Meet Nzube Ufodike, British-Nigerian entrepreneur with a penchant for financial inclusion 

SILICON VALLEY is arguably the first name that flashes across most people’s minds when they think of ‘technological innovations’,  ‘start-ups’, ‘entrepreneurs’ and ‘fund raising’.

It’s hard to deny that start-up ecosystems, which have sprouted around the world, owe much of their character to that brand. The growth of this industry has manifested in a new breed of accelerators and investors, in both developed and developing markets.

But how do participants connect the dots in an industry with all types of entrepreneurs vying for capital? How do they sift chaff from golden nuggets?

As a Tech magazine editor,  with more than a passing interest in the way technology has transformed the way we live, I have always been fascinated by the combination of creative power, leadership and the entrepreneurship zeal, that leads to the advancement of society.

In the first week of November 2018 at TIPS town in Seoul, I was fortunate to meet Nzube Ufodike, a 39 year old British-Nigerian entrepreneur living and working in London. He attended as a representative of one of the UK’s top corporate accelerators, Wayra. He had been invited by the South Korean government to participate in a Global Accelerator Programme, and was there in his capacity as Wayra UK’s Financial Inclusion Programme Manager. Nzube, who speaks English in a well modulated accent, stated that, “My brief was to engage with the Korean start-up ecosystem as well as mentor them and give them a Wayra UK perspective”. I was keen to gain an insight into the world he operates in and how his personal background and career path have prepared him for such a role.

Nzube was born in Birmingham, England, to Nigerian parents. His family was in the UK at the time because his father, who was awarded a PhD scholarship at Aston University’s department of Zoology, was completing an academic programme as a fisheries researcher. His early life was spent in Nigeria where he completed both his primary and secondary education. His family’s middle class status – his father was a university lecturer and his mother a pharmacist – meant that Nzube grew up in a household in which professional aspirations were taken for granted.

In 1995, Nzube briefly returned to the UK to study A level Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and Mathematics at Gateway Sixth Form College in Leicester. His entrepreneurial spirit started to blossom while at college, when he was buying and selling video games and CDs, before going back to Nigeria to pursue a career in medicine at the University of Nigeria, at the instigation of his parents. “My parents wanted me to be a doctor, but the situation in Nigeria wasn’t ideal” Nzube says. “Frequent strikes by lecturers due to low wages meant constant disruption of lessons”. He filled up his spare time by stepping up his small business trading activities; buying and selling electronics, perfumes, hand-made leather shoes and clothing accessories to other students and young professionals, generated him extra pocket money.

“After 3 years, I decided to quit medicine, without telling my parents, and went back to the UK. In London, I subsequently enrolled for a computer science degree because I felt that computers would be more ubiquitous than people, and understanding them would give me options. I was also inspired by Sergei Brin and Larry Page, who had recently IPO’ed a start-up that was changing the internet”. To pacify his father who was very upset that his ‘prodigal son’ had dropped medicine for computer science, Nzube cited Bill Gates’s success in that domain!

As an undergraduate, Nzube co-founded Zedmaster in 2004, with a university classmate. They built websites and provided SEO consulting and online marketing services for clients. A year later, he was a software development intern with Credit Suisse First Boston.

After graduating, he worked in the city for a few years before deciding to brave it on his own to found Amoo Venture Capital Advisory in 2009. Through partnerships with VCs, private equity (PE) and angel networks, Amoo nurtured companies and became an integral part of the start-up community in London. This was before prominent institutions like Google Campus and other accelerators jumped into the ecosystem.

During this period, Amoo successfully advised as well as raised over 3.5M GBP for various clients including Linear Motion, Pavegen, Intern Avenue (acquired by Bright Network), Fits.Me (acquired by Rakuten), and Monijar (now closed).

Having been involved in the UK start up community for many years, it comes as no surprise that Nzube’s progression into fintech includes stints working for some of the leading financial institutions in London, such as Schroders / Cazenove Capital, Credit Suisse, Henderson Global Investors, PIMCO and UBS.

