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UNILAG launches initiative to support Nigerian innovators, researchers

Only 300 of the 13,282 research papers published in Nigeria in 2020 resulted in successful innovations.
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The University of Lagos has launched an initiative to support Nigerian innovators and researchers. Nigeria, despite being ranked 50th in the world in terms of research paper publications, is struggling to translate research works into successful innovations.

According to the Acting Director of the Innovation and Technology Management Office (ITMO) at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Abiodun Gbenga-Ilori, only 300 of the 13,282 research papers published in Nigeria in 2020 resulted in successful innovations.

In contrast, Ghana, Nigeria’s neighbouring West African country, recorded more than 300 innovations from only 4,189 research papers published in the same period.

These revelations were made at the launch of an initiative called “Project Innovation to Market” (I2M) at UNILAG, which aims to build a sustainable innovation ecosystem in Nigeria. The project will address the challenges faced by innovators and researchers in turning their concepts into viable commercial ventures, and it will provide them with the necessary resources, mentorship, and support to transform their ideas into market-trading products and services. The project will also help innovators early on to identify potential buyers.

Funded by UKAID’s Research and Innovation Systems for Africa (RISA), I2M aims to bridge the knowledge gap in Nigeria by providing resources on how to innovate and translate research outputs into the market. The project’s goal is to nurture innovations at various stages by providing training, incubation, mentorship, advisory, funding, patenting, and company and tax registrations.

I2M is not limited to the UNILAG community but is an initiative for all Nigerian innovators, and the project team plans to collaborate with research institutions nationwide and industry experts who will serve as mentors to participants across the country.

Many factors have been identified as militating against the conversion of research to innovation in Nigeria, including “lack of proper know-how on how to innovate, limited access to capital for prototyping, inadequate access to machinery and laboratory equipment, slow intellectual property protection, and limited access to market and industry linkages,” according to Gbenga-Ilori. Thus, I2M aims to address these factors by providing the necessary support to innovators and researchers.

Speaking at the launch of I2M, the UNILAG Vice-Chancellor, Folasade Ogunsola, emphasised that innovation and research are what universities are known for and are major ways to address unemployment. She also said that the project is one of the first activities of the university’s ITMO, which won a funding opportunity from RISA through a competitive process.

In addition, the Country Manager of RISA, Alice Omisore, said the objective of the project is to bridge the gap “between research institutions and innovators through funding and technical support for many organizations that are focused on providing capacity building for the research and innovation ecosystem.” Meanwhile, the West Africa Research and Innovation Team Lead of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Leane Jones, commended the university for the initiative, saying that “pooling ideas and resources more formally into a research, funding, and training database repository for all stakeholders will create opportunities for growing advocacy policy chain for innovation and fundraising needed for translating research into innovation.”

The Director of Skills Development and Entrepreneurship at the National Universities Commission (NUC), Ladan Ashafa, who represented the agency’s Executive Secretary, Abubakar Rasheed, commended RISA for the funding and emphasised the need for collaboration in the project’s operation, describing it as the future of innovation.

I2M’s project team lead, Gbenga-Ilori, highlighted the expected outcomes and sustainability plan of the project. Within the first year, the initiative will see the formation of a working consortium and the creation of an iBank software platform.

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