as a meeting place for innovators and entrepreneurs to share their plans and execute ideas, especially in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial center.
“Science and technology can leapfrog development across Africa … there are so many smart people on this continent, we just need to build a platform that will enable them to create,” Tijani said.
Through CcHUB, the entrepreneur has been able to provide tech startups with resources needed to grow their ideas into sustainable businesses.
Beginning in 2016, for example, through its 18-month incubation program, the hub helped provide the founder of Lifebank, a health logistics company in Nigeria, with a workspace, expert advice on how to incorporate tech into her business, and funding.
But for Tijani, it is not just about supporting other techpreneurs. He recently launched STEM Cafe, a learning center in Lagos, where kids can dream up big ideas through Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
There, children engage in a series of activities and informal sessions including coding challenges, computer games and prototyping with 3D printers.
“I want to build a generation of people in Africa with strong belief in science, people that are comfortable in science that can apply science to change things,” Tijani said.
The cafe, he said, does not use regular school curriculums – instead, it applies a non-linear way of teaching that encourages kids to be creative and to innovate.
“It’s a free space, we don’t judge … what we want to achieve here is to build creative confidence in kids.”
The savings trailblazer
Odunayo Eweniyi, PiggyVest co-founder
All over the world, women-led technology startups are in short supply.
In Africa, only 9% of startups have women in leadership positions, according to data from 2016. But even these grim numbers can’t deter Odunayo Eweniyi, co-founder and chief operating officer of PiggyVest, a financial technology company.
Eweniyi told CNN that despite experiencing microaggressions as a woman in a male-dominated space, she is focused on her job – teaching young people the value of their money by helping them save it.
PiggyVest is an automated savings and investment platform that helps Nigerians put aside small amounts of money daily, weekly or monthly.
“We’re targeting people that have smartphones and already have bank accounts. The ideal user of our platform would be young adults, mid-level professionals, not earning too much, not too little,” Eweniyi explained.
It works like a piggy bank but offers a variety of financial services, including investment options. According to Eweniyi, the company now has more than two million registered users.
The entrepreneur was inspired to start PiggyVest in 2016 when one of her co-founders, Joshua Chibueze, came across a viral tweet of a woman who had saved 1000 naira ($2.62) in a wooden box every day for an entire year.
“Joshua, actually brought the tweet to our group chat, like ‘Hey guys, is there a way we can innovate around this?’ So, with some modifications, that night, we came up with a working prototype of the product,” she explained.
Now, four years after that initial prototype, PiggyVest has helped its users save over $250 million, according to Eweniyi.
The health care prodigy
Chika Madubuko, Greymate Care co-founder & CEO
Another sector in the Nigerian startup space where techpreneurs are changing the game is health care.
In 2016, Chika Madubuko launched her health care technology company, Greymate Care, after a member of her family fell ill. The company provides on-demand care for vulnerable patients.
“Greymate Care was born out of personal pain, which was finding a caregiver for my grandmother when she was sick. It was pretty gruesome in my family then because my mom and sister would try to balance their own lives trying to move her between both houses, you know, trying to find a caregiver,” Madubuko told CNN.
According to Madubuko, Greymate Care now manages over 1,000 caregivers, all of whom are trained in food hygiene, principal care, health and safety, and emergency first aid.
It works as an online platform where patients in need of care can select the type of services they require and be matched with the appropriate caregivers.
For Madubuko, Greymate Care’s origins are personal. While studying at university in England, she volunteered in a hospital as a caregiver. “I learned to be a passionate and a very efficient caregiver,” she said. “And today I tell people that I am the best person to run Greymate Care because I have been on the supply side where I was a caregiver and demand side where I needed care.”