By Paul Ndiho
Over the last five years, Nigeria has seen its innovation spaces grow from a handful to hundreds. CoLab is the first tech hub in the northern part of Nigeria and is designed to be a multi-functional space where developers and start-ups can work and grow.
Nigeria has been getting a lot of attention lately in the tech world, and for a good reason. Young talent is entering the game with something unique and they’re developing mobile applications that are transforming their communities.
Located in the north western state of Kaduna, CoLab Nigeria is a hub for tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs developers interested in solving everyday social and technological problems come to see their start-ups kick off.
Ifeanyi Mora is a regular at CoLab. He is working on an app that will help schools gather and manage their records.
“I don’t need to think of things I need to run like power and all what not. So it provides the space, it provides you know things I need to use like power and all that. And I said above all; you have people, people who have sort of the same skill set that you have that you can always mine from and share so that’s… it has been so helpful.”
There are many spaces like these around the world and a growing number in Africa – where nearly 90 technology hubs and research bases often funded by international firms such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Intel, incubate early-stage businesses in cities like Lagos, Johannesburg, and Nairobi.
CoLab founder, Sanusi Ismaila wants this space – launched just last year, to open up the state’s economy and draw investment for tech entrepreneurs and start-ups.
“What we are trying to do is get more people into co-working together. Get more people into technology because we feel like technology is one of the single biggest ways to get more people across the poverty line and especially here in this part of the country, so you know we are investing in that and we feel like where we are based now, which is Kaduna has everything that a tech ecosystem needs to flourish.”
CoLab offers training sessions on business and access to mentors and workshops to help local entrepreneurs develop their skills. It is also just a cool place to hang out. Youth unemployment is a massive problem in Nigeria; official figures show up to one in two young people are out of work.
“This is one of our work spaces; it’s the weekend so during weekends we do what we call downtime. Which is pretty much, play games, watch TV, chill, start interacting, and it’s open to everyone not just people from CoLab. So, we sought of having an avenue for people to interact with the people that are here and you know rub off each other. Get more people outside to come in and understand what we are doing, and also get user feedback on some of the things that we are working on,”
CoLab rents space out to members for between 3,100 naira (10 US dollars) and 10,500 naira (35 US dollars) a month. It can accommodate 100 people at full capacity in its indoor and outdoor areas.
Sanusi says the shared space and incubation concept is taking the time to catch on in Kaduna.
“You know the prevailing culture and mindset, so it’s one of the biggest challenges – changing people’s mindsets really and also getting people used to co-working. We also have a cultural of the problem here because everyone is sought of like siloes and you know is used to working on his own and doing everything for himself,”
Analysts say the potential market size of Africa’s most populous nation makes Nigeria, with nearly 170 million people, an attractive location. Similar spaces in the capital Abuja and the second city Lagos, have helped many young people launch into tech business.
Perhaps it worth noting that Nigeria, is the home of Africa Internet Group (AIG), which owns several technology firms across 26 African countries including online retailer Jumia, delivery app HelloFood, hotel booking platform Jovago and online real estate marketplace Lamudi.