Michael Blaise did not sleep until September 6th and 7th, 2018, when Tech Challenge Ogun, a competition platform for technological innovation, invited his team and nine others to compete for a $5,000 grant from a pool of over 60 applications.
Therefore, to improve their idea, to market it and to prepare the presentation to the judges, Mr. Blaise and his team worked all night. Members of the group, including Kingsley Amaechi and Owoloabi Damilola, are 100 year students of the Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED).
Mr. Blaise’s love for technology led him to attend TASUED Tertiary Institution (TTI) Hub where he studied computer programming alongside other technology enthusiasts. He heard about the Tech Challenge Ogun at the centre. Sheriff Onanuga, head of the TTI Hub, asked the students of the center – including Mr. Blaise – to come up with ideas on how to solve problems and face the challenge.
When Mr. Blaise introduced ‘Campus Help’, a platform that matches talented students with people who need their services, senior students at the TTI center thought it was not feasible. So they presented him with another idea: ‘Hello Gas’, a platform where people can order gas refills and have them delivered to their homes. Early Mr. Blaise went ahead to submit ‘Hello Gas’ and ‘Campus Help’, but only the latter made the shortlist of 10 ideas.
Build Ogun State Tech Space
It was 2018 and the Nigerian tech ecosystem was booming with indigenous startups getting up Over $178 million in 166 deals and twice that amount –377 million dollars– in 2019. But the majority of these startups are located in Lagos – a phenomenon that lasted until 2022. 88 percent of startups in the country concentrated there.
After hosting the successful Tech Summit Ogun sponsored by the state government in January 2018, Verve Tree, the Ogun State tech hub and organizer of the summit, decided to organize the first Tech Challenge in the state. The plan was to develop students’ skills to develop startups.
Co-founded by Ayoola Olaniyi, Special Adviser on New Media to former Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun, Verve Tree invited applications from students from tertiary institutions in the state to compete for $5,000 for the best startup idea. Mr. Olaniyi, who previously worked at one of Nigeria’s biggest technology hubs, the Lagos-based Co-Creation Hub (CC Hub), saw an opportunity to create a similar hub in Ogun State to help creators incubate and share ideas.
In August 2018, 10 ideas were chosen from a pool of over 60 pitches; all from students of tertiary institutions in Ogun State, he announced. In September, the 10 teams converged on the Youth Development wing of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, to present their proposals to a panel of judges.
The night before the finals, Mr. Blaise recalled staying up all night writing computer codes with his teammate, Mr. Kingsley, while the third pair prayed. The next morning, as the group watched others present their pitch, they shivered.
“When it was my turn to present, I was very nervous. It was my first time pitching. I was praying so much, the judge noticed and told me to calm down,” Mr. Blaise recalled. “When I finished, I went back to my seat still praying.”
The winners whined
At the end of the event, five winners emerged and Verve Tree announced a cumulative USD 12,000 as prize money for the winners.
Smart Teller developed by a student of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogunwande Oluwole was the winner with $5,000 prize. Farmers Pride, developed by Godstar Azamuzie, a Covenant University student, won $3,000 as first runner-up, while Abdulahi Monsuru won $2,000 with Health.ng as second runner-up.
Ebubechi Ezenwanne, another Covenant University student, came third with $1,000 and Michael Blaise’s Campus Help came in fourth, also winning $1,000.
However, four years after the winners smiled in front of the cameras, holding their hard-earned prize checks, three of them have confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that they are yet to receive their prize money.
Mr. Ogunwande, the overall winner, said that apart from the fictitious check he photographed at the event, he was yet to receive any money from the organisers.
“It was in the news. We took pictures with a big cheque, but then we got nothing,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
Another winner, who did not want to be named, said he was waiting for the organizers to arrive but they never did. He said he was sick of telling family and friends he hadn’t received money, even though they didn’t stop asking.
“They (the organizers) said they would contact us immediately about the funds as they have our contacts,” the person told PREMIUM TIMES. “We approached them several times. At one point another group chat was created, still nothing came out.’
Before Mr. Blaise gave up, he sent several messages to Verve Tree Hub’s Twitter account, but received no response. The Twitter account is currently suspended. “Now, I have lost hope. I have moved on,” he said.
The organizers speak
When PREMIUM TIMES approached Mr. Olaniyi, he said the prize money should have been paid by the state government but the government never did. Even in government, Mr. Ayoola said he pitched several times to get the funds, but his efforts never materialized.
“What the state government should pay and we tried to write back and forth but at some point I lost hope. Everything else that was going to happen came from us (Verve Tree Hub),” he said in a phone interview.
The Chief Press Secretary to the current Ogun State governor, Kunle Somorin, and the Special Adviser on ICT, Dayo Abiodun, said they had no such partnership with the government.
ALSO READ: Tech competitions and the Nigerian startup ecosystem, By Inyene
In telephone conversations, Mr. Somorin and Mr. Abiodun said that the administration of Governor Dapo Abiodun, who started working in 2019, has no idea about the partnership that was established in 2018.
After the disappointment, Smart Teller received support from the Nigerian government through the StartUp Nigeria Program. He has also won awards including the Sankalp Global Award for Financial Inclusion and has been inducted into the Seedstar Post-Acceleration Program.
While Campus Help has been struggling since 2018, recently Mypals was properly launched to capture more than just students on its platform. But some winning ideas such as Farmers Pride and health.ng never took off.
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