Thursday, November 23, 2017

Unafraid. CEO Funke Opeke on how the challenges and opportunities of investing in Africa

While many fear investing in Africa, one woman has not been afraid of doing so. Funke Opeke is the founder and CEO of one of the continent’s largest ICT companies, MainOne. João Marques Lima reports.

With vast experience in telecommunications, Opeke founded the company in 2010 and since then has raised over $300m.

She had previously served as CTO of MTN, following a 20-year-long career in the USA at companies such as Verizon. MainOne’s portfolio includes today West Africa’s first privately owned, open access 7,000 Km undersea high capacity cable submarine, a $240m project completed in 2010.

The operator has also built what it claims to be West Africa’s largest Tier III Data Center, MDX-i’s Lekki Data Center, a $40m investment with a capacity for 600 racks. More data centres are on the way.

To get a clearer picture of the current Nigerian ICT market, Data Economy spoke to Funke Opeke (FO) on the country’s role and position in the wider technology space.


What is Nigeria’s place in globalisation? 

Funke Opeke, CEO of MainOne

FO: Nigeria is important, due to its size, vast population and material resources. By revenue, Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa, and one of the top ten fastest growing economies in the world.

With its ranking as world’s seventh most populous country, with approximately 60% of the population under the age of 25, Nigeria is home to the world’s largest pool of untapped brainpower and talent.

Nigeria, like other parts of Africa also has a rapidly growing middleclass, an expanding consumer market which offers increased opportunities for businesses on the continent.

And internet access has gotten better, with more metro infrastructure built to support businesses in Nigeria.


How hard is it to get the right investment to deploy infrastructure in Nigeria? 

FO: The most challenging part of developing MainOne is raising capital. It was extremely tough getting long term capital to deploy this huge greenfield infrastructure project.

The initial funding came from a very small group of angel investors who invested before we got African private equity funds – AFC and PAIDF, International Financial institutions, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the German Development Bank (DEG) and First Bank and Skye Bank to assist. To date, we have raised over $300m.


What is in it for investors that invest in Nigeria and Africa as a whole? 

FO: Africa is the fastest growing continent today, with robust opportunities for investment. The conversation about Africa and indeed Nigeria is shifting to one about opportunities, prospects, ventures and innovation.

The fast-growing youth population, the urbanisation expected to drive over 50% of Africans to cities by 2050, and Africa’s formalising economy are a few drivers.

African economies are beginning to diversify beyond commodities, though it is still early days.

Investors who are hungry for vibrant new markets and recognize the potential and opportunities in Africa will enjoy first mover advantage in capturing market share and guaranteed ROI.

Africa is still one of the few places where entrepreneurs and businesses with ideas and an appetite for risk can bring value and find long-term growth if they are persistent, creative and determined.

Fiber is an important part of the digital economy, so are data centres.


What does the data centre landscape look like in Nigeria? 

FO: Following on the heels of South Africa which is more mature in technology adoption, Nigeria promises the greatest growth in data centre development and ultimately, the largest market for data centre services in sub-Saharan Africa.

Due to recent improvements in internet connectivity, provided by circa five subsea cables and growing terrestrial fiber infrastructure, global content and local businesses are able to house their data in these facilities.

Lagos is leading this activity as Nigeria’s commercial centre and home to circa 70% of its formal economy. With the migration towards a digital economy, adoption of e-Government initiatives, growth in e-commerce and with Nigerian businesses looking to host their growing digital information locally, we see a more robust data centre landscape in Nigeria going forward.


What are the plans for MainOne in the coming years? 

FO: We have built a Tier III data centre in Lagos, and are starting works to build a second facility outside Lagos in Sagamu, Ogun State.

We plan to build a few more in Nigeria, Ghana and other West African countries where we see a demand for colocation services.

We intend to continue to lead the data centre market in West Africa. We have the region’s only Tier III Data Center with PCI DSS, ISO 27001, ISO 9001 and SAP Infrastructure Certificates.

We are also the most connected data centre in the region and Nigeria’s premier cloud services provider.


This article originally appeared in the Data Economy magazine. To read more on data centres, cloud and data, visit here