Zenith Bank gave the 10 finalists of its inaugural hackathon up to $77,000 (₦28 million) grant funding, making it the highest prize-money of any bank-organized hackathon in Nigeria.

The hackathon, which was nicknamed Zenathon, ran for two days. Out of the many startups that participated, 10 startups were selected to pitch at the maiden edition of the Zenith Tech Fair for the grand prize of ₦10 million. Data analytics company, Octave Analytics won the grand prize. Logistics firm, Neohaul Technologies and Agro-investment marketplace, reQuid Technologies received ₦6 million and ₦5 million, respectively, as the first and second runners-up.

In addition to the ₦21 million grant funding, the top three finalists would also be participating in Seedstars' six-month Investment Readiness Programme that will hold next year.

But the benevolent Jim Ovia, Founder of Zenith Bank Plc, and his team didn't stop there. The remaining seven finalists were given ₦1 million each. Experts or mentors—those who are not part of any of the startups but worked with them during the two-day Zenathon as a growth expert, business expert or engineer—were also compensated. Each startup had at least one expert assigned to it during the two-day Zenathon. Octave's experts received ₦70,000; Neohaul's experts, ₦50,000; and reQuid's experts received ₦30,000.

If you add the funfair and innovative exhibitions, Zenith Tech Fair is easily the most glamorous tech event in 2019.

Related: This is the largest developer conference in Nigeria, if not Africa

A Review of Zenith Bank's First Tech Fair and Hackathon

With the Tech Fair, Zenith Bank joins the circle of commercial banks stomping the fintech space by stretching olive branch to techpreneurs in the space. This supports the axiom that neither banks nor fintechs can leverage the full potentials of technology and innovations alone. There is need for collaboration.

The obvious method of collaboration being explored by Nigerian banks is to organize conferences, hackathons and establish co-working spaces: à la FirstBank's fintech summit & Digital Lab, Access Bank's Disrupt, and FCMB's Hub One. However, Providus Bank's stealth method of partnership with fintechs is worthy of note. Through payment fintechs like TeamApt, and sometimes, direct collaboration with the end beneficiaries, they have enabled users of Piggyvest, Cowrywise and Wallets.Africa have direct deposit account numbers. Similarly, on ThriveAgric users can pay via bank transfers and receive instant confirmation.

Zenith Tech Fair, which held on November 27, 2019, at the Landmark Event Centre in Lagos, convened 2,000+ participants and 50 exhibitors, including Mercedes Benz, Microsoft and IBM, who showcased leading technology innovation across different spheres of life. The tech conference was themed "Future Forward". Only big events happen at Landmark Event Centre (see: Google for Nigeria event).

Save for the manifestation of anyhowness by Nigerians in charge of the souvenirs, every Tech Fair participant would have received a Zenith Bank-branded 10,000 mAh power bank, a mug, notepad and a pen in a fancy paper bag. But they made up for it with Nigerian jollof; for which there was more than enough to go round.

Anchored by Joyce Daniels and Ikponmwosa Osakioduwa (AKA IK Osakioduwa), Zenith Tech Fair started behind schedule at 10 AM with welcome address from Jim Ovia, who is also the author of "Africa Rise and Shine: How a Nigerian Entrepreneur from Humble Beginnings Grew a Business to $16 Billion". The event featured four keynote addresses, one panel session, three product demos, two masterclasses and Zenathon finalists' pitch. With so much rammed into a nine-hour event, expectedly, some things were done haphazardly.

Jim Ovia giving his welcome address at Zenith Tech Fair 

After the keynote addresses, panel session and Zenathon finalists' pitch, the hall became scanty. Not even the special appearance of Daniel Oyebanjo (AKA D'Banj), who came to promote his CREAM platform at the tailend, could keep people on their seats. The fear of Lagos traffic is the beginning of wisdom. As such, the masterclasses on the startup journey and augmented reality and e-commerce were the alternatives forgone.

Also, the use of stretched, split screen was a bad idea. It was so bad that it hampered two product demos and the keynote addresses were not enjoyable.

Juliet Ehimuan giving her keynote address

The shortcomings notwithstanding, some great insights were shared during the panel session and by the keynote speakers, including Juliet Ehimuan-Chiazor, Country Director of Google Nigeria; Akin Banuso, Country Manager of Microsoft Nigeria; Dipo Faulkner, Country General Manager for IBM Nigeria; and Anthony Etim, who represented Eric Zhang, Managing Director of Huawei Technologies Nigeria. They spoke on machine learning and quantum computing, blockchain technology and its implications for economic growth, artificial intelligence and the next industrial revolution, and the opportunities for 5G in Nigeria.

According to Jim, Zenith Tech Fair and Zenathon would become an annual event and next year's edition will be better than this.

Speaking on Zenith Bank's value proposition to the tech industry, Ebenezer Onyeagwu, CEO of Zenith Bank, said: "As an entrepreneur in the technology industry, you can walk into any Zenith Bank branch to obtain loans at a single-digit interest rate. And within 72 hours, the loan will be disbursed".

Meet the 10 finalists of the inaugural Zenathon

The Zenathon focused on four thematic areas: Future of banking, future of retail, future of customer relationship and future of security. While the finalists were not categorized while pitching, they can still be subsumed under one or more of these four key areas.

In the future of banking dock, there are Xcard and reQuid Technologies. The future of retail category has Alerzo, Excrow Inc., Payonhold, Neohaul Technologies and Nairapacket; Termii, Octave Analytics and Qview.ai can be categorised as customer relationship solutions.

