At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic activities shrank on a global scale. A drastic decrease in revenue generation caused many private companies to downsize or change business strategies. Africa and Asia were not exempt from this. Many startups were faced with fragile social infrastructure, a limitation of public support, and a fragmented supply chain. The need arose for innovative business solutions that could save lives, generate employment, and provide some livelihood.
As a response, many solutions sprung up. Many of these focused on remote medical care, information transmission, tools for remote work and remote education and learning, and logistics. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) organized the NINJA Business Plan Competition in response to COVID-19 (NINJA stands for Next Innovation with Japan), and eight outstanding companies out of 549 in Nigeria emerged as winners. Each company has been awarded to proceed with the Proof of Concept (POC) project at a maximum of US$30,000.
Beyond giving these startups PoC opportunities, JICA will be providing effective support through NINJA Accelerator Programme in Nigeria. This follow-up program is in partnership with Ventures Platform Foundation, and it is designed to support the startups’ growth through a series of mentoring partnership opportunities with other corporates, and the opportunity to pitch to investors while monitoring their progress.
The selected startups are:
Utiva – A Technology Workforce Development company that helps people learn premium technology skills virtually and partners with companies to hire the best talents and invest in workforce development.
TradeBuza – A cloud-based web and mobile platform to help outgrowers, commodities aggregators, exporters, and agricultural processors manage their schemes and trades more effectively.
Gradely.ng – Gradely is Nigeria’s first truly personalized learning platform that empowers educators and parents to make a difference in their ward’s learning outcomes and produce more globally competitive learners.
Emergency Response Africa – A healthcare technology company that provides fast, safe, and affordable emergency medical care, connecting emergency victims to first responders and hospitals in the community, ensuring they can receive proper care in just a few minutes.
Routemasters – A technology solution that utilizes applied mathematics to earth observation, GNSS, telematics, and other uniquely derived datasets to build digital route maps and accurately deliver journey times and modes for city planning tools and mobile navigation applications for consumers.
Lifestores – Is providing access to quality primary healthcare for Africans by enabling pharmacies, the frontline of primary healthcare in Africa, to digitize their operations, reduce procurement costs, and better serve patients.
MyClinic.ng – An online, on-demand platform that enables anyone from anywhere to see and talk to a doctor at any time either using the mobile app or by dialing the smart number.
RxAll – RxAll enables pharmacies and patients in Africa to buy high-quality, non-counterfeit medicines online by authenticating and delivering drugs through an online platform. (*they have not signed PoC project contract with JICA Nigeria, so they have not joined the program yet.)
This program will help startups accelerate their business development, alongside providing investment and exposure. This program doesn’t focus only on youth, innovations, entrepreneurship, and technology, but also on the contribution to solving social issues.
In line with this vision, the NINJA Accelerator had its first Ecosystem Dialogue Series (EDS) event on Friday, May 21st. The EDS theme was Startup-Corporate Collaborations and highlighted the benefits of startup and corporate collaboration in Nigeria’s innovation scene. Participants shared corporate and startup perspectives on how stakeholders can leverage partnerships for mutual benefit with special attention to points of convergence between the corporate organizations and the startups. The EDS panelists were Simeon Ononobi (Founder, ThankUCash), Henrietta Bankole-Olusina (Director, Nigeria, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors), and Ayodeji Aina (Head, Enterprise Innovation Unit, Firstbank Nigeria)
The NINJA Accelerator Programme in Nigeria is one of the JICA’s startup support programs and it is to encourage innovations solving the prominent problems of the society by utilizing emerging technologies. Innovative startups contribute significantly to economic growth and employment nationwide. According to Shohei Sato, a JICA Representative in Nigeria, “Nigeria is one of the keys focuses for JICA because of its large innovative ecosystem and the opportunities that exist within the country.”
About Project NINJA
Project NINJA is an abbreviation for Next Innovation with Japan and it is a JICA initiative to support entrepreneurs and to create business innovation in emerging countries. JICA intends to collaborate with various stakeholders to develop entrepreneurship, identify issues experienced by entrepreneurs, make policy recommendations, strengthen corporate management capacity, promote collaboration among enterprises across industries, match up with Japanese companies, and promote investment.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) coordinates official development assistance for the Japanese government in developing countries and aims to promote international cooperation by supporting the socio-economic development, recovery, or economic stability of emerging economies.
For more info: https://www.jica.go.jp/english/index.html
About Ventures Platform Hub
Ventures Platform Hub is a catalyst for innovation & entrepreneurship across Africa. It provides smart capital through its early-stage fund, Ventures Platform Fund, it provides infrastructure and nurtures communities of entrepreneurs and innovators through Ventures Park and it builds pipelines by providing capacity and ecosystem support through its not-for-profit – Ventures Platform Foundation.