Editor’s note: The Aso Villa Demo Day has come and gone. Our position is that it is a great start in the FG’s efforts to support innovative ideas from Nigerian youths. We however received the report below from one of the thirty final startups and have chosen to publish it as we believe it contains some improvement opportunities for future editions. We have edited the original article to make it more readable and polite.
I am one of the 30 finalists of the just concluded Aso Villa Demo Day and would love to share with the media our own view of how things truly panned out. First of all, it will be courteous to thank the organizers of the Aso Villa Demo Day. But truly, we ask, was it all worth it? Lots of cut back on promises and a focus on PR & photo ops at the expense of we, the young entrepreneurs. I am speaking out because most of us have businesses already at their growth phase. We left all behind hoping for more but it just didn’t seem to be worth it.
It all started when a friend buzzed me that my name was published on Twitter by the official twitter handle of the Aso Villa Demo Day. I was excited but I asked this: Why weren’t we previously informed about this? We had come to learn of this only online? Why? The announcement read that 30 start-ups would pitch to Mr. President. I got confused a bit because the initial announcement was that 50 startups will be selected. Oh well, I said, “they know best”!
It took a week before we were officially contacted. And this was done on Twitter. We were told off a Twitter chat, which actually went well. The date of the event was fixed too and we the contestants were once again left in the dark. It was then becoming clear that this was probably more about the PR for the organizers of this event.
We got a mail with the entire itinerary saying the event will be on the 2nd of September 2016 and we should be in Abuja on the 30th as there will be a 2 day boot camp before the event. Again… some days of dead silence went by till a day before then when we all got calls telling us not to book our flight tickets that it will be done by the organizers. I however learnt that some participants came from areas around Abuja by road. No incentive was given to those at all.
We arrived Abuja and were lodged in Hilton hotel based on the good relationship the FIRS has with the hotel. The first day of the boot camp started off well until some strange things began to unfold. We were informed that of the already successful 30 startups, only three will be given prizes and will pitch to Mr. President. What? Was this a competition? Why wasn’t this said from the beginning? This completely contradicted the public view of the event. I felt sore. We all assumed all 30 of us will pitch to the President after which the best startups will be selected.
We were told that the actual finale was on the 1st of September. It was as an in-house event to select the “top” three. The 2nd of September announced as the finale was just a PR event for the public. The next day came and a panel (not the President) was set up with judges who selected the three winners based on their own criteria which no one knew about. The painful part was we were still told all was fine. Complaints arose but we kept our cool.
On the so-called finale [2nd of September 2016], we went to Aso rock to “supposedly” pitch to Mr. President. We waited in a hall for hours. The three were then brought out specially to see Mr. President. When the three startups saw Mr. President it appeared that was the first time he was hearing of the Aso Villa Demo Day. After their 10-second pitch to him, they went ahead to take pictures with him. He then took pictures with the remaining 27 startups and shook hands with them.
We were all moved to the banquet hall in Aso Villa for the “main” event. We were briefed that we would have a picture with the VP and he will go round to meet the 30 startups. On the VP’s arrival, a little ray of hope came when we saw Mark Zukerberg with him. We all screamed in excitement and we took pictures with him shortly after.
Only three startups were allowed to see Mark. Two of them were finalists from the event, the third one didn’t even participate in the competition. None of the other participants were allowed to meet with Mark.
THE FINAL STRAW
Then they announced that the three selected startups would each go home with N3 million. This was a donation by Airtel and not the FG. None of the startups received a cash prize directly from the FG as was contained in the press. Perhaps the FG was in partnership with Airtel to provide the prize, this was not what we were told. (1)
What then happens to the remaining 27 startups that left all behind, customers, and goods just to be here? Many of us came here to help our business grow. To seek a partnership with stakeholders and meet with potential investors. So what next? What is in it at least for those who came by road? How do they go back? Personally I believe the least the organizers can do now is to at least send our pitch videos to investors they claimed we will meet and connect us with other opportunities to grow our business. This will be good compensation for all of us that participated.
Airtel was actually a sponsor of the Aso Villa Demo Day and presented cash prizes to the top three startups.