Niyi Abiri is passionate about using open mobile mapping technology to capture citizen-related concerns about government and governance, infrastructure projects, and areas vulnerable to conflict in Nigeria. His company, cMapIT has received global recognition and awards from institutions like MongoDB and Open Data Institute. The AWP Network connects with Abiri to learn more about his company and his plans for the future.
How did you come up with your business name?
cMapIT means crowd-mapping technology. The initial idea of cMapIT was to create an open mobile mapping technology platform that could help capture all citizen-related concerns about government and governance, infrastructure projects, and areas vulnerable to conflict. My team and I did that fairly well at the start and we ended up with a different open access platform while using this tool.
Some of our early focus was on road infrastructure, health and sanitation, while we also worked around establishing a mapping system that helps interested parties to understand what supply and distribution means. Some of the results include the capture of over 5000 potholes on Nigerian roads across the country, easily parsed through API and could be used to develop innovative ideas around road safety. We also tracked millennium development goal (MDGs) projects across Nigeria.
What inspired you to start this business?
What inspired the project was the need to close the gap between citizens and government using mobile technology as a resource. Citizen engagement is the most crucial aspect of civic tech. The other part of the project was to ensure that we captured information that could help innovators and the government through open data on failed infrastructure projects or ineffective aspects of governance.
Who is your target market?
Currently, we have pivoted to data visualization tools and we intend to play in the same space with companies like Tableau, CARTO, map box, ESRI, and power BI. At this time, we are researching and building simple tools to help solve data visualization problems. It is our aim to get rid of the technicality many researchers may have in creating visualization and graphs from large datasets. My team and I are working to respond to demands by university researchers, individuals burdened with creating daily reports, or even students working on their thesis. We have a B2B and a B2C business model; the sky is the limit for us.
What is the long-term plan for this idea?
We are a team of problem-solvers. The long-term plan is to interface with our potential users and interact with them daily to figure out what their needs are and to provide solutions to the said problem in real-time.
What challenges do you face?
The big challenge is growing the market. Data visualization is applicable to all fields. Our map engine for instance, can help farmers track their assets while banks can also use the map engine as a way to validate physical properties (i.e. land) when used as collateral. These are extremely important needs but we need to raise the awareness before we can sell in the volume that we need. This will take some time.
What key things have you learned since starting this idea?
- The role of liquidity is overrated when you are still trying to prove the concept.
- Get the proof of concept before you get a team.
- Interface with your potential customers as much as possible.
- Be patient.
- Build for your consumers.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
If you believe in your idea and are convinced that it will work, then start a side hustle to get some income for your basic needs and then spend the other part of your time building out the idea.
How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
African youths can support each other through patronage. This however needs to be a matter of personal principle NOT government policy. This will also allow the producers of the product to receive some feedback, hopefully with the intention to build better products. Communication among young Africans is key.
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
Innovation in Africa will thrive whether people support it or not. Africa is a consumer continent therefore, we are subject to global trends in innovation.