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SME Guide

Unleashing Entrepreneurship and Innovation – Keys to Nigeria’s Success


Nigeria is blessed with immense entrepreneurial talent and capacity for innovation. However, systemic challenges continue to impede the unleashing of its full potential. A flourishing startup ecosystem and knowledge economy centred on technology and innovation can tremendously accelerate Nigeria’s economic growth and global competitiveness. This article delves into the building blocks and policy actions required to enable entrepreneurship and innovation to thrive at scale.

Strengthening the Startup Ecosystem

Nigeria boasts of startups like Andela, Flutterwave and Opay pioneering solutions for Africa across fintech, logistics, education and healthcare. But the ecosystem needs further nurturing through:

  • Access to Finance: Expanding availability of early-stage capital through mechanisms like government-backed VC funds of funds, angel investor tax incentives, and structured seed-funding initiatives.
  • Supportive Regulations: Creating innovation sandboxes, streamlined startup registration processes, tax holidays and licensing flexibility to lower compliance burden.
  • Incubators & Accelerators: Building a national network of quality incubation facilities and programs through public-private partnerships. MOUs with global accelerators can enable knowledge transfer.
  • Shared Infrastructure: Establishing plug-and-play office spaces, IT services, and testing labs on flexible terms through startup hubs across cities.
  • Mentor Networks: Schemes that connect young entrepreneurs to seasoned industry experts and serial founders to provide guidance and improve go-to-marketability.
  • Targeted Incentives: Sponsoring startups in priority sectors like climate-tech, agritech and healthcare through challenge funds and dedicated incentives.
  • Diaspora Linkages: Initiatives to engage Nigeria’s tech-savvy diaspora as mentors, co-founders and funding sources for domestic startups.
  • Regional Expansion: Supporting startup expansion beyond Nigeria into broader Africa to access larger markets. Pan-African accelerators and Africa-wide tech events are enabling this.

Promoting R&D and Innovation Commercialization

To foster knowledge economy, linkages between industry, academia and research institutions need tightening through:

  • IP Reform: Overhauling Nigeria’s IP policy framework to facilitate patenting and tech transfer mechanisms from universities and R&D centres to private sector.
  • Innovation Funding: Providing researchers early-stage grants to convert proof-of-concepts into prototypes and start pilot projects. Institute-embedded incubators are also impactful.
  • PPP Tech Parks: Establishing public-private joint technology parks that enable R&D labs, testing infrastructure, tech transfer offices and commercialization avenues under one roof.
  • Favourable Procurement: Policies mandating government to procure a share of products/services from indigenous startups boosts demand for local innovation.
  • Innovation Challenges: Agencies floating problem statements and sponsoring solutions, like Nigerian Communications Commission’s 5G contest, catalyse product development.
  • Idea Bank: Centralized portal for researchers to publish promising concepts, prototypes and papers where industry players can browse for opportunities. Reduces information gaps.
  • Student Startups: Integration of entrepreneurship with technical curricula along with mechanisms to convert student projects into startups boosts impact.
  • Diaspora Knowledge Transfer: Structured programs facilitating short-term exchange visits by accomplished Nigerian scientists and technologists working abroad to local institutions for lectures, trainings and mentorship.

Leveraging ICT for Competitiveness

As digital transformation gathers speed globally, targeted ICT policies become crucial for competitiveness. Priorities include:

  • Digital Infrastructure Investment: Significantly expanding access to high-speed internet and cloud infrastructure through commercial incentives, viability gap funding and strategic PPPs.
  • Interoperability Standards: Frameworks that enable systems connectivity and data sharing between government agencies and with private sector through common programming interfaces.
  • Cybersecurity: Developing robust frameworks comprising laws, investigative agencies, emergency response teams and mandatory reporting of threats by businesses.
  • Digitizing Public Services: Online delivery models and integrated government service platforms improve the efficiency of processes like identity, taxation, social benefits etc. Compliment with digital literacy campaigns.
  • Industry 4.0 Leapfrogging: Providing production automation incentives for SMEs to adopt smart manufacturing technologies like sensors, robotics, IoT and data analytics.
  • Future Skilling: Revamping university IT and engineering curricula to build emerging technology capabilities in areas like AI/ML, robotics, blockchain etc., through industry partnerships.
  • Innovation Clusters: Developing geographic zones with high-speed connectivity, digital fabrication labs, testing facilities and anchor tech institutes to nurture concentrated innovation ecosystems.

Boosting R&D and STEM Capabilities

Low investments into R&D constrain innovation. Steps to bolster capabilities include:

  • Incentivizing Private R&D: Providing tax breaks, grants and subsidies to spur industries to invest more in internal research and tech acquisition. Making specific allocations to young deep tech startups mandatory.
  • Research Commercialization: Establishing technology transfer offices at research institutes to patent and license IP assets to private sector for commercialization, as done by India’s NCL system.
  • Specialized Research Institutes: Establishing niche public research centres focusing on priority industrial technologies, as exemplified by Taiwan’s ITRI model that catalysed IT industry growth.
  • Global Partnerships: Facilitating joint R&D projects, cross-border twinning of institutes and researcher exchanges with tech leaders in South Korea, Israel, Japan etc. to gain capabilities.
  • Diaspora Networks: Schemes to engage accomplished Nigerian-origin scientists and engineers working globally across academia and industry to teach, mentor and undertake short-term collaborative projects with local counterparts.
  • STEM Education: Prioritizing science, technology, engineering and math at all education levels through experiential learning pedagogies, tech tools integration and building teacher capabilities.


Nigeria possesses immense scope to harness youthful entrepreneurial energy and indigenous innovation capabilities for economic growth. However, targeted policy efforts are needed to strengthen the ecosystem foundations. With government, academia and industry working synergistically to implement the strategies outlined, Nigeria can unleash the full potential of its knowledge capital and fast-track progress.


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