Kaduna Technology City: a glimpse at the future of tech ecosystems in Africa

The Kaduna Technology City is a collaboration between CoLab, Talent City and the Kaduna State Government. It is designed to create an enabling environment for tech talents and entrepreneurs.

Kaduna Technology City: a glimpse at the future of tech ecosystems in Africa
Entrance of the Kaduna Tech City. 📸: Sanusi Ismaila

Kaduna Technology City (KTC) is home to CoLab Innovation Campus, a tech space commissioned by the Governor of the state. CoLab is the first of many other facilities that KTC will have.

On May 27, 2022, the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai commissioned the CoLab Innovation Campus, which is the first tech space within the Kaduna Technology City located at Barnawa, Kaduna.

Kaduna is the capital city of Kaduna State and the former political capital of Northern Nigeria. It is located in north-western Nigeria. Arguably, Kaduna is the tech hub of Northern Nigeria.

Aside from the innovation campus, the city which is sited on 7 hectares of land in the center of the Kaduna city will also accommodate residential areas, social, recreational, and religious centers, workspaces, offices, parks, and many other facilities.

"It's really a city that will attract tech talents and entrepreneurs, not just a co-working space," Sanusi Ismaila, the Founder of CoLab told over a call. "We are building a city that gives a glimpse of the future of work, productivity, and living. In a way, we are looking ahead and actively building the kind of city that the talent we are already creating today will live in because we need these smart people to aggregate. That’s when the magic happens, people start building the unicorns of tomorrow when they aggregate," he added.

The innovation campus which is a donation from the state government to CoLab is located across four warehouses in the city with 300 workspaces, and a 200-seater multipurpose event space.

In 2016, Sanusi launched the CoLab, as the first innovation hub in Kaduna (and the second in Northern Nigeria after nHub Jos) with the aim to inspire a tech ecosystem in northern Nigeria. Six years later, the hub has supported over 3000 entrepreneurs and more than 100 startups. CoLab alumni are working at several tech companies across the world including Microsoft.

A cross-section of the innovation campus. 📸: KADIPA

Building on the success of CoLab, the Kaduna Technology City, a collaboration between CoLab, Talent City and the Kaduna State Government intends to create an enabling environment that incentivises talent to settle within the state. Sanusi said, "an environment with security, a community of like minds— we are very communal at CoLab, constant power and faster internet." Currently, the innovation campus has a high-capacity fibre, which is a branch of a larger fibre that will service the city.

Talent City is building a charter city in Lagos, which will be home to 1,000 residents and 2,500 remote workers. The company has acquired a 72,000-square-meter plot of land located in Alaro City, a 2-000 hectare city-scale development area in the Lekki Free Zone. Per TechCrunch, the charter city has raised more than $13 million for its Lagos project.

He further explained that part of the benefits the city intends to provide are similar to those experienced by free trade zones, it will also adopt e-residency so that people who are unable to access the campus physically can still benefit from the advantages there.  Also, the Kaduna Technology City will offer physical and digital infrastructure to startups in exchange for equity.

Why Kaduna?

Six years after Sanusi founded CoLab he still holds firm to the belief that "Kaduna is ideal for a startup/technology hub".

"On average, there is better power here than anywhere else I’ve been to in this country, the cost of living is low, and basic infrastructure is on the ground. There’s fast enough internet, a lot of talent, and a number of tertiary institutions (which are an important factor in creating a pipeline for talent). It is also in close proximity to two key markets (Kano and Abuja) and can access a third, Lagos via air (for people and goods respectively)." he wrote in his CoLab inaugural blog post.

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With the state government’s involvement, the team will actively engage the government on policies that will enable the city. The Kaduna state government is the first Nigerian state that is making efforts to domesticate the Nigerian Startup Bill that is currently under the consideration of the National Assembly.

"The sub-national bill will create an enabling regulatory environment for startups, promote the development and expansion of Businesses, support Innovation, accelerate technology and allow a private-sector driven, vibrant entrepreneurial and digital ecosystem to thrive." the Kaduna Investment Promotion Agency tweeted in March.

Even though a public draft of the bill is not available, Sanusi said that "the bill has interesting things that will aid the city" — with suggestions including a “dig-once” fiber policy, incentivised STEM education to nurture talent early, and government incentives for startups domiciled within the city.

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Perception is the major challenge

Despite the presence of the several projects implemented by CoLab in Kaduna, and other projects by nHub, Plateau state Information and Communication Technology Development Agency (PICTDA). And the presence of exceptional tech talents including Abubakar Nur Khalil —a 22-year-old blockchain enthusiast, a member of Jack Dorsey’s BTrust board, and co-founder of Recursive Capital and Qala, the perception about Kaduna and the rest of the North has been limited to the stories about banditry and insurgency.

"What people think about the North in terms of perception is often different from what they see when they visit there," Sanusi said. Adding that the perception problem is really big. "Recently, I was meeting with some DFIs and one of the things that crossed my mind was that all the interventions targeted towards Lagos were focused on job creation and talent acceleration. Meanwhile, the ones coming to the North were focused on basic digital skills acquisition."

Sanusi said that Northern Nigeria is misunderstood and not enough information is being shared about the tech innovation that is going on in the region.

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Government as an enabler

In a previous interview, Segun Oraume, a Jos-based tech entrepreneur, said that "for the [Northern Nigeria] tech ecosystem to thrive, the government needs to be an intentional enabler."

Throughout’s conversation with Sanusi, he maintained that the Kaduna state government has played a pivotal role [including the donation of the innovation campus] in the Kaduna tech ecosystem. "Challenges have been a bit light on this project because of how swift the government has acted," he said.

The Kaduna State Government has actively participated in ensuring that the state is a viable tech ecosystem. Aside from this collaboration, the state runs the Click-on Kaduna Data Science Fellowship Programme aimed at strengthening the coordination in the collection and use of data for evidence-based decision-making.

During the launch, El-Rufai expressed optimism about the future of the city. "These young people started this without any support from the government," he said.

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