How The Crisis Is Reshaping Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Nigeria

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For entrepreneurs, the crisis has become a vehicle for innovation, leadership, and growth.

Globally, the health crisis has tested the resilience of many businesses at different stages in their lifecycle, presenting a mix of threats and opportunities depending on which sector they operate in. Over the course of history, we have witnessed how various crises have helped shape society, fueling advancements in technology, medicine and healthcare systems. This crisis has proved to be no different; globally and locally, not only have we witnessed entrepreneurs play a critical role in their countries’ response and recovery plan, we have seen businesses rapidly innovate in order to survive, and display a disarming amount of generosity in helping their customers and society at large adjust to the new normal.

Even before the onslaught of the crisis in Nigeria, the economy was not growing quickly enough to provide adequate employment prospects for the country’s youthful population. Now, that growth will likely be stalled even further. The shutdown of borders and foreign exchange shocks as a result of the crisis does not bode well for businesses looking to boost their productive capacity. Beyond the macroeconomic outlook, the measures employed by Lagos State Government to curtail the spread of COVID-19 has had a major impact on profit projections for almost all businesses, small and large. The restrictions on free movement during the lockdown has dealt a blow not just to informal sector workers, but also to SMEs and high growth businesses that hire hundreds of people and rely on walk-in customers, such as cinemas and supermarkets.

We have already seen a shift in work culture as working from home has become the norm. Businesses that previously did not have remote work policies had to quickly figure out what that looked like for their organization, while still driving and measuring productivity. Tech companies like Twitter have since announced a permanent remote-work policy post-crisis. It is likely that due to this ‘baptism by fire’, many businesses in Nigeria are likely to implement remote-work policies going forward. There has also been rapid adoption of software for tracking tasks, collaboration and video conferencing for virtual meetings. Some businesses, like restaurants and retail outlets, have been pushed to offer delivery services to compensate for the lack of foot traffic; while other businesses, like fashion and printing companies have pivoted their production factories to supply protective gear like cloth and plastic masks, hand sanitizers, and hospital gowns.

Many entrepreneurs are facing a crisis of this magnitude for the first time in their careers and they are having to create rapid and impactful change within their organizations. This involves making some hard decisions, like downsizing or cutting salaries, but also fosters conditions that force leaders out of their comfort zones to allow fresh perspectives and problem-solving based thinking. Flutterwave, led by Endeavor Entrepreneurs Olugbenga “GB” Agboola and Ife Orioke, recently launched its Flutterwave Store, an e-commerce marketplace to help SME’s and start-ups that have experienced disruption in their businesses shift to an online model. At a time when healthcare is top of mind, Carbon, also led by Endeavor Entrepreneurs Chijioke and Ngozi Dozie, recently announced a healthcare benefits program in partnership with AXA Mansard; while uLesson, a learning app for students founded by Sim Shagaya, reviewed its prices downwards to create more access for out-of-school kids. For some industries, such as logistics and mobile payments, the crisis presents an opportunity as most customers expect to receive their goods and pay from the safety of their homes. According to the Tayo Oviosu (Founder & CEO, Paga and Endeavor Entrepreneur), the crisis has sped up the shift to mobile payments. During his appearance on a CNN live special, he said they had experienced a 330% growth in mobile wallet sign-ups since its onset.

Despite the headwinds and an unpredictable future, many big businesses, start-ups, and even SMEs have made heroic efforts to respond to the crisis, such as business leader initiatives like CACOVID’s N25Bn fund, YPO’s 80-bed isolation center, donations from the banking sector, innovative startups like Lifebank providing mobile testing, and Flying Doctors Healthcare launching its “COVID mobile” and isolated testing sites. Many individuals and ecosystems have collaborated to crowdsource relief funds and pivoted to produce resources such as facemasks and sanitizers, to donate to those in need through initiatives like Angels Among Us and community organizations like the Lekki Food Bank. When we look back on this crisis, there is no doubt that we will be impressed with the innovations it left in its wake: improved healthcare processes, improved facilities, increased technological adoptions, flexible work policies, digitization of processes, and lessons in collaboration.

Economic growth and the speed of the post-crisis recovery hinges on the successes of entrepreneurship and innovation. Providing the right support to both high growth businesses and SMEs is imperative to their survival. The Nigerian government was prompted into action to respond to the needs of businesses in crisis, as evidenced by the measures they quickly put in place. The National Assembly’s Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill and the Central Bank’s stimulus package both seek to provide financial support to businesses, ease pressure on loan repayments, reduce interest rates, and suspend import duties on medical equipment, medicines, and personal protective gear. Whether these measures will be effective is yet to be seen, however, there is a gap in the conversation about effective policies on crisis response to protect the innovation sector.

As an entrepreneur support organisation in our ecosystem, Endeavor’s focus is on helping high-impact scale-ups thrive and not just survive through this period. Our goal is to support businesses and communities, including start-up founders, small business owners, solo entrepreneurs, and scaleup entrepreneurs navigate the crisis by providing access to critical resources, tools, information, advice and in some cases, capital. We are collaborating with entrepreneurs, organisations, industry experts, and members of the business community to examine common areas of vulnerability and have created a dedicated website to deliver purposeful resources and shared knowledge to aid startups, aspiring entrepreneurs and experienced founders in navigating these unforeseen circumstances.

There is no certainty about when the crisis will come to an end and what its overall impact will be, but it presents a vehicle for societal change, and an opportunity for innovation, leadership, and growth for entrepreneurs, supported with the right policies.

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