At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic activities have declined globally. A drastic decrease in income generation has prompted many private companies to downsize or change their business strategies. Africa and Asia were not exempt. Many startups faced fragile social infrastructure, limited public support, and a fragmented supply chain. There has been a need for innovative business solutions that can save lives, create jobs and provide livelihoods.
In response, many solutions have emerged. Many of them have focused on distance medical care, information delivery, distance work tools and distance teaching and learning, and logistics. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) hosted 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 were winners. Each company was rewarded for carrying out a proof of concept (PoC) project for a maximum amount of US $ 30,000.
Beyond giving these startups PoC opportunities, JICA will provide effective support through the NINJA acceleration program in Nigeria. This follow-up program is in partnership with the Ventures Platform Foundation and is designed to support the growth of startups through a series of mentoring, partnership opportunities with other companies, and the ability to present to investors while monitoring their progress.
The selected startups are:
Utiva – A technology workforce development company that helps people acquire cutting-edge technological skills virtually and partners with businesses to hire top talent and invest in workforce development.
TradeBuza – A cloud-based web and mobile platform to help smallholders, commodity aggregators, exporters and agricultural processors more effectively manage their projects and trade.
Gradely.ng – Gradely is Nigeria’s first truly personalized learning platform that empowers educators and parents to make a difference in their parish’s learning outcomes and produce more competitive learners globally.
Emergency response in Africa – A healthcare technology company that provides fast, safe and affordable emergency medical care, connecting emergency victims to first responders and community hospitals, ensuring they receive proper care in just minutes.
Routemasters – A technological solution that uses mathematics applied to Earth observation, GNSS, telematics and other derived data sets in a unique way to create digital road maps and accurately deliver times and modes of travel for urban planning tools and mobile navigation applications for consumers.
Lifestores – Provides access to quality primary health care for Africans by enabling pharmacies, the front line of primary health care in Africa, to digitize their operations, reduce procurement costs and better serve patients.
MyClinic.ng – An on-demand online platform that allows anyone from anywhere to see and talk to a doctor anytime, using the mobile app or dialing the smart number.
RxAll – RxAll enables pharmacies and patients in Africa to buy high quality non-counterfeit drugs online by authenticating and delivering drugs through an online platform. (* They haven’t signed a PoC project contract with JICA Nigeria, so they haven’t joined the program yet.)
This program will help startups accelerate their business development, while providing investment and exposure. This program not only focuses on youth, innovations, entrepreneurship and technology, but also on contributing to solving social problems.
In line with this vision, the NINJA accelerator hosted its first Ecosystem Dialogue Series (EDS) event on Friday, May 21.st. The EDS theme was Start-up-business collaborations and highlighted the benefits of collaboration between startups and companies on the innovation scene in Nigeria. Participants shared business and start-up perspectives on how stakeholders can leverage partnerships for mutual benefit, paying particular attention to points of convergence between corporate organizations and startups. The EDS panelists were Simeon Ononobi (Founder, ThankUCash), Henrietta Bankole-Olusina (Director, Nigeria, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors) and Ayodeji Aina (Head, Corporate Innovation Unit, Firstbank Nigeria)
The NINJA Accelerator Program in Nigeria is one of JICA’s startup support programs and aims to encourage innovations solving important problems in society using emerging technologies. Innovative startups significantly contribute to economic growth and employment across the country. According to Shohei Sato, a representative of JICA in Nigeria, “Nigeria is one of the main focus of JICA due to its large innovative ecosystem and the opportunities that exist in the country.”
About the NINJA project
Project NINJA is an abbreviation of NOText Innovation with Japan and it is an initiative of JICA to support entrepreneurs and create business innovations in emerging countries. JICA intends to collaborate with various stakeholders to develop entrepreneurship, identify problems faced by entrepreneurs, formulate policy recommendations, strengthen the management capacity of enterprises, promote collaboration among enterprises of all sectors, partner with Japanese companies and promote investment.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) coordinates the Japanese government’s official development assistance to developing countries and aims to promote international cooperation by supporting the socio-economic development, recovery or economic stability of emerging economies.
For more information: https://www.jica.go.jp/english/index.html
About Ventures Platform Hub
Ventures Platform Hub is a catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship across Africa. It provides smart capital through its seed fund, Ventures Platform Fund, it provides infrastructure and nurtures communities of entrepreneurs and innovators through Ventures Park and builds pipelines by providing capacity and ecosystem support through the through his non-profit organization – Ventures Platform Foundation.