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Accelerating youth agri-incubators in Africa - Lessons from Nigeria

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Since business incubation/acceleration initiatives, especially in agriculture, are new to Africa, the adoption and the consistent recording and analysis of their impact is still work in progress. Prompted by youth employment or under-unemployment, incubator/accelerators chiefly support youth entrepreneurship development - from the ideation/innovation phase to assisting more seasoned enterprises seeking support for faster expansion.

In Africa, the introduction of incubation and acceleration has largely come from local entrepreneurs bootstrapping their way to work with micro and small to medium-sized enterprises. These have sought to stimulate and catalyse entrepreneurship, initially with a strong focus on ICT enabled or focused ventures, and more recently extending to include agriculture and agribusiness.

In the agricultural sector, the African Agribusiness Incubation Network (AAIN) and the Global African Agribusiness Accelerator Platform (GAAAP) are two emerging resource institutions promoting the development of incubation and acceleration programmes for agriculture/agribusiness focused enterprises, across the food value chain. Countries where agriculture focused incubation and acceleration are now being adopted include Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Mali in West Africa; Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda in East Africa; and South Africa and Zambia in Southern Africa.

Nigeria, in particular, has been identified by global tech giants such as Facebook and Google as a focus for innovation support. Over the past 12 months, Facebook has launched the Nigeria Hub in Lagos in collaboration with the Co-Creation Hub, a Nigerian technology incubator that hosted Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, during a visit in 2017. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s earliest incubation/acceleration programme, Wennovation Hub (WeHub), is also emerging as a leading catalyst for entrepreneurship support in Africa’s most populous country.

Established in 2011, WeHub is a start-up incubator and accelerator focused on inspiring and empowering African entrepreneurs to solve their immediate socio-economic challenges by leveraging technology and local resources, and building their community and collective networks through collaboration. According to co-founder Wole Odetayo, WeHub has trained more than 6,000 youths, incubated over 350 teams, and has about 30 start-ups in its investment portfolio.

WeHub expends about 50 per cent of its resources on its Agritech Incubation programme. Following the launch of its AgriTech Initiative in 2015, WeHub partnered with CTA to implement AgriHack West Africa in 3 countries simultaneously - Benin, Nigeria and Togo. WeHub incubatees have collectively worked with some 40,000 farmers.

In terms of key success factors, Odetayo says that WeHub believes in the importance of:

  • Clarity in the business model – Every incubator/accelerator programme must be clear on how it intends to sustain its activities.
  • Building a strong ecosystem – Success is determined by the quality of the community of people and institutions in the incubator/accelerator's network, to support those in their programmes, including business advisors, accountants, lawyers, financiers, technical agricultural specialists, coaches and mentors.
  • Strong selection processes – Since resources are limited, it is important to be selective in choosing cohorts. Competitive application processes help to fulfil this requirement.
  • A sound curriculum – Quality training, adaptive learning methodologies and relevant educational materials are critical to the success of the programme.
  • Impact measurement, monitoring, evaluation and story-telling/social media engagement – It is crucial to capture processes, impact and feedback to ensure that programmes can continue to be improved. Using social media is also helpful to promote the progress of programme participants, and to advocate for support for youth agripreneur participants in incubators/accelerators.

These principles have been validated by feedback from entrepreneurs benefiting from incubation and acceleration programmes. The founder of VetsArk, Blessing Mene, a Nigeria-based start-up agri-tech company - one of the first companies to be accepted by Facebook’s NG Hub - says that key motivating factors for his decision to apply to the incubator included a desire to secure funding; the technical experience of the programme facilitators (Co-Creation Hub in this instance); the fact that the programme promised strong mentors who were well qualified; the track record/ prestige of the programme; and the office space and services, particularly fast internet.

The key outcomes that incubators/accelerators yield are sustainable jobs, and prime beneficiaries in this regard are governments. Jobs contribute to socio-economic peace and increased state revenue. However, governments across many African states are passive members of the technology entrepreneurship ecosystems. International development organisations are typically more active, but could do more. Sustaining and improving the capabilities of incubators/accelerators is key to encouraging more youth participation in agriculture.

This article was created through a CTA-led process to document and share actionable knowledge on 'what works' for ACP agriculture. It capitalises on the insights, lessons and experiences of practitioners to inform and guide the implementation of agriculture for development projects.

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