Nupe Project – This Nigerian startup is driving hardware innovation in Africa

by MMC
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“Intellectual property theft is a major problem in Nigeria and Africa and most of the time you will see many Africans outside Africa excelling in this field of computer hardware because the countries they have migrated to have better laws and better protection of ideas. created in their fields. Funfere Koroye, co-founder of the Nupe project.

“How can we solve this problem? »

“What can we do to solve this problem? »

These are the kinds of questions that motivated the creation of Nupé Project, a product ideation and design startup based in Lagos and London. For co-founder Funfere Koroye and his partners, it’s about solving Africa’s problems one hardware at a time rather than complaining and blaming the government. “There is a huge equipment problem in Africa. Almost all of the stereotypical problems of the continent and Nigeria as a country are usually found in and around a physical solution,” Koroye told Ventures Africa.

Nupe Project was originally created to be an online portfolio of solutions for leading conversations around the development of indigenous hardware in Africa, but it quickly caught the attention of some companies and grew to what it is today. The market for product design and industrial design is almost non-existent on the continent, with Africans largely known for their imported culture. A Much hardware design and development work is done outside the continent, hence the need for re-education on product innovation to solve Africa’s unique problems.

The start-up is co-owned and managed by five people, three of whom make up the core team. Koroye is the founder and original product developer; Micheal Omotosho is a UK-based design engineer; Dami Onanuga is a recently graduated industrial designer; SO Ifedayo Ojo and Anjola Badaru. All areas combined, the team has experience in food and beverage equipment manufacturing, shoe, furniture and mobile phone design, alternative technology and energy production.

“We all met through social media and agreed that there have been few computer hardware inventors of African origin in the last decade on the level of a Steve Jobs or an Elon Musk and we just felt like we needed to get out there and do something different,” Koroye said.

Nupe Project operates three different business models; one works with companies on a commercial basis to help them innovate their internal products. The second model involves coming up with unique ideas that can be commercialized through grant applications and venture capital funding. And the third works on non-profit projects to help communities. “We think the latest model of our company is very important because sometimes people who need help can’t afford it,” Koroye said.

Over the past few years, Koroye and his team have worked with a range of African companies in different fields to innovate products, including Tecno and Tanzanian company Jaza Energy. “We have worked with Techno to design mobile phones and more recently with Jaza Energy to develop a solar inverter battery for providing affordable electricity in off-grid communitiessaid Koroye. As a non-profit, they designed a sanitation solution for Drasa Trust, an NGO created in memory of Dr Ameyo Stella Adadevoh.

Solar inverter battery for Jaza Energy
Credit – Nupe Project

“We are now in a globalized world thanks to the Internet. You don’t need to leave your country to be part of an international community, so take advantage of the interconnectivity of the Internet. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are devoid of African ideas. We need more Africans on these platforms to share ideas and try to raise funds. – Funfere Koroye

So far, the startup has been operating out of pocket and has faced many funding challenges. Developing hardware is expensive, a hundred times more expensive than it would be to develop software. There are also other factors that threaten the company’s existence, such as unfavorable policies, lack of basic resources, and lack of STEM education. Hence Koroye’s call for the introduction of material design into school curricula in Nigeria and tax incentives for the export of Nigerian intellectual property.

“We are on a continent where the conversation about hardware and the creation of hardware is still in its infancy. And there are mitigating factors such as lack of power, lack of intellectual property export policy, and lack of education in STEM courses and classes from primary level to university. So we face adversity on many fronts. But we will not let them deter us,” Koroye told Ventures Africa.

He also said the startup was looking to raise funds and expand in the near future by trading shares and commercializing its ideas to increase its customer base. “We have not presented any ideas to the market because they are expensive, but we are working on one or two products that we will directly market before the end of the year,” Koroye said. They also apply for grants and submit ideas for innovation challenges, particularly those coming from the UK since the UK has programs that aim to accelerate innovation in Africa.

Funfere Koroye, co-founder of the Nupe project

For the founders of Nupe Project, seeing the impact of their product ideas and witnessing the changing landscape around the hardware design conversation in Nigeria and Africa makes them happy. Currently, in Tanzania, around a hundred thousand people use a solar inverter battery designed by the start-up. “It means a lot to us because we’ve never had this kind of traction with a product we designed,” Koroye said.

Regarding their experience and growth as business owners so far, Koroye said, “We’ve learned that every connection needs to be leveraged and that some of the people most important to your growth don’t necessarily give you money. Don’t be afraid to fail. Seize every opportunity and you will be surprised what happens.

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