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Scuudu, the Nigerian startup building tech products with Artificial Intelligence, VR, and more.

Scuudu Labs, Artificial intelligence, VR, ES Nigerian startup
Scuudu Labs [Franklin, Kaosicho, Chinedu & Emeka]

My guest this Sunday on Episode 3 of the business Instagram live session are a group of interesting young people that are doing amazing things in the Nigerian tech space. Scuudu is a start-up that operates out of Enugu in Nigeria, growing and hoping to disrupt the tech space in Nigeria with some of their innovative ideas, they leverage technologies in Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Internet of Things to build products that solve problems in Nigeria. In recent times, they have competed in a few tech challenges, like the financial sector tech challenge organized by Sterling Bank, and the Forbes Africa Accelerator. They were also finalists at the Forbes Africa Business Accelerator challenge. They have been working very hard to develop some innovative products they hope to take to market real soon. On this episode, we talked about their start-up journey, their challenges, the future, the tech space in Nigeria, their products and services, and much more.

But what makes them special is not only that they operate out of Enugu (Nigerian South East), a location with a relatively small tech ecosystem, but the areas they are delving into. Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Virtual and Augmented Reality are all tech areas that have seen little to no start-up activity in Nigeria, as opposed to Fintech, e-commerce or medtech. Scuudu is a pioneer in its own rights, and at their current drive and motivation, will surely put the country and continent on the global tech map in the coming years.

How I met them

One of the Cofounders, Emeka Onyebuchi and I are both products of the University of Aberdeen School of Computer Science. While Emeka focused on Artificial Intelligence, I focused on Information Technology. We had recently connected, and I discovered he was involved with a start-up, we got talking about some of the products they were building and decided I was going to meet these guys.

On how the startup and team was founded

The team currently is comprised of 4 cofounders.

Franklin Osondu is the team lead and has over 5 years of experience in IoT. He is responsible for coordinating the operations of the team.

Kaosicho Dim is the UI/UX designer. He has years of experience working with African brands and wholly understands how Nigerians perceive products.

Chinedu Achimalo is a backend developer. He has experience in various languages such as Java, Python and C++.

Emeka Onyebuchi is a Machine Learning Engineer. He has worked on various Artificial Intelligence projects with local and international brands

Franklin Osondu who is team lead was tasked in 2019, with building a Virtual Reality Game by Genesys Techhub, which is an incubation lab operating out of Enugu in Nigeria. Franklin reached out to Chinedu and Kaosicho for help with the game, they rallied and put the product together, and the startup was born after that. Emeka joined them shortly after returning from the UK.

On the name, Scuudu

I noticed how unique and distinct the name Scuudu sounded. It has a certain afro techy vibe to it, I asked, and they noted that the choice of the name was intentional and was inspired by African Drums.

Their operations

Scuudu focuses on five areas of operation, Artificial Intelligence, Game Development, Augmented Reality, Internet of Things and Branding (UI/UX) designs. At their core, they are driven by research and development, innovating on new solutions to solve problems, then commercializing the solution. This model, you would note, does sound so profitable considering the sheer amount of resources that goes into the R & D and the limited funding available, nevertheless, they believe this model represents what is lacking in the tech space, especially in the areas that they operate in. By innovating on new ways to apply AI, Game Development, Augmented Reality and Internet of Things to solving issues in the Nigerian society, they hope to make the most impact, open the door for others to get in, and bring more attention to tech in Nigeria.

Since January 2020, they have been focused on developing new products, some of which are;

Wyrewolf – a fraud detection system that relies on machine learning to flag suspicious financial transactions. The application of this system is very prime considering the impact of financial fraud in the Nigerian economy. This was their debut product, for which they emerged second runner-up at the Financial Services Innovator’s Hackathon early March 2020.

EstateAR – An Augmented Reality application that allows Architects and Estate Managers create 3D views of designs on any flat surface and thus, view the design from all perspectives. Such systems are already being used by real estate stakeholders in the UK, US and other places and would indeed be a needed development in the Nigerian and by extension African real estate market.

Origins: Tales of Eri – A virtual reality game about an indigenous Nigerian Man, Eri, and his adventures, set in the early times.

But is Nigeria ready for AI & VR and these other techs?

Innovation is good, but to be profitable, it should be needed and welcome. I had concerns and asked questions about the readiness of the Nigerian tech space regarding some of tech the guys at Scuudu are dabbling with. Do Nigerians need an indigenous VR game when they have Call of Duty and Need for Speed? Does the Financial Industry need a locally built fraud detection system when they can contract Accenture to build them one? Although valid, they assured me these concerns have been taken into consideration at the inception of the start-up, for each product they set out to develop, they identified the business case, value proposition, diverse applications, and ensure the benefits of the product outweigh the cost in the long term before embarking on the development.

Again, being a pioneer has its costs, one of which is that you bear the entire experience of charting a new path and course for those to follow, including the good and bad. 20 years ago, Nigerian banks relied almost entirely on foreign tech support, but over the years, they have gradually begun to look inwards for local, cheap and effective manpower and talent to support their information systems. This is same for other sectors, so yes, Scuudu products indigenously developed, new and innovative, and that’s what makes them different.

On some of the challenges they are facing

In addition to the inherent challenges in the Nigerian environment like lack of infrastructure, terrible government policies, lack of skilled manpower, Scuudu noted that lack of technical support in equipment and parts, is top of the list. They need tools, and equipment, integrated circuits, motherboards, high performance laptops, and more. Although they receive support from their main investor, Genesys Techhub, but they could use more support in this area.

Second on the list is lack of skilled manpower. The cofounders that head the different units are all well experienced in these areas and need people with at least considerable experience when building and working on projects, but people this skilled are hard to come by. Taking on new interns on projects does not often provide much help especially when you need all the technical support you can get to get the project off the ground in limited time, the inexperienced intern is there to learn. This is more so considering the shortage of the manpower in Enugu, their location.

Third on the list is funds. But this is a dicey affair, considering that investments are tied to products, products that are expected to make money, and being a research and development lab, making money is not always top of their mind when building. But investors want to recoup invested funds and would not ideally put money into ventures that are not profit oriented. Therefore, they are presently in the process of taking some of their products to market, like the Wryewolf and EstateAR app.

In conclusion

Scuudu, albeit a small start-up operating out of an unpopular location in Nigeria, occupies a strategic position in the Nigerian tech space. They represent the idea that you can build things with new tech to solve issues and provide solutions, despite whatever part of the country you are located. Now someone in Zamfara or Abia can identify issues, conceive solutions in the form of ideas, research on tech to build it, and take that to market. This is the story that should be encouraged, by both private sector operators and public policy makers.

The future of Nigeria as we know it lies in this ideology, in this thinking, that there is value and wealth in solving problems in the society using tech and innovations. Considering what the guys at Scuudu have built in under a year since inception with the limited resources at their disposal, imagine how much more they could do and achieve with more funding, more support, and a conducive ecosystem.

I will definitely pay them a visit when next I am in the country, to get a personal feel of some of the wonderful things they are doing.

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