Business

Northern Nigeria Female Entrepreneur Invents Digital App To Boost Small Businesses

By Gbenga Akingbule

Hafsah Jumare, a behavioural economist in Nigeria, has floated a social app that can digitally link local start-ups in northern Nigeria with bigger markets across the world.

Aiming to address the core issue of poverty that defines most part of the 19 northern states, Ms Jumare, who is the Chief Executive Officer of CoAmana, an enterprise that “offers a simple platform to deliver digital market opportunities to MSMEs”, says her novel idea, though alien to the reluctant northern investors, has begun to catch the fancy of some government in the poor region.

Her digital app is already on the Google Play Store.

Ms. Jumare’s digitally-driven Amana Market, a first of its kind digital marketing platform in the grossly deprived region, is helping the locals do business in a more organized way.

“Amana Market, is a complete solution that links the MSMEs to information, capital and customers,” she said.

“Our product allows them to play in a bigger market through the web, mobile app, and SMS.”

Despite the Northern investors skepticism and general lack of inspiration about digital marketing, Amana Market, has in its initial pilot phase “connected 120 small business owners to buyers and the broader market,” she noted.

“We aim to reach 10,000 business owners in Kaduna State by June 2020,” Ms. Jumare said.

The young CEO explained that “CoAmana develops social technology to enable livelihoods development in Nigeria.”

Hafsah Jumare at a training of opportunities provided by Amana Mobile app in Abuja.

Founded in 2018, CoAmana is made up of a diverse team of scientists, value chain experts, software engineers, and data scientists. The company identifies sustainable business cases by focusing on the societal gaps that prevent people from charting their own pathways out of poverty and develops commercially-viable, market-enabling technologies to close those gaps.

Despite challenges like uninspiring attitude of northern investors coupled with the patriarchal nature of the region, which gives women and young ones little opportunity to excel, Ms. Jumare said, already, CoAmana is working with the Kaduna State Government, as the pioneer state for her initiative, “to expand opportunities for micro-businesses within the state.”

“The platform has connected small businesses, from farmers to tailors, to this digital market designed specifically for them, giving them market opportunities that they would otherwise not have,” she said.

Dr Jumare said the idea of CoAmana started three years ago when she was writing her Ph.D. proposal to carry out research in South Africa.

“Somewhere along the way, I realised that I had a bigger interest in using existing evidence to develop better real-world solutions,” she recalled.

“Having already published some works at the time, I was offered a grant to continue my research. Though many people thought I was crazy, I declined and came home.

“When I got back, I went for a job that allowed me to spend my time working around Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia on projects that helped small businesses support themselves.

“Using behavioural economics and testing to contextualize solutions, I found a better understanding of how to develop products to support small businesses.

“We began developing the Amana Market while I was employed with another company. We had a lot of people providing support, especially in the form of knowledge. It took the right team and a number of very knowledgeable advisors, from people in the development sector to people in tech.

“For example, the technology behind our platform attracted the attention of Airbnb lead engineer, Spike Brehm, who advised my team as we prepared to launch our web and mobile apps.

For about a year and a half, Ms Jumare said “all my income went into CoAmana.”

“I had zero savings. Eventually balancing a job that involved a lot of travel and a CoAmana wasn’t feasible, so I resigned.

“I began seeking investment prior to that and I found the support of some brilliant and capable women.

“After gaining some traction, I pitched to government agencies and development organisations. Till date, we’ve gained the confidence of the Kaduna State Government and a few angel investors.”

Ms Jumare confessed that the journey so far “hasn’t been easy; dotted with some disappointment.”

“It is a humbling experience,” she said.

“I wish Northerners had a better response to start-ups. I find myself speaking to Angel Investors in Southern Nigeria a lot more than in the North. A lot of people in the North who can invest in innovation don’t.

“Many do not have an understanding of angel investment or have very low willingness to take risks on new ventures.”

A retail store

After attending a number of investment events, Ms. Jumare. said she realised that “many of the people putting something on the table” are not from the North.

“Charity begins and should always begin at home; we can’t expect Angel Investors from the South or outside of Nigeria to be interested in our start-ups if we don’t invest ourselves.

“Initiatives like Rising Tide Africa and Abuja Angel Network are working hard to make Northerners better investors, but our people need to meet them halfway.”

Dr Jumare said of the top ten (10) poorest states in Nigeria, nine (9) out of these ten states are northern states.

“These rankings only highlight the lack of long term orientation in the way we invest.

“Despite these challenges and unfavourable business environment, our Northern entrepreneurs are constantly thinking and innovating, but they continue to lack the finance and guidance to implement which ultimately stalls innovation.”

Ms. Jumare comes from a patriarchal society, where women have limited chances to excel in business and career. But this didn’t deter her.

“People have asked me how an Arewa woman is able to build a successful start-up in Northern Nigeria,” she said.

People often ask how she was coping as a woman in Arewa.

“I find this question funny. There are so many Arewa women doing great things. Some of these women are my mentors. I also believe Amana Market will help Northern women that have less mobility to reach far beyond their physical environments to conduct business.

“While we undoubtedly live in a patriarchal society, I don’t wake up every day focusing on the fact that I’m a woman. The first thing on my mind is that I have things that need to be done. I find that the best way to be progressive is to work toward a solution you believe in and hope to earn the support of the community.”

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