NISRF Investments with Acumen Foundation and Ventures Platform: An Exclusive Interview with Dr. Wole Odetayo.

The health and stability of the Startup Ecosystem is paramount to us at LoftyInc. When the opportunity came for us to show our commitment to improving the ecosystem, we jumped on it without looking back.

We sat with one of our Partners Dr. Wole Odetayo to talk extensively about LoftyInc’s partnership with Ventures Platform and Acumen Foundation on NISRF.

LOFTYINKERS: Tell us about the NISRF investments with Acumen Foundation and Ventures Platform.

Dr. Wole: Thank you very much.

It is important for me to note that NISRF actually is Nigeria Impact Startup Relief Facility that was put together by three organisations. The original call came from Ventures Platform to do something about the ailing startup ecosystem and then Acumen and LoftyInc of course headed to that call to provide some sort of relief finance to startups that were hardest hit by the CoronaVirus.

Originally designed to build half a million US dollars funds, the NISRF is a grant – it is not what the startups are expected to pay back but more importantly, it is a fund that was designed in such a way that it was not going to go to just those that were hardest hit but also to some of the most innovative startups in the space.

What we did was that a couple of months ago the three organisations reached out to startups asking them to send in their ideas so that they could be considered for the grant. So if you know you were hardest hit and if you know you were innovative and checked all the other boxes in the Call for Ideas, then you could apply.

We saw thousands of applications pour in and finally at the end of the day, a little over ten (10) of the startups were picked for the opportunity to be funded.

LOFTYINKERS: Will this be a continuous process or is this ending soon?

Dr. Wole: Of the half a million dollars target we had for the fund, I think we raised about one hundred and thirty thousand (130,000) US dollars. Our hope is that over the next couple of weeks, from the impact of the NISRF fund, we would be able to get more philanthropic organisations to jump in to help us meet that target of half a million dollars to distribute to the startups that need them the most.

LOFTYINKERS: What qualifies startups to enjoy this relief fund?

Dr. Wole: Like I said, number one thing is you must be deep in innovation and also technology. We weren’t looking for just the regular SMEs, we were looking for technology-enabled startups. 

Next will be that you have been impacted by COVID – that is your revenue or key aspect of your business was deeply impacted by COVID – which means that you are a sustainable Startup. 

Lastly and most important to note is that you must have a huge impact – environmental and socio-economic impact (those were the two kinds of impact that were deeply considered).

We’re looking for viable Startups that needed to stay afloat during the pandemic and had really been hit by COVID or a critical aspect of their business that impacts their customers was deeply affected by COVID. So we had a mixture of those Startups that revenue declined but were not hurtful and those who could not continue to impact more lives, so we had to support them. About 20% of those we selected were supported to continue to extend their impact out of their business to their customers while 80% were viable businesses that were deeply impacted by COVID. 

LOFTYINKERS: Startups that could not get into this round of the grant, is there any hope for them? Any plan for them or anything they should be on the lookout for?

Dr. Wole: I actually think it depends on how fast we can raise the balance of three hundred and seventy thousand (370,000) dollars of the target that we want for this round.

The moment we raise something substantial again, enough for us to have another round call, definitely it’s something we would jump on board. But this is not meant to be one time – naturally in a sane ecosystem, you have people that will support the activities of Startups that usually are not profitable. Don’t forget that Startups are not far from researchers and you know in research a lot of investments go down in trying to build a sustainable Startup and that’s how Startups operate.

In the same climate, we have Startups that have their activities funded at the early stages because they are trying to build a product that is beneficial to society. So if you look at it from that angle which is a critical aspect of innovation, this should not be a one time fund and we also don’t want it to be a one time fund but again, this is dependent on availability of resources. We would rally round and get more people to extend support to the NISRF so we can continue to pass on these resources to Startups that need them.

LOFTYINKERS: Thank you so much for your time sir. We wish you the best of luck.

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