August 1st was a great morning for Techies. In Nigeria especially as ZoneTechPark opened their doors to welcome the media and tech enthusiasts for the Media Unveiling and Press conference held at their beautiful space in Gbagada, Lagos. The atmosphere held an airy personality and it reflected in the mood in the room. The press conference was packed and to enter, we had to scurry through rows to get a seat, to the music of displeased Videographers complaining every step of the way.
Not long after we settled, the Anchor introduced Toro, who is the CEO. Toro is a well-trimmed man and was dressed in a fitted suit. He spoke with an American accent and I thought he was nervous, since his hand trembled while holding the microphone. He unloaded the full gist about Zone Tech Park and hammered on their vision to help collaborate with Techies that possess innovative and viable ideas. He addressed the importance of a conducive environment when working on a project and told us how the Zone Tech Park Initiative planned to support and keep the operations alive.
Zone Tech Park will run like an incubator program that will help foster ideas but they have plans to take it a step further— partnering and assisting in the packaging, selling and promotion of that idea. Quite frankly, Zone Tech Park are not the first full technology hub in Nigeria. Several others abound across Nigeria notably Co-Creation Hub, Lead Space, Ventures Park Abuja, Roar Nigeria Enugu, Wennovation Hub in Ibadan and the Civic Innovation Hub in Abuja.
However, in the Nigerian environment, the best path for these initiatives is not to compete but rather to coexist in the same ecosystem and, if possible, collaborate to ensure the survival of as many ideas as possible. A sentiment Toro also shared and made clear to those in attendance. He also announced the services provided are free and that Zone Tech Park will allow budding Tech initiatives to use their high capacity event hall for free as well, to resounding applause.
He introduced to the audience 2 of his colleagues, Matt Adesanya and Gatumi Aliyu, CTO and COO of Zone Tech Park who respectively spoke about the current child projects ZoneTechPark is working on. They had 3 user ready products – Outwork, a staff on-demand solution with 7,000 users; Peerless, a learning management system and Cluster, an ATM utility web application.
Then they gave way for the Founder, Workforce; Bolaji Olagunju who envisioned the idea of The Zone Tech Park. His vision is for the Park to become the go-to point for high impact startups to get venture support, business models and strategic enterprise support. The mission of the Zone Tech Park is to help Great Founders Build Great Products and Great Companies.
He started out throwing a question at the media, it was odd as we were the ones who should question. Then he reiterated the ZoneTechPark’s mission statement over again, this time focusing on how our national competitiveness will improve our economic ratings and the value of innovation to any country.
Bolaji’s session transitioned into the Q and A seamlessly and hands flew up with Toro joining him on the podium. The questions thrown were well answered. Toro delivered thoughtful, provocative and humorous responses when he spoke. His hand still trembled but he was so composed I was certain that he was not nervous. Some asked good questions, others just wanted the 2 men to speak. A young man rambled on for too long and was cut off.
Toro and Bolaji made it clear that they will thoroughly vet the ideas they choose to put their weight behind, adding that the rejection of an idea wasn’t the same thing as the rejection of the Entrepreneur. Bolaji also added that they’ll take particular interest in the personalities of founders, declaring he would work with founders regardless of the idea they present if they possessed ‘certain qualities’. More questions arose from the journos in the building and were answered accordingly.
Then came the tour; we were grouped to tour the building by the colors of our hand bands. Our first stop was the exhibition and we witnessed Cluster, a multipurpose app that will further connect man with his surroundings. Cluster will make it possible to know if an ATM would dispense beforehand or if the Supermarket down the street will be open on a public holiday.
Another App on exhibition was Outwork. A business to peer platform that allows the easy gathering of data all around Nigeria, down to the remotest of areas. It provides a means to pay partakers and it is very much a plausible idea.
We were taken to different rooms in the building. Well-designed studio for media production, lecture, leisure among others and it was very evident a lot of resources had gone into the initiative.
It is quite difficult to tell the exact missing ingredients that would make for a perfect Tech Hub in Nigeria. Some would argue that government support is needed, others would claim the innovators are not trying enough, some would say we need a better education system and some would even say everything is bad and we should rebuild from the ground up.
Wherever our opinions lie, it is important to try to make it work. We need to create a thriving environment for ideas to grow and for personalities to bloom. With the situation of things and how exponential the tech scene has grown, an added incubator to the current list is needed and even more are welcome.
As I sat in their work-space, drink in hand and with a poker face to ward off overzealous photographers. I fervently hoped that ZoneTechPark is here to stay.