When most people think of Nigeria having an ecosystem of innovation and technology, they instinctively think of Lagos, and understandably so. After all, Lagos is home to over 20 million people, and is the largest commercial city in Africa. It is also home to some of Africa’s best known consumer tech businesses including iRokoTV, Hotels.ng, Jobberman and Andela, which recently picked up $24 million in funding from Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation.
In emerging markets, Lagos continues to be a city with plenty of promise and opportunity for startups, but as we’ve written before, despite the obvious logistical and commercial advantages, there are opportunities beyond the ‘smoke’ of Lagos. None is better placed than Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory city of Abuja, just 300 miles northeast of Lagos and a 50-minute plane ride away.
In many ways Abuja is Nigeria’s original startup city. It was founded just 40 years ago, after being carved out from the center of the country. For years it was a drab and unexciting bureaucrats’ city, not unlike other purpose-built capital cities like Brasilia, Brazil or Canberra, Australia. But it was also lucrative for a few of the early visitors. Ambitious men in long-flowing white robes, $300 leather sandals and briefcase in hand, used to fly in on a Monday to hustle for multi-million dollar government contracts and fly back out to Lagos or Kaduna on Friday morning. Few people actually lived there back then, and there was little genuine entrepreneurship.
Since the late ’90s, a few years after the government moved there, this relatively well-planned city has grown steadily to around 3 million people.
But Abuja isn’t just a civil servants’ city anymore. Now it’s center is surrounded by several universities in the city itself and in neighboring states, so there’s a constant influx of fresh young entrepreneurs looking to launch new businesses and to collaborate with the government and its parastatals.
In many developing countries, working with government is essential for entrepreneurs and Nigeria is no different. This places Abuja in a unique position to nourish its own innovation ecosystem, and insiders say it’s already on its way to providing that support for tech entrepreneurs and others like them.
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