I asked Nzube what his views were on the local ecosystem. “The Korean start-ups are world class,” he said. “They are creating stuff that blows your mind away. In the short time I have been, I have observed a lot of innovation here, from IoT to mobility, and accessibility to solutions. I also notice that the ecosystem here is supported by the Korean government, which has set up the Korea Institute of Startup & Entrepreneurship Development (KISED).” KISED will celebrate its 10-year anniversary on the 24th of December 2018.

Nzube juxtaposed this with Nigeria, which in his view lacks much of the soft infrastructure and ecosystem that exists in countries like the UK and South Korea. “For example, top accelerators in the UK invest cash, business development support, and offer unparalleled access to heads of state, corporate partners, investors, serial entrepreneurs and even royalty,” Nzube added. “Nigeria’s public sector is not focussed on start-ups. In spite of this, the private sector has made considerable progress. This is visible in the form of commercial traction within various start-ups, alongside several thriving hubs, including independent and corporate accelerators.”

Furthermore, Nzube said: “I visit Nigeria two or three times a year , usually when I have been invited to speak at Fintech conferences or about Fintech projects in the west Africa region. Generally I think Nigerian leaders can do more to support start-ups to enable them to have more impact on the economy thus creating more jobs and increasing financial inclusion.”

Interestingly, Start-ups on the African continent are on the rise, with more money raised in 2018 so far than in the whole of 2017*.

In Nzube’s opinion the success of start-ups depends largely on the resilience of the team and resourcefulness of the market it operates in. “However,” he adds. “No matter how resourceful you are if you are not in a growing or lucrative market then it will be like trying to squeeze water out of a stone.”

He insists that the ability to lead and to communicate are essential tools for success for any early-stage startup accelerator and investor.

As an entrepreneur and investor with his finger on the pulse of the African markets as well as the UK and further afield, Nzube says he is keen to work with like-minded people to promote financial inclusion. He is particularly concerned that many individuals and businesses in developing countries do not have access to financial services. However, he is quick to point out that the financial inclusion also applies to developed economies, like the UK where up to 70% of people do not use their bank’s own apps.

However, he sees the growth in middle-class numbers across Africa, mobile phone penetration, new apps developed by new entrepreneurs, the growing number of High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) as positive factors in changing patterns in consumer behaviour. Even the World Bank has acknowledged the immense potential across the continent by stating: “Africa could be on the brink of an economic takeoff, much like China was 30 years ago, and India 20 years ago.”

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has estimated that Africa’s middle-class is expected to grow from 355 million (34 percent of Africa’s current population) to 1.1 billion (42 percent of the population) in 2060. Furthermore, statistics also show that by 2100, half of the world’s under 18’s will be African.

AfDB figures also show that consumer spending by the middle classes, which was estimated at around US$680 billion in 2008 – is forecast to reach $2.2 trillion by 2030. And Africa will by then account for about 3% of worldwide consumption.

All these statistics have huge implications for consumption patterns and financial inclusion will be a major factor in whether the balance tips towards greater poverty or a more equitable society.

Whichever way one looks at the situation, the African continent will need more entrepreneurs to create more jobs and quintessentially global business operators like Nzube to bind those roles into tangible outcomes, with a significant market value that makes a difference.

*An article(by Yomi Kazeem), published on Quartz Africa in July 2018 noted:  “This is turning out to be a great year for African startups seeking funding.” Yomi states that, “Halfway through the year, with 118 deals completed, startup funding on the continent has reached $168.6 million – surpassing last year’s total of $167.7 million, according to a report by WeeTracker. The total funding is also nearly a four-fold increase on the $47.2 million raised in the first half of 2017. Fintech remains the most attractive sector as investors continue to bet on the promise of startups focused on making payments and access to financial services easier in Africa.”