“The mindset for us is to have innovation become mainstream on the continent.”
1.Next Einstein Forum: Tell us in a few words what CcHUB is and the impact it has had for Africa?
Bosun Tijani: CcHUB stands at the forefront of the fastest moving technology industry trends, and is maintaining its focus of shaping the economy and the future of Africa. It is championing the growth of start-up communities whose savvy models are in turn motivating partners globally to embrace the technology revolution sweeping across Africa. In very few years we have built a solid reputation for process and product innovation, business development strategies, incubation of new business models and rolling out of channel programs. Our success and partnerships culminated in the visit of Mark Zuckerberg to the Hub on his first ever visit to Sub-Saharan Africa. We pitched the concept of the i-HQ and secured the installation of fibre optic cables in the Yaba area as well as long term investment and support from both private sector and the government.
2. Tell us about the initiative you started last year to connect ecosystems leveraging or preparing for the AfCFTA?
B.T.: The key message for me is around the concept which I have been working on for about a while now, about distributed innovation systems. As African countries, as we continue to think of how we strengthen ourselves locally, we need to understand that the world is moving so fast and we do not have time to build a strong innovation system. When we start to think about what “distributed” means, how a company in Rwanda can partner with those in Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda to leverage their strengths where they are weak, but also to allow them leverage its strengths where they are weak. That is how we are going to push Africa forward. The starting point is—we must start to see the continent as a single market which is a perfect timing for the AfCFTA. But beyond that, what it gives us the chance to do, is to be more integrated and intentional about our relationship with the rest of the world. So if an African country is partnering with China, what’s the relationship based on? It shouldn’t just be China giving resources to build roads. It should be how that relationship strengthens that country, or what it offers China that makes it also feel like this is a symbiotic relationship because they benefit, we benefit, and we get stronger. When we partner the UK, for instance, it shouldn’t be just about aid, it should be about what are we learning from that relationship, how is the relationship is strengthening us and helping us to be more formidable. That distributed way of thinking is important: to say we are strong here, you are strong there, we are weak here, we can complement you, you can support us to make us stronger. That’s the message I am hoping to pass across under AfCFTA.
3. You are a veteran entrepreneur. Talk to us about what you would tell your younger self about how to build a business and especially how to scale?
B.T.: When you’re weak, you’re weak, you can’t compete. The mindset for us, which has always been our mindset for the last 10 years, is to have innovation become mainstream on the continent. We want, for every business person, leader, government official, to understand that the application of science and technology is what is going to change the way we do things. Our long term vision has always been to see that day when innovation becomes the status quo. When we think of solving problems in education, we think innovation, when we think of solving problems in agriculture, we think innovation. Anything we think of, innovation ought to be at the core… If you are thinking of building a business in innovation, ask yourself: How do you democratize the application of science and technology which is the core of innovation? That’s where technical efficiency in the innovation business comes from. Everything you do should be about that, building that ecosystem, getting more people to believe, making innovation more accessible, making it more meaningful not just for startups, but large corporates as well, disrupting the market. You’ve got to figure out how to help businesses that have been there for 10 to 20, 30 years to also leverage technical efficiency strongly, and innovate so that they continue to add value to society.
4. Do you think scientists should have mandatory creative thinking, management and entrepreneurship courses as well as their scientific courses? What is the value of this?
B.T.: Every innovator must aim to be a manager too. There is one notion which I have narrowed down to quiet lately: “Bringing anti-fragility” into how you work, into how you create. Generally, if you look at life, people tell us there is a description for things that are fragile. Thus, things that are easily destructible but there is also a definition for things that are formidable, things that you can’t break easily. There is no way to describe something that is in-between. You can describe something that is really strong and something that’s weak. How do you describe something that’s in the middle? When you are really strong, there is a chance that you can be killed. It’s the same thing in business. You can be disrupted when you are really strong. When you are weak, forget it. Every scientist, innovator should creatively consider how to build an organization that is not fragile, but constantly moving forward—but not to the stage where it is too strong and there is nowhere to go. That’s the concept of bringing “anti-fragility” into our institutions. We must constantly innovate to constantly stay relevant, and that’s where these courses you mention are vital.