Lagos state based tech accelerator and Venture Capital firm Itanna held its first demo-day two weeks ago. The event was a culmination of a four-month program for African startups, where four start-ups (KoloPay, Accounteer, PowerCube, and Tradebuza), chosen from 200 applications from around Africa, became Itanna’s first cohort and received training and mentorship from leading industry experts in the form of UI/UX Sessions, legal and HR workshops, classes on technology, business and marketing, reviews of revenue/pricing model and operational metrics, mentorship sessions and guest lectures from some of Nigeria’s most renowned entrepreneurs and business icons.
Itanna is a Venture Capital platform of the Honeywell Group, a Lagos-based conglomerate, that launched last year November, and is currently bridging the gap between corporate Nigeria and tech entrepreneurs, especially in a tech ecosystem where most of the angel investments and venture capital have come from outside the continent.
In this interview with the Director of Itanna, Tomi Otudeko, who is also the Head of Innovation and Sustainability at Honeywell Group, we discuss the inspiration for Itanna, its plans for its second cohort next year, what type of startups it is looking for, and how the startup accelerator programme exceeded expectations in four months.
VA: What was the inspiration for Itanna?
Tomi: Itanna came about at a stage where the Honeywell Group was really thinking through what we were going to do in our future, where we were going, how we were going to get there. And we realized technology was critical to that. We realized that if we didn’t play-in technology as we tried to build our businesses, we would, you know, we’ll become obsolete and we couldn’t afford that. We also know that tech businesses are the businesses of the future, and as a holding company and investment company, we thought it was important for us to invest in this. Itanna came about with that.
Now Itanna is derived from the word ITAN NNA in Yoruba which means “to light up” and “to ignite”, and linking that to Honeywell Group’s vision which is to use enterprise to make our world better, we wanted to create a vehicle that will ignite enterprise and would impact and make our world better through business.
VA: Is Itanna HoneyWell‘s investment in the next generation?
Tomi: Yes. Itanna for us is Honeywell Group’s venture capital platform. It is a platform that we’re using to invest in the future, we’re using to find businesses that are ready to collaborate, that we are ready to grow with.
VA: On a lighter note, has Itanna been everything you envisaged from the beginning?
Tomi : Yes (laughs) because it is everything we envisaged as soon as you step into it, you realize that some of your intentions go out of the window. Itanna is a startup for us, this is our first wrap and pilot; when you go in you’re like “this is going to work”, then you take your first step and realize it isn’t quite what you expect. But I mean, what I’m lucky to have is a great team. We’ve been able to iterate, we’ve been able to kind of adjust, make decisions very quickly but also just support ourselves and the group and our business.
VA: What are your hopes for the next Itanna cohort and when is that?
Tomi: We hope that the next cohort class will have even more enterprise. We’ve kind of learned a lot through our pilot. We’ve learned even the plots to our partnership criteria, we hope that these businesses will continue to, as our first cohort did, stand on the shoulders giants, we want our cohorts to really be in more sectors; a variety of sectors. We want to, I know it sounds a bit awkward, but we truly are trying to take the entire enterprise so we want to be in a position where we ignite another sector, say 5 or 6 or 7 companies and that’s what we’re looking at in the 2nd quarter in 2019.
VA: Your choice of startups. Was it informed by their products, like you mentioned minimum viable products, or you decided that you were going to take just four startups?
Tomi: No we didn’t. We actually did not decide that we were going to take four. You know, there was something I said that everybody on the selection committee was very clear of the fact that if we can’t put our own money into it we will not go through. So we had a range of number that we wanted and thought we had the capacity for.
We had a visible space for up to 10 companies, but we knew that we wanted to ensure that we are able to have companies that really fit our investment criteria; fantastic founders who had Pan-African potential, some level of traction and had everything in place.
Source: Ventures Africa