How Colab championed a tech ecosystem in Kaduna, northern Nigeria

What do you think about tech in the northern parts of Nigeria? Positive thoughts? Well, here is Sanusi, the founder of Colab, a co-working space and incubator in Kaduna state. Kaduna state can be said to be a very strong tech base in Nigeria. You can take Sanusi’s word for it.

Speaking on the false narrative on the prevalence of tech in the northern parts of the country, the founder of Colab says in his opinion that “tech talent is pretty evenly distributed across the country, the opportunities (for growth, for expression, for monetization etc) aren’t. In fact in my experience, I find that if you are looking for really technical people, you’ll most likely find them outside the “tech centres” (in Nigeria’s case, Lagos). What you may find lacking, would be their experience with working within preset corporate processes and teams to build stuff, or their ability to relate their skill with the required market fit.”

“This applies to Northern Nigeria as well. There are a lot of hobbyists, who are technically sound, but not many outlets for them to express those talents within the confines of a structured environment or as a product that the market is interested in.”

Colab and other co-working spaces

Telling the story of Colab, Sanusi describes it as “a combination of ideas that all came at the right time if you ask me. First my personal office at the time, had turned to a co-working space of sorts, with friends and acquaintances turning up almost daily; then there was the fact that at the point when I was trying to expand my company, it crossed my mind that it might be a better idea to help many more people build companies like mine by leveraging on the same opportunities I had being situated in Kaduna.”

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“Around the same time, I was also beginning to get tired of having to fly to Lagos every single time there was a meet-up, just to stay in touch. I think all of these factors–the organic growth of a workspace, the desire to help build other companies around me, and the desire to have a tech ecosystem that was a lot closer to me–played a part in becoming what has now become Colab.”

While the story of Colab was very valid, and showed a justifiable reason it was created, I was concerned that there is a high rise in the number of co-working spaces as against some few years back. I asked Sanusi if these spaces are already outnumbering the people who use them. He replied.

“I don’t believe so. In my opinion, I think there aren’t even enough co-working and co-creative spaces around in my opinion. I’m talking about spaces that serve as a meeting point for ideas and idea execution, not just desks and chairs that people can lease on a monthly basis (even though, those also serve their own purpose, and those also definitely aren’t enough). In a country of close to 200 million people, there are way too few spaces of this nature. We need more spaces, where people can meet, work on ideas and also have access to resources they usually won’t have access to on their own. They don’t even have to be “startup” driven. Makerspaces, 3-D Printing hubs, Prototyping Labs and the like are necessary and can even help fill the education and skill deficit across Africa.”

So you might have been wondering, like me, how most start-ups running on a very lean budget, are compatible with Colab spaces.

Well, One of the core reasons why Sanusi took the business decision to setup in Kaduna was cost. “Nigeria can be crazy expensive for startups, and individuals just starting out, so it made sense to setup in a place that was relatively cheap, but not lacking in infrastructure and market access. We pass these cost savings to the customers. I’m pretty certain that there aren’t many places where N10,500 will grant you any sort of meaningful workspace access, but in our case, that’s the most expensive subscription! For as little as N3,100 you’re ready to go at Colab.”

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Beyond just a co-working space

So what else does Colab do asides just being a co-working space? According to the founder, Colab runs an Incubation Program, a (tech) Talent Acceleration Fellowship, a Women only Outreach, a School Outreach, A Kids Outreach, a 3D printing hub and a software outsourcing arm that handles technical projects for profit. An incubator and accelerator program is just right for further development of tech start-ups in the region, don’t you think?

Read the rest of the interview below:

Tell us a bit of the journey so far, the challenges, and how you scaled through.

Our journey so far has been interesting, I think the biggest challenge for me has been a cultural one. Changing the way people think is not easy. Getting people used to the idea of sharing ideas, sharing facilities, sharing success and failure has been the most tasking thing yet. I can’t say we have scaled through totally, but we’re seeing a lot of progress, we’re seeing people openly discuss their ideas, collaborate on projects, start ventures together and more. We’ve been able to achieve this progress by focusing on a community centric approach to the day-to-day activities at Colab. That way everyone feels like they are part of a community they need to contribute to and share with. That has been amazing to watch.

What’s your view on the ‘tech revolution’ the continent is experiencing. Are we just getting started?

In my opinion, I think we are currently only scratching the surface of what’s possible in the tech space across Africa. Many big problems across almost every sector (Education, Healthcare, Agriculture, Security, etc) still exist and are waiting to be solved. At the moment, we’re still at the phase where we go after the easy wins, the solutions that apply to the middle class and wealthy, that can show cash flow and traction quickly. I think eventually, we will get to the point where we look around us, and start.

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What do you look forward to as plans for colab in a few years.

In a few years for me personally, success would be having a vibrant technology ecosystem in and around Kaduna and not Colab being at the centre of it. At Colab specifically, we’re looking forward to an even more vibrant community, an alumni of successful startups who are building solutions to some of our most pressing problems and a lot more interest in technology as a vehicle to move people across the poverty line.

Tell us what kind of start-ups excites you the most. EdTech, HealthTech, E-commerce?

I’m not particularly fixated on any sector, I’m more excited about a startup’s approach to solving real problems.

In two words, what has kept you going till this point?

God. Grit,

In case you want to visit this co-working space and incubator that is a pioneer in Kaduna, here’s an address – 4 Barnawa Close, Off Challawa Crescent, Barnawa, Kaduna.

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