2 Nigerian Startups Win $300,000 At LEAP’s Rocket Fuel Pitch Competition

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NITDA Saudi Arabia
The director-general, National Information Technology Development Agency, Mallam Kashifu Abdullahi (middle) flanked by the winners during the exhibition in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Two Nigerian startups have won a combined prize money of $300,000 after emerging winners in different categories of the Rocket Fuel Pitch Competition of the 2nd edition of the LEAP Technology Exhibition in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. 

The startups – RiceAfrika Technologies and Wicrypt – were part of over 10,000 startups that submitted applications from different countries. After rigorous scrutiny, the applicants were down to 220 and only 90 startups were selected to pitch their business ideas in the semi-final. Eight Nigerian startups participated at the semi-final and three reached the final stage. 

RiceAfrika Technologies is a tech-driven agric optimisation startup that deploys IoT-enabled harvester and its FARMEasy mobile app for smallholder farming communities in Africa. RiceAfrika believes Africa can feed itself and feed the world. It emerged as the global best in ‘The Tech for Humanity Award’ category and is coming home with USD150,000. 

Wicrypt, an innovative tech startup, is decentralising internet globally. The startup, which has a custom OS and hardware that allows users to share data with people around them and charge an affordable rate, also won USD 150,000 after it was announced as the global best in the ‘Into New World Award’ category.

It was a proud moment for the Nigerian delegation, led by Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), accompanied by the director-general of NITDA, Mallam Kashifu Abdullahi; Executive vice chairman, Nigerian Communication Commission, Prof. Umar Danbatta and the managing director, Nigerian Communication Satellite, Engr. Tukur Funtua.

Pantami expressed his delight while maintaining that Nigerian startups have all it takes to compete with their peers on the global stage.

“I am so proud of our startups who emerged as the best globally in these categories. It is quite a long journey that followed rigorous processes until the end; from over 10,000 applications to the final 12, in which three Nigerians took part and two emerged winners. We are delighted that our startups are not only amazing but went through a lot of nurturing and mentorship to be the best in the world,” he noted. 

The minister stated that Nigeria is on the right track to implementing its National Digital Economy Policy and strategies to ensure that Nigerian startups add value to the global tech ecosystem. 

“We are building the ecosystem and making it more conducive for [the] nurturing [of] innovation-driven enterprises. Our startups are creating solutions for the local market that can easily scale to the global market. 

“The journey started in 2019 shortly after President Muhammadu Buhari unveiled the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) for Digital Nigeria. Now we are reaping the positive benefits of our commitment. In the space of five months, we have Nigerians that are making us proud on the global stage.

“The eight entries from Nigeria competed with over 90 Startups in the semi-finals, showcasing their innovative ideas that will transform economies and solve pertinent issues around the world. Therefore, they emerged global best. They did not only pitch to win grants but also attended various knowledge-sharing sessions, conferences and investor meetings that have exposed them to numerous ways to accelerate their products for the best market fit. The startups interacted with the world’s best mentors, angel investors and venture capitalists.” 

Pantami said it was a feat that, of the eight startups the delegation brought to this year’s LEAP, three made it the grand finale, two won and are going back home to add value to the digital economy. 

“On behalf of the Nigerian government,” he started, “we sincerely appreciate the Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO) headquarters, Riyadh, for sponsoring our innovative startups to participate and showcase their innovations to the world.”

Also, Pantami touted the successes of Nigerian startups in GITEX, Dubai, United Arab Emirates in October last year and today in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as evidence that the country’s innovators have accepted the challenge posed to them by the Federal Government to not stall as the African leaders but compete globally.

“The recent successes are the fruit of policies we put in place to ensure our startups walk shoulder-to-shoulder with their counterparts in Europe, Asia and other parts of the world. Under President Muhammadu Buhari, the Federal Government appreciates the outstanding exploits of startups in the country, which are helping to create jobs, fast-track economic development and win awards and grants amounting to millions of naira,” he concluded.

This year’s LEAP brought together breakthrough innovative ideas and emerging developments in technology under one roof. 

Five startups were crowned as category winners and the sixth, Plastus Biotech, ascended to victory and held the LEAP 2023 Award for the best overall startup. All of this took place in the presence of seasoned judges, angel investors, tech experts and government stakeholders from around the world.

The six awards divided the startup entrants by size, scale, impact on society, amount of funding, years in business and a number of employees. 

Judges for the competition included Ghazal Alagh, co-founder, of Mamaearth and judge, ‘Shark Tank India’; Baroness Karren Brady CBE, vice chairman of West Ham United Football Club; James Caan CBE, entrepreneur, businessman, investor and former ‘Dragon’ on BBC’s ‘Dragons’ Den’, as well as Steven Bartlett, entrepreneur, investor, podcaster and current ‘Dragon’ on BBC’s ‘Dragons’ Den’.

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