Improving the startup environment with Nigerian Startup Act

Isa Pantami

Isa Pantami

By Lere Ojedokun

On October 19, 2022, the Nigerian technology and innovation space, and in particular the tech-enabled startup ecosystem received a major boost when President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Nigeria Startup Bill (NSB) into law.

With the presidential assent, the Nigeria Startup Act (NSA 2022) came into effect, principal objective of which is to further grow the country’s ICT sector which, according to the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami, contributes 40 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually, with 18.42 per cent already recorded in 2022 alone.

He added that the new act – a joint initiative by Nigeria’s tech startup ecosystem and the Presidency, was aimed at harnessing the potential of Nigeria’s digital economy through co-created regulations, and to emplace well-laid laws and regulations that work for all stakeholders in the tech ecosystem.

Pantami also said the act provides the legal and strategic framework for innovators to make their contributions to the country, stating that out of the seven unicorns in Africa, five are from Nigeria, and that the market value of each unicorn is worth US$1billion.

In a nutshell, the intention of the Nigerian Startup Act 2022 includes recognition of legally incorporated tech startups 10 years downward, whose activities support the creation and incubation of innovations and tech solutions. It further seeks to provide an enabling environment for the establishment, development, and operation of startups; provide for the development and growth of technology-related talent; and position Nigeria’s startup ecosystem as the leading digital technology centre in Africa.

To achieve the intended objectives, the act makes provisions for the establishment of a startup seed fund; tax incentives for startup businesses, new employees and angel investors, accelerators, and venture capitalists; training and capacity building support; as well as facilitating smooth working relationships between startups and relevant government agencies.

Startups under the Nigerian Startup Act 2022 are defined as any company in existence for not more than 10 years, with its objectives being the creation, innovation, production, development, or adoption of a unique digital technology innovative product, service, or process. This definition connotes that the Act will apply to tech-enabled startups, that is, companies like Alerzo, Kuda, Bamboo, etc that leverage innovations and technological advancements to solve operational issues or improve customer experience.

The new act, indeed, is a huge step towards addressing the yearnings of players and stakeholders for a more enabling operating environment. This is more so, because, despite the huge socio-economic potential and benefits that digital innovations, products and services can offer Nigeria’s economic recovery and growth, the space is fraught with certain challenges.

For instance, McKinsey & Company in a report, Harnessing Nigeria’s Fintech Potential (September 2020), stated that Nigeria is home to over 200 fintech standalone companies offering fintech solutions, plus fintech solutions offered by banks and mobile network operators. The report added that the Nigerian fintechs raised more than US$600 million in funding between 2014 and 2019.

Quartz Africa, however, lamented the high failure rate of Nigerian startups. It said 61 per cent startup failure rate was recorded from 2010-2018 due to various factors including poor infrastructure such as roads, inefficient electric power, inconsistent government policies, regulatory bottlenecks, over-saturation of startups in select locations, dearth of talent, high operating cost, funding challenges, etcetera.

It is gratifying also that tech-backed B2C and B2B e-commerce startups like Alerzo (AlerzoShop), TradeDepot, Omnibiz, Njalo etcetera are also among the principal beneficiaries of the new act. As an important driver of the digital economy, they also face similar challenges of policy inconsistency, lack of access to funding, exclusion from official foreign exchange window, high lending rate by commercial banks, high operating cost, poor supporting infrastructure, overlap in regulation by government agencies, multiple taxations and insecurity, amongst others.
The new act offers the much-sought political will towards addressing the challenges of tech startups. It is also an acknowledgement of the significance of tech-enabled startup businesses as enablers of national socio-economic growth which e-commerce platforms are a part of.

Despite the challenges in the emerging B2B e-commerce ecosystem, the resilience of the segment as a significant contributor to the manufacturing and distribution value chain is never in doubt. Over the past years, operators have consistently invested in ICT infrastructure and human capital to impact the entire value chain – manufacturers, distributors and retailers – by enabling Factory-to-Retail distribution for consumer goods companies.

Nigeria’s informal retail market is estimated to worth US$100 billion, yet faces peculiar challenges including limited inventory, lack of access to finance for expansion, unregulated and clustered market, distance to market or supply source and high transportation cost, all of which increase cost of operation.

Alerzo is prominent among the tech-enabled e-commerce platforms that are empowering informal retailers in the sub-urban and rural areas with faster distribution of consumer goods using first-party relationship platforms, enabling manufacturers and top-tier primary suppliers to clear their inventory faster, while it absorbs the burden of last-mile supply and delivery to the retailers. The new Act could enable it to do more when the cost of doing business is low.

During COVID-19 and post-pandemic, Alerzo helped to bridge the demand-supply shortfalls by leveraging its ecosystem of digital solutions and logistics platforms to empower informal retailers to access a wide assortment of consumer products with ease and faster from FMCG companies such as Flour Mills, Unilever, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, PZ Cussons and Dangote at zero delivery cost to the retailers.

More angel investors, accelerators and venture capitalists partnering with B2B e-commerce platforms like Alerzo and others in critical areas such as logistics and warehousing services would mean more goods will pass through the supply chains faster to the consumers. Businesses will reduce their operating cost and increase profitability; more jobs will be created, economic wealth will be distributed to more people; quality of life will improve, while the economy will be significantly impacted.

The act, by offering incentives, provides a buffer for startup businesses like Alerzo to achieve stability or withstand macroeconomic headwinds. Incentives like pioneer status for tech businesses aged zero to 10 years in critical industries like technology and agriculture and possible tax holiday, up to between three and five years, are highly commendable.

Also allowing startups to employ entry level talent with no more than three-years of post-graduation experience and offering income tax relief up to five per cent of profit generated, and Personal Income Tax relief of 35 per cent for two years for such employees can help them attract the right talents. By enabling angel investors, accelerators, and venture capitalists to enjoy tax credits, up to 30 per cent of their investment in a startup, can attract more investors into the segment.

The future of tech startups in Nigeria is bright, no doubt. McKinsey & Company, in the report cited earlier, revealed that Nigeria’s fintech ecosystem attracted US$122 million, representing 25 percent of US$491.6 million total funds raised by African tech startups in 2019 alone, coming second to Kenya which attracted US$149 million. It noted further that Nigerian startups retained US$1.37 billion of Africa’s US$4 billion funding in 2021, showing that Nigeria has the highest volume of startups in Africa. Quartz Africa further affirmed Nigeria as hosting the most startups in
Thus, Nigeria Startup Act 2022 can be a stimulus to accelerate the growth of Nigeria’s tech startups to an enviable height in the not-too-far foreseeable future.

-Ojedokun, a policy analyst and development advocate, contributes this piece from Lagos.

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