Five students’ groups won a cumulative $12,000 from Tech Challenge Ogun, a technology innovation competition organized by the Ogun State government in 2018.
Michael Blaise did not sleep for several nights leading up to September 6 and 7, 2018, after Tech Challenge Ogun, a platform for technology innovation competition, chose his team and nine others from a pool of over 60 applications to compete for a $5,000 grant.
Mr Blaise and his team worked all night to perfect their idea, pitch, and prepare for the presentation to the judges. Members of the team, including Kingsley Amaechi and Owoloabi Damilola, are Tai Solarin University of Education 100-level students (TASUED).
Mr Blaise’s interest in technology led him to the TASUED Tertiary Institution (TTI) Hub, where he learned computer programming alongside other technology enthusiasts. He learned about the Tech Challenge Ogun at the hub. Sheriff Onanuga, the head of TTI Hub, challenged students at the hub, including Mr Blaise, to come up with problem-solving ideas and submit them for the challenge.
When Mr Blaise pitched ‘Campus Help,’ a platform that connects skilled students with people in need of their services, the mostly senior students at the TTI hub dismissed it as impractical. So they pitched him another concept: ‘Hello Gas,’ a platform where people can order gas refills and have them delivered to their homes. Mr Blaise went on to pitch both ‘Hello Gas’ and ‘Campus Help,’ but only the latter made the shortlist of the top ten ideas.
Building Ogun State Tech Space
It was 2018, and Nigeria’s tech eco-system was at its peak, with indigenous startups raising over $178 million in 166 deals in 2018, and more than three times that amount in 2019. However, the majority of these startups are concentrated in Lagos, a phenomenon that will continue until 2022, with 88 percent of the country’s startups concentrated there.
After a successful Tech Summit Ogun sponsored by the state government in January 2018, Verve Tree, an Ogun State tech hub and summit organizer, decided to organize the state’s first ever Tech Challenge. The goal was to prepare students to launch their own businesses.
Verve Tree, co-founded by Ayoola Olaniyi, Special Adviser on New Media to former Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun, invited applications from students in the state to compete for $5,000 for the best startup idea. Mr Olaniyi saw the potential for creating a similar hub in Ogun State to help founders incubate and share ideas after previously working in one of Nigeria’s largest tech hubs, Co-Creation Hub (CC Hub) in Lagos.
By August 2018, he announced that 10 ideas had been chosen from a pool of over 60 pitches, all from students at Ogun State tertiary institutions. The ten teams gathered in September at the Youth Development wing of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) in Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State, to present their pitches to a panel of judges.
Mr Blaise recalled typing computer codes with his teammate, Mr Kingsley, throughout the night the night before the finals, while the third partner stayed up praying. The team shivered the next morning as they watched others present their pitches.
“I was so nervous when it was my turn to present. I was pitching for the first time. Mr Blaise recalled, “I was praying so much that the judge noticed and told me to calm down.” “When I was finished, I returned to my seat and continued to pray.”
At the end of the event, five winners were announced, and Verve Tree announced a total prize of $12,000 USD for the winners.
Smart Teller, created by Ogunwande Oluwole, a student at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), won the grand prize of $5,000. Farmers Pride, created by Covenant University student Godsstar Azamuzie, won $3,000 as the first runner-up, while Abdulahi Monsuru won $2,000 with Health.ng as the second runner-up.
Ebubechi Ezenwanne, another Covenant University student, took third place with $1,000, and Michael Blaise’s Campus Help took fourth place with $1,000 as well.
However, four years after they smiled for the cameras while holding dummy cheques for their prizes, three of the winners confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that they have yet to receive their cash prizes.
Mr. Ogunwande, the overall winner, stated that he had yet to receive a dime from the organizers, aside from the dummy cheque he posed with at the event.
“It made headlines. “We took pictures with a large check but got nothing after,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
Another winner, who did not want to be identified, stated that he waited for the organizers to contact him, but they never did. He said he was tired of telling family and friends that he hadn’t received the funds, even though they kept asking.
“They (the organizers) said they’d contact us right away about the funds because they have our contacts,” the person told PREMIUM TIMES. “We contacted them several times. “At one point, another group chat was formed, but nothing came of it.”
Before giving up, Mr Blaise sent several messages to Verve Tree Hub’s Twitter account, but received no response. The account on Twitter is currently suspended. “I’ve given up hope now.” “I’ve moved on,” he explained.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr Olaniyi, he stated that the cash prizes were supposed to be distributed by the state government, but that the government never did. Even though he was in government, Mr Ayoola stated that he tried numerous times to obtain the funds but that his efforts were futile.
“The state government was supposed to pay, and we tried back and forth writing, but I eventually gave up.” “Everything else that was supposed to happen came from our own part (Verve Tree Hub),” he explained over the phone.
Both the current Governor of Ogun State’s Chief Press Secretary, Kunle Somorin, and the Special Adviser on ICT, Dayo Abiodun, denied any such collaboration with the government.
In separate phone conversations, Messrs Somorin and Abiodun stated that the administration of Governor Dapo Abiodun, with whom they began working in 2019, is unaware of the alleged partnership formed in 2018.
Following the setback, Smart Teller received funding from the Nigerian government through the StartUp Nigeria Program. It has also won awards, including the Sankalp Global Award for Financial Inclusion, and has been accepted into the Seedstar Post-Acceleration Program.
While Campus Help has struggled since 2018, Mypalsneed has recently launched to attract more than students to its platform. However, some great ideas, such as Farmers Pride and health.ng, never took off.