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Why We Are Bringing Silicon Valley To Nigeria – Temitope Ajayi



Chief Amina Temitope Ajayi, is a US-based Nigerian business consultant and Chairman/CEO, Silicon Valley –Nigeria Economic Development Incorporated (SV-NED Inc.), a company that was set up to establish a strategic, bilateral economic relationship between Silicon Valley and Nigeria to create opportunities. She is also popularly known as ‘Mama Diaspora’ and currently in Nigeria to lead a team of experts for the 2nd Silicon Valley Immersion programme taking place in Lagos and Abuja from 12th -23rd February 2018. In this interview with AMINA ALHASSAN, she bares her mind on what this opportunity could mean for young Nigerians. Excerpt:

The 1st Immersion Programme was held in Silicon Valley in September 2017, and now the 2nd will be held in Nigeria. What prompted the whole idea?

I have been a minority CEO in Silicon Valley and would see a busload of Indians and Asians being employed everyday which really broke my heart. When I go to meetings, I hardly saw anybody my colour and one day I asked why. I was told that there were .1.0 per cent of Africans in Silicon Valley and though there are many Nigerians, they are employees of multi-billion dollar companies. I was fortunate to become a member of the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, where every powerful company from Apple to Google, Oracle, Cisco, Microsoft, Intel and so on hold a membership. I am also a member of the SV Capital Club and SV Black Chamber of Commerce. These memberships are like being at the apex of your career but that is not all for me. Fame and fortune are just illusions. When you talk of fame, I have tried because I have received so many honorary citizens’ awards by several states in America, I also hold the keys to many cities in America and represent two states as Goodwill Ambassador to the States of Arkansas and Maryland. That is a big deal. As for fortune, I am blessed in my own little way but all these are just illusions and not the solution.

So what is the solution?

The solution is what I would like to be remembered for which is why I am here in Nigeria. There is something I love about the Silicon Valley called the Eco system which, if we could introduce it to Nigeria, it would be like a platform where we watch each other’s backs. There are Angel investors who are multibillionaires, some anonymous, who would rather invest in intellectual properties instead of putting their money in the banks, which is the wisest thing to do. This is what I want to introduce to my people in Nigeria. You can make billions in intellectual properties or human capital. It all begins with the Startups- or the ‘rough and ready’, (what we call Entrepreneurs in the USA and Hustlers in Nigeria) who are eager to do something but don’t have the capital. So we pack all the entrepreneurs into what we call an incubator and listen to their ideas, then move them on to accelerators. By that time, we know they can do something and so we invite the venture capital (VC), do a one-pager for them, and have their apps or software sold for up to millions of dollars.

Whenever I see young Nigerians, I see potential millionaires and billionaires but nobody has introduced the Eco system to them yet. There is no rocket science to it; it is business. If somebody invests in you, puts you in his incubator where you produce an app, you have to do your part and share the proceeds. We call that equity contribution. India, which is well known for their movie industry, today lives on data, Information Technology. Nobody talks about oil and gas like before, everybody talks about IT, which is where the money is now and anybody that invests in that, will have made a good business move, especially with the kind of resources and intellectual properties we have in Nigeria. Silicon Valley exports 100 billion dollars yearly on IT, and exports 52 billion dollars’ worth of Agricultural produce from 5 cities.

You seem very passionate about IT; What is your background?

I am actually a trained Accountant. Growing up, I wanted to study computer science but my father wouldn’t hear of it. I actually stumbled into IT at the age of 60; and if a 61- year old woman can be IT savvy, what more of the young ones? I have taught myself everything I need to know about it- now I know a lot about AI (artificial intelligence), block chain, cloud, software, hardware, data and so on. All our youths need is that opportunity. Forget all the negative things that are being said about Nigeria. I want to have a company here which will harness the potentials of these young men and women, taking Africa to the margin markets.

What do you hope to achieve at the end of the immersion programme? 

We have 5 Ivy League universities on board namely; Harvard University, Stanford University, New York University (NYU), San Francisco University and Morgan University where people go to for short courses and get certified but not everyone can afford to go there, my children in Nigeria can’t afford the costs. Now, this is an opportunity for them to have these professors come to Nigeria, what they are teaching them today in America will be taught here too. The second advantage is that IBM, Cisco, Oracle and some others have already agreed to come. All we need are start-ups and graduates that are ready. I have to commend this present administration, the team of President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo for their effort so far. I met with the Special Adviser on Innovaton and Technology and we had a discussion, where I told them how proud I was about what they have achieved so far, I am just here to take it to the next level which will help generate revenue from IT, the kind of revenue that is being made from oil.

Have you been able to identify any potential start-ups in Nigeria yet?

Yes, there is Yaba Silicon Valley and the Civic Innovation Centre in Lagos and I was impressed with what they were doing. I saw some of them busy on their computers and I wished I had the means to take them back to the USA where start-ups really pay-between $6000-$9000 (equivalent to N2.1m to 3.1m) per month. So, when our resource persons come, we will have a one-week intensive immersion programme in Abuja and Lagos, and an exam will follow thereafter. 30 of the most brilliant young adults will be picked with the possibility of them getting an internship, while the others will be put in incubators. Out of the 30 picked, 5 will be those with disabilities who have shown us that being handicapped is not a barrier. Another 5 of the slots will go to women who I am also passionate about.

China has over 1500 incubators and the whole of Africa has about 500, with Nigeria having only 30. We are working and hoping that by this time next year, we will have over 1000.

I understand that the programme is not for free. Are you looking at Sponsorships? 

Luckily, I’m introducing this ecosystem to my leaders, and people are responding positively. Somebody has said he will sponsor 65 graduates in his own incubator. I want Nigerians to snap out of the mentality of getting things for free.

In my own little way, I have been able to achieve a lot because I was in a meeting with some of the CEOs in Silicon Valley when one of them said, ‘’Chief, they call you Mama Diaspora, we saw how passionate you are, so we in SV will act as a shadow behind you to bless those children.’’

I don’t need anybody’s money but I want my Nigerian people who are fortunate to sponsor these children.

How valuable are these incubators and is Nigeria really ready for this big leap in technology?

When I was negotiating on behalf of Nigerian young adults, I didn’t know how smart and advanced they already were. Some of them are ready. Yaba Silicon Valley is ready for a one-pager; Vision Centre is ready for a venture capital and other trade hubs are also coming up. We are bringing in Assembly plants, call centres, technology hubs but the people we are going to use have to be certified first.