How was the company founded?
Chinook Capital was founded on the principle of encouraging start-up companies in Nigeria. We incubate small start-up companies and help them to grow. We have about three projects already. We target our products and services for people and clients who have ideas but likely do not have the means or the ability to nurture those ideas. We help them build those ideas and assist with funding at the early stages of the start-up such as developing the idea, incubating it, and getting the proof of concept out. Once we get the proof of concept out, we then invite venture capital firms to come in and fund the project. Obviously, because we are technology driven, we have a technology lab where we have our own programmers and developers who provide technology services for these start-ups. We also provide technology services for third parties; there are people who approach us for help to develop their ideas using our technology.
What is your long-term ambition for Chinook Capital?
Our objective is to become the de facto start-up capital fund in Sub-Saharan Africa. Around 99% of the funds available as venture capital today do not target West Africa. The Sub-Saharan part of Africa is even worse; if we remove Nigeria, South Africa, and even Kenya from the equation, the rest of the continent does not have access to funding for start-ups. The banking industry does not fund entrepreneurship and does not understand it. The industry only funds purchase orders from conglomerates or requests for collateral that would probably kill the companies in the process of providing the collateral. Funding start-up enterprises is not easy, and special funds are required. African start-ups are not only fintechs; there are Nigerian start-ups doing things that are not standard in the West, and companies like Chinook Capital are there to give them a hand to get them into industry. We also do mentoring and management training for entrepreneurs so that they can understand the difference between an entrepreneur and a trader. From day one, when we pick up such projects, we structure them in a manner that they are ready for venture capital.
How would you assess the environment for creating new businesses in Nigeria today, and what should be done to boost it?
I started my own business when I was 26. It was hell; there was zero funding at the time. Today, however, things are different. The world is global, and technology has become accommodating; before, technology was the most expensive item on companies' balance sheets. Accessing funding is also easier; there are many initiatives around to enhance access to funding for start-ups, such as the Tony Elumelu Foundation. Nigeria has not even scratched the surface of technology at all. Our use of technology is still low even though we are leapfrogging and taking advantage of learning from the mistakes of the West. Outside of Lagos and Abuja, not many Nigerian cities have good data networks. The second-most important thing is to learn from the Indian experience. The government there recognizes that the only asset it has are its people and it has made structures to enhance access to technology. The shift in accumulation of technology skills in India from the beginning of the 1980s to date is unbelievable. Today, India is recognized as the Silicon Valley of Asia. We are the most populous African country. The energy that Nigerians have is uniquely different from the rest of Africa, and it needs to be harnessed by the government by enhancing support for start-ups and entrepreneurship.