Nigerian Internet entrepreneur Jason Njoku  made history last year when he completed what was called possibly the largest fundraising round in the West African tech world. The founder of Iroko Partners, the largest digital distributor of Nigerian movies and African music, raised $8 million from NY-based Tiger Global Management. Iroko Partners is also the holding company behind the successful NollywoodLove and Njoku’s latest venture, African music streaming service iROKING.
Now Njoku and partner Bastian Gotter have launched SPARK, a $1 million-backed company to support and develop aspiring Nigerian tech and Internet entrepreneurs. Based in Lagos, Nigeria, SPARK builds companies in Africa’s Internet sector."
SPARK-funded companies, managed by Njoku, Gotter and Mary Remmy-Njoku, share the same administrative infrastructure, legal teams and mentors as well as marketing support. They already have seed-funded and so far, created 13 start-ups to the sum of $35-75,000 each. The companies include a hotel room booking site, a Christian dating site and a property-letting site.
TNJ: Why launch Spark?
Jason Njoku: We launched SPARK because the Internet is coming to Nigeria in a big, big way and we fully intend to be the catalyst behind it. New wealth will be generated in Nigeria, disrupting the traditional economy as more people will be coming online to shop, to find services, to travel--to do whatever they need to do. We know that millions of Nigerians will be coming online and becoming more and more dependent on the Internet as a crucial part of their everyday lives and we believe that they will be using SPARK-network websites. Billions of dollars of value has been attributed to Internet companies in the West, in Europe, North America, Asia and even in South America - but not Africa, yet. The online revolution in Africa starts today and Bastian and I are throwing our hats into the ring and saying that we want to be a massive part of the revolution.
TNJ: How does SPARK work?
JN: SPARK's USP, compared to angel investors or VCs, is that we remove the challenges of doing business in Africa for the start-ups in our network. We house them, we provide Internet usage, we provide legal, marketing, technical and administrative assistance and on top of this, all the companies have access to myself, Bastian and my wife, Mary Remmy-Njoku for mentorship, making connections and problem solving. Our mission is to remove challenges for entrepreneurs in our SPARK network, so they can go about the business of doing business. We funded 13 companies in about three weeks. Speed is crucial in this game. We don't waste time with weighty PowerPoint decks - if we think an idea has potential, if we can figure out how to monetize it and if we have a young, creative person willing to drive the idea until it's a success, we'll write a check and welcome them into the SPARK network.
TNJ: What are your first year's goals for the company?
JN: By the end of 2013, we will have hopefully seed-funded or invested in 20 companies in total. We also expect to grow the funds available to SPARK-funded companies by working with others looking to invest in and be a part of Nigeria's Internet and tech ecosystem.
TNJ: What are some of your long-term goals for the company?
JN: Ultimately, we want Africa's first billion dollar dotcom companies to be born out of the SPARK network. We'll continue to invest time, energy and money into super-talented, exciting tech startups that will totally disrupt Nigeria, and Africa's, entire Internet eco-system.