Northern Nigeria’s ‘hidden’ startups

Surayyah Ahmad Sani (left) and Sanusi Ismaila

Venture capital firm Aduna Capital has a specific focus on northern Nigeria, a region that attracts only a fraction of the country’s startup funding. It is estimated that some 85% of venture capital funding goes to startups in Lagos, which is located in the southwest.

In a recent interview with How we made it in Africa, Aduna’s co-founders Sanusi Ismaila and Surayyah Ahmad Sani explained their enthusiasm for investing in entrepreneurs from northern Nigeria.

“We believed many of the stereotypes around northern Nigeria were wrong, and that there were bankable ideas and executors that weren’t getting funded,” said Sanusi. “Surayyah and I saw that most investors didn’t understand the culture and either wrote the region off or engaged with it wrongly. And we thought we could do better. We played around with some ideas, and eventually, it evolved into the fully-fledged fund that Aduna is today.”

Northern Nigeria represents a substantial market, housing over 60% of the country’s population and accounting for 69% of Nigeria’s population growth, according to Surayyah.

Sanusi mentioned that the culture in northern Nigeria highly values humility, resulting in entrepreneurs from the region often being less vocal about their ventures. “There are some very successful software engineers or startup founders from northern Nigeria, but you wouldn’t hear about them a lot in the news,” he explained.

“In my experience investing in startups, I find those from northern Nigeria are much more efficient in using capital. And that comes in part, I think, from the cultural aspect. There is this feeling of huge responsibility, that someone else has entrusted you with all this money and it is your fiduciary responsibility to deliver,” he added.

“When you start to see the companies [Aduna Capital] is backing, you will wonder, ‘Where have these companies been?’ I always say, ‘They’ve been bootstrapping, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And now that they’re ready to scale, it is incredibly exciting to back them because they are very backable founders,” said Surayyah.

Read our full interview with Sanusi Ismaila and Surayyah Ahmad Sani: Beyond Lagos – Investment opportunities in northern Nigeria