African entrepreneurs can leverage co-working spaces to learn and grow -George Akande, Co-founder, FastLaunch

On a sunny day in Maryland, Lagos, Nigeria, George Femi Akande sits on a sofa placed in a corner of a co-working space. Other business-minded individuals are busy with their laptops. Akande, who is co-founder of Fastlaunch Incubator Limited, runs the co-working space with his dad.

In 2013, after completing his masters in Human Resources in the United Kingdom, Akande had returned to Nigeria with his gaze on new opportunities emerging in the country, but what has been most exciting for him is the fact Fastlaunch came into being.

George Femi Akande, Co-Founder, Fastlaunch

“The company started about three years ago,” he tells Outrepreneurs. “The idea behind it was basically to introduce people to co-working. We want to bring our own value to the ecosystem in terms of pricing, ambience and culture.”

“The cost implications of running a co-working space can be high. It may take time to become profitable, but it is a business that gives you positive feelings as you help and support other businesses. We named our space The Foundation Centre, because we believe a lot of businesses need a backbone to help them grow.”

The startup initially existed as a co-working space, but it has evolved to other areas, such as helping startup owners as they navigate the entrepreneurial path, according to him

First, the focus of the organization is the co-working which involves renting out space for business and office purposes. There is also the social entrepreneurship programme for people willing to solve Nigeria’s and Africa’s problems in areas such as Agriculture, Energy, Health, Technology and Education.

Consulting services are also available in the area of Social Impact analysis, which allows governments and companies to assess the social impact of their projects or investment in specific communities.

Currently, an incubation programme exists at the centre. “That idea or that existing business must have the potential to be scalable and offer real solutions that Africa needs, but we have to start from our own backyard, Nigeria. We have 11 people in the programme, right now and we believe that their ideas are going to offer real solutions” he says.

“We invite Nigerians to apply for the programme, which runs for three months. There are certain unique things we do for them which people do not see that help them to scale through. At the end of the day, they launch with the help of certain partners we have locally and internationally.

The phenomenon of shared economy which is spreading globally like wildfire will offer possibilities to Africa’s entrepreneurs, but it is being slowly embraced in the continent. Akande explains FastLaunch exists to bridge the gap, by providing the environment for co-workspace members to collaborate, network, and offer help to one another.

“In our second year, we took a step backward, looking at what happened in our first year and what happened in Nigeria, what happened in the world and what will happen in the future. In our third year, we decided we might need to do certain things for our members, which will introduce certain products and services into Nigeria.”

He added that the services are tailor-made: the flexible schedule for three times weekly and the standard schedule for five times weekly. There is also the private suite for those who need a personal office.

Legal service is also provided free, for every user of the co-working space.

Describing his experience, he says, “I couldn’t get a job after my study in the UK. It was tough accepting it at that time, but the resources and the money are here and why will you ignore the place the rest of the world seems to have [put] their attention on?

“Coming back to Nigeria, you see untapped potential, whether it’s in the financial sector, agriculture and the likes, but it requires some thinking. There is a market here for everyone, but it is about creating a product or service that appeals to the people of each nation and the continent. Things that work in the US or Europe won’t necessarily work in Africa,” he continued.

 

BY Deji Aroloye and Chiamaka Akuba

 

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