Engineer Elvis Obi-Nwankwo is the special assistant to Enugu State governor on Innovation, Science and Technology. Prior to his appointment, Obi-Nwankwo worked as the head of Business Development at Maincorp Inc. He was in-charge of the Company’s corporate business development and also overseeing synergies in building new market for the foreign and local brand partners, amongst other achievements.
The SA expressed delight over the recent Startup Ecosystem Report 2021 by StartupBlink which ranked Enugu, for the first time, in the Global Startup measurement table.
Elvis Obi-Nwankwo admitted this has put the stakeholders on their toes, however he assured that both the government and the players in the space will not let not rest on its oars with regards constant drives towards maintaining and possibly exceeding the expectations of local and foreign investors as the talent hub of Nigeria.
Again, congratulations on your appointment. What are your visions for Enugu innovation ecosystem?
Coming on board, the first thing I did was to convene a meeting of stakeholders in the ecosystem so as to see how we can plan and chart a new phase for Enugu innovation and startup space.
In doing that we came up with a strategic plan that will help us position ourselves. It is one thing to be in government and another thing for you to actually know why you are there. My office has produced a strategic document which is the Enugu Innovation, Science and Technology plan 2021-2023. What we did was to streamline some of the core things required to position the State for global technology competitiveness. Top on the list is enhancing government’s relationship with the businesses within the innovation, science and technology sector.
The second goal is to try and deepen relationship with major IST players in the State and communities; to see how and where we can collaborate.
Thirdly, we are working on revamping the STEM – Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering – curriculum in the State-owned educational institutions. It is something that is policy-driven, but last June we started a tour of schools in the State to garner first-hand information on how they are performing regarding STEM programs. On that note, we came up with a document for the Government to adjust STEM curriculum for secondary schools.
Fourthly, during the meeting with stakeholders we sought for innovation master-plan for the State. We can’t progress with adequate plan. We want to see how we can pull strength together to reposition Enugu for the global stage. The process is ongoing; we have people making suggestions on how to go about it. Your ideas are welcome.
Fifth – we are discussing with the government on the need to establish what we call Enugu State Science and Research Innovation Agency (ESSRIA) which will have the mandate to adequately fund innovative ideas in our State. It is not something the government can achieve without an Agency in place. The essence is to position and meet the needs of innovation ecosystem in our dear State.
The sixth goal focuses on coming up with a database for Enugu residents. This database will comprise of all the eligible voters, resident in Enugu; it is more like a datacentre for ‘ndi Enugu’ (residents of Enugu State). A community without a database in today’s world is headed to jeopardy. With such database you can determine what, where and when government interventions are needed in the State. We are working towards making that to happen.
What are the critical areas that need innovation in the State – health management, traffic management, food security, education, birth control, energy efficiency etc., suffice to say, areas that government expects startups and innovators to look at?
The question is a very tricky one because Enugu is more like a talent capital for Nigeria; there is a whole lot of talents in the State. The talents are not tied to a particular sector; they work across board and very encompassing. Now, if there are solutions coming up for the hospitality industry, traffic management and birth control, same way, we want solutions across other sectors. It is about carving the right investment platform for the ecosystem to thrive. It is one thing for one to have an innovative idea and another thing for him to meet a good atmosphere for the idea to flourish. So, what the government is doing is to provide the platform for ease-of-doing-business.
What is the plan ‘town and gown’ handshake?
Now, even the State government is working seriously on urbanisation projects and that will help a lot. We have a project coming up soon called PMT Fellowship where we identify the technology driven institutions in Enugu and try to establish innovation centers there. So students can actually get armed with digital skills before leaving the four walls of the higher institution. Some of these tertiary institutions are part of our plans under the school-tour program. We are starting with the Government Technical College (GTC) to showcase their tech talents to the world.
The news came as a surprise to many: Enugu was recently ranked among the top five startup ecosystems/cities in Nigeria; the first of its kind global ranking the State would receive in that regard. Who would you give the credit for this remarkable growth?
The State Government deserves some encomiums for this ranking. If you consider what the Office of the SA to the Governor on SME is doing; through that office, government has given out a lot of facilities to small businesses to help them scale up. The SME is a very important factor in every economy.
The State government understood the need for the SMEs to thrive by assisting them to grow under the leadership of Hon. Arinze Chilo-Offiah. They have actually been positioning the youths. They have organised a tour of the local governments, giving out loans to SMEs. So, the global rating didn’t come as a surprise. The government have actually invested a lot in making that happen. Also, you cannot take away the resilience of our startups. Against all odds, they have stood their ground, innovating and showcasing their talents and solutions to the world. The world should expect more from Enugu.
Do you think the ranking has put the ecosystem under pressure?
Of course, other States are actually contending to either overtake us or be at par with us. With this now, we have more jobs in our hands. It seems the work just started. The ranking came barely three months I came into office. Now, every hand are on deck to see how we can move to the next level because it requires collaborations between agencies of the government and the ecosystem to make that possible.
What is your message to the startups that have put their hands on the plough and might be in need of repositioning?
One thing is very sure: we are just starting off. And I have come to realise that Enugu suffers from tech-media gap. We need the young startups to understand the importance of branding, because with that the value proposition of their startups, products or services will be made evident to all to see.
That is another means to pitch to the investors. We must be open to learning new things. As a startup you must not wink in the dark; be liberal-minded and not the jack of all train kind of mentality.
If you lack knowledge about something then approach others who who have that knowledge to lead you in positioning your startup. I believe in the couple of years we shall thrive in that area too. Our startups need as much media supports as they can get.
What incentives are in place to influence investors or companies willing to probably relocate their offices/operations to Enugu?
First, Enugu remains the capital talent of Nigeria. There is an abundance of talents churned out by universities and other tertiary and vocational institutions every year. The State is also advancing the course of Youths who are willing to do exploits in the business space.
This is where you get that vibrancy; a lot of young people want to venture into startup ecosystem and wiling to learn from established companies too. So, any right thinking organisation should look towards Enugu because the government has maintain good posture on the national ease of doing business chat too.
Peter: Thank you for your time.
Elvis: Nice having you around Peter.