Several areas of microbiology are ripe for commercial exploitation in Nigeria - so what’s the next step for students and researchers interested in setting up science-driven business ventures? A recent workshop had the answers.
The AMI Capacity Building Fund made it possible for me to organize a workshop on entrepreneurial microbiology for students (graduates and undergraduates), fresh graduates and faculty members at the Department of Microbiology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) in November 2023.
In all, approximately 65 students and graduates and 7 faculty members of the department took part in the workshop.
Over the course of the workshop, I met with the Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Charles Igwe Arinzechukwu, and the breadth of the University’s leadership, during which we explored the role of biotechnology in emerging economies and how Nigeria and indeed, UNN can position themselves to become key players in the area - both in terms of training the next generation of scientists and setting up spin-off ventures to help counter the crippling level of unemployment in the country.
Ripe for exploitation
More importantly, I spent an extensive period with students highlighting several relevant areas of microbiology that are ripe for commercial exploitation in Nigeria - eg. setting up a commercial analytical microbiology laboratory, biogas and mycocomposites production, the growing fermented products market in Nigeria, bioconversion of organic residues to value-added products, and conversion of carbon-rich wastes to industry-worthy feedstocks for bio-production.
Additionally, I highlighted the relevance and steps involved in business plan development, making winning pitches and writing successful proposals, as tools for securing seed funding towards stablishing entrepreneurial ventures.
Towards successful business plan development and securing seed funding, I held practical sessions on business plan development, scientific writing, establishing and sustaining collaborative research teams, and intellectual property development. Collectively, we explored funding options within the Nigeria market, limitations to establishing science-driven business ventures within the Nigerian economy and ultimately, measures and strategies for skirting these limitations. Some of the highpoints/outcomes of the workshop include:
- An ongoing discussion to support the teaching of entrepreneurial microbiology at UNN: Following successful completion of the workshop, which was vastly well received by the participants, the Department of Microbiology at UNN has requested that I support the teaching of entrepreneurial microbiology in the department. We are currently exploring strategies to make this proposition become a reality.
- Supporting students with science-driven business ideas: A plethora of ideas came to the fore over the course of the workshop, predominantly from the students. Towards ensuring that some of these ideas successfully morph into viable businesses, I am discussing with some of the student participants on possible measures to support them to bring their ideas to market in the future. For instance, a major impediment to some of the ideas is raising the initial capital to get things off the ground. Although the venture capital space is growing rapidly in Nigeria, this growth is largely, if not completely nonexistent in Southeastern Nigeria, where UNN is located. Thus, I am working with some students to identify appropriate venture capital firms in Lagos and Abuja, as well as to prepare them on how to approach these firms and ultimately, to make winning pitches, with a view to securing funding to put their ideas to work.
- Supporting research within the department: Science-driven businesses typically start from the laboratory bench. To plug the gaping lack of infrastructural leverage within the department, I am discussing with faculty and graduate students to identify specific research efforts that I can support by means of bringing students and postdoctoral fellows from the department to my laboratory. Additionally, we are in talks to identify and pursue specific analysis that my laboratory can conduct to support ongoing microbiological research efforts within the Department of Microbiology, UNN.
- Supporting the student body: After the workshop, I was approached by the microbiology student body at UNN to serve as a mentor for the union, as well as to provide targeted lectures to support their educational activities. I gladly accepted this offer and look forward to how I can help shape the next crop of microbiologists coming out of UNN.
- Pursuing collaborative research efforts: A fundamental aspect of taking research from the laboratory to the marketplace is conducting the research itself. Towards this, I will be working with the leadership of the Microbiology Department and UNN at large to pursue joint research projects by pursuing collaborative research proposals. Such projects will be leveraged to provide additional capacity building experiences for both faculty and staff of the dept., as well as to target specific studies with potential for business development.
- Sourcing for equipment: As a follow-up to the workshop, I and the department are working together to find the means to acquire used equipment that are typically thrown away in the West, upon procurement of new ones. Such used HPLC, PCR, GC-MS and spectrophotometric machines can be repurposed and used for fairly prolonged periods of time, if well maintained. Consequently, I am working with the African Diaspora in science to identify such equipment that can be acquired for free (they are usually thrown away) and then shipped to Nigeria (UNN in particular, and possibly, nearby institutions).This will form a first line of establishing an entrepreneurial venture by using such equipment to set up a commercial analytical laboratory in the area that will serve both the research community and related sectors that currently lack such an important service.
Overall, this funding afforded me a unique experience and opportunity to inspire young people and faculty alike, and most importantly, to begin the process of using science as a tool to combat a worrying unemployment rate in Southeastern Nigeria and the country at large.
Additionally, I left the workshop feeling invigorated about the prospect of supporting microbiological education and science at large in the country. I plan on future trips, as well as designing means to continue the process of capacity building within the area by using my time and educational/professional resources.
Article courtesy of Victor C. Ujor – Dept. of Food Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI, USA. To find out more about AMI’s grants and awards programme, click HERE.