In a chat with benjamindada.com, representatives of the 10 finalists revealed that they are yet to the receive their prize-money. Although it's more than seven business days after the announcements were made at the Tech Fair, Zenith Bank is still within the timeline for disbursement. Their counterpart, FirstBank, disbursed its 2018 hackathon prize-money—₦5.2 million—after a month.

Bright Williams, CEO of Neohaul Technologies—first runner-up, is rest assured that his ₦6 million grant would be disbursed.

The disbursement process is underway. But no information about Seedstars' Investment Readiness Programme yet.

Bright Williams, CEO of Neohaul Technologies

1. Octave Analytics:

Founded in 2017 by Blessing Oladeji, Octave Analytics provide full service analytics and end-to-end customer value management. Its aim  is to help organisations solve the attendant problem of big data using proprietary analytical models.

At Zenith Tech Fair, Octave swayed the jury by pitching a solution that could drastically reduce ATM processing cost for commercial banks. Blessing called it, "intelligent banking". Octave will use text mining and location analytics to send targeted campaigns to banks' customers with geo-recommendation of ATM distribution around them. "Intelligent banking" will also enable banks to see where they are incurring ATM processing cost.

The Octave team also emerged top at the recent Data Hackathon of Africa Fintech Foundry—an initiative of Access Bank. They would be receiving ₦500,000.

2. Neohaul:

Founded in 2018, Neohaul Technologies is on a mission to eradicate illegal haulage of goods and improve the efficiency of the logistics sector through deep technologies.

The first in its array of solutions that was used to clinch the ₦6 million at Zenith Tech Fair is haulr.ng—an AI (artificial intelligence) and IoT (Internet of Things) solution that helps logistics companies track their trucks and know exactly what's happening to them in real-time.

Bright explained that Neohaul is able to do this by installing on trucks its IoT device, which constantly collects data on the location and the weight of the truck. He said: "Our proprietary model processes this information to intelligently tell the status of the trucks and provide actionable insights for managers to make informed decisions".

3. reQuid:

reQuid Technologies brands itself as "the Amazon of safe investment". In partnership with Redwoods Capital, reQuid profiles and aggregates investment opportunities, break it into smaller units so that low-income earners can benefit from the investment opportunities.

The agro-investments currently available on reQuid begin at ₦5,000/unit, and they are provided through partnerships with Globetrot Farmsponsor Nigeria Limited and Agropartnerships, a subsidiary of Farm Forte. Felix Imafidon, Co-founder and CEO of reQuid, told benjamindada.com that they will be "closing more partnerships in the first quarter of 2020 to take a more pivotal position in the fintech space".

Incorporated in September 2019, reQuid has acquired about 1,000 users within two months of launching private beta. It is also noteworthy that reQuid emerged the overall winner of the first-ever X-Kathon organised by the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). They received the grand prize of ₦5 million.

Credit: NSE

4. Termii:

Founded by Emmanuel Gbolade and Tayo Awe in 2014, Termii is a Software As A Service (SaaS) company that provides important tools and resources needed to increase customer retention across different marketing channels.

With Termii, businesses can verify and segment customers’ contacts; create and schedule email or SMS marketing campaigns that target each segment; track customer behavior, location, device usage and how they interact with marketing messages; predict future customer behaviour and campaign outcomes; and outsource complex marketing tasks.

So far, 862 teams have engaged with 1.7 million customers repeatedly via Termii. And last month, Termii raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Microtraction—an early-stage investment firm.

5. Qview.ai:

Qview.ai provides customer analytics services. Its proprietary smart camera, unlike conventional CCTV camera, captures all kinds of data including facial, gestures and motion to give businesses real-time insight on the behaviour of in-store customers.

Charles Njoku, Product Designer at Qview.ai, told benjamindada.com that the intelligence surveillance company has tweaked its model a bit. Charles, who is also a Marketing Communications Designer at Softcom, said: "Because building our smart devices could be expensive, especially for a Nigerian market, we're currently deploying our algorithms on smartphones and tablets so that we can fully launch and break into the market".

Founded by Emmanuel Ezenwere in May 2019, Qview has deployed three of its smart devices for Cars45.

6. XCard:

Xcard simply bundles multiple bank cards into one; it is dubbed "your 100 cards in one". It is being developed by Okala Charles and some engineers working at Andela.

7. Payonhold.ng:

Payonhold is an escrow service aimed at bridging the distrust between merchants and buyers. Individuals and businesses can make payment for goods and services, which will be held in escrow until both parties are satisfactorily certify the transaction, then, the funds will be automatically released.

8. Excrow Inc.

Excrow Inc., which is registered in Delaware, United States, offers peer-to-peer money transfer.

9. Alerzo:

Founded by Adewale Opaleye in 2018, Alerzo is an inventory and distribution platform. The Ibadan-based startup is on a mission to bridge the gap between retailers and FMCGs. It enables retailers to order for goods when they need it, provides supply chain, logistics and warehouse facilities, retail-as-a-service, and real-time data.

10. NairaPacket:

Nairapacket is a mobile money application with an inbuilt escrow system, gaming and instant messaging features. The app also allows the transfer of valuable digital items.

Nairapacket is a product of Digital Packet Excahnge Limited (Digitex Funds & Digitex Foods), a startup based in Akure, Ondo State. Oladipupo Muideen, Managing Director of Digital Packet, says: "NairaPacket does so much, but we can simply say we are building the Paypal for Africa".