Backing Nigeria’s “Nerve” smartphone producer: ‘a smart move for investors’

Nerve-header-image-1Today’s featured member of the VC4Africa community is entrepreneur Silas Okwoche, founder of Nigeria based company Nerve, producing “high relevance smartphones that are built for the mobile first generation of Africa”. They are currently raising a USD 500,000 investment round.

Who are the investors presently backing you, what is already secured and what’s still needed? 

“We are currently backed by a couple of angel investors, one of which is a Nigerian in the Diaspora and another a high net worth individual resident in country. In addition to our team’s personal funds we have secured just over USD 60k in angel investment from our previous round that is being disbursed on a milestone basis. We have thus closed that round and are now opening up a fresh startup-funding round of USD 500,000 from individual accredited investors & VCs.”

Which milestones do you want to reach with your new investments, and what do you hope to achieve in the long run?

“The current investment being raised will go towards a consumer facing Nerve smartphone market entry, involving the manufacturing of the first batch of devices along with supporting marketing, shipping, warehousing as well as other market development efforts in Nigeria.

In the long run, our vision for Nerve is that via device and mobile service innovations we will solve particularly pressing problems and improve the quality of life on the continent and beyond… and as a result of this build a fortune 500 company of African origin!”

The last time we interviewed you was in October 2013. What has happened in the mean time? 

“A lot! We’ve developed and pilot-launched our content delivery platform Nerveflo. This platform is available on the PC/mobile web, while some premium features are only available on Nerve smartphones. With Nerveflo we’re generating an added income stream via revenue sharing from sales of audio content from independent content producers.

We also transitioned to fully using “Nerve” as the public facing entity with Ideacentric now serving simply as a holding company. And we completed the ‘early-stage’ incubation program with Wennovation Hub, which enabled us to complete product development and secure enterprise pre-orders, while re-scheduling our consumer facing rollout plans to the end of this year. We are hence about to enter into a practical market-entry program with novel accelerator in Lagos, enabling us to better fulfill our plan to bring our devices and services to the consumer market this year.

In the mean time we also won the 2014 International Tech Trail Blazers Award, were crowned the 2nd best regional startup in the Seedstars World 2014 competition, gained market traction with enterprise pre-orders of the Nerve entry-level smartphone and signed up the first batch of content providers on Nerveflo.

With a successful subscription to our current funding round and a potential feature at DEMO Africa 2014, our current drive is to have devices on sale end of the year via our website & retail partners.”

As your phones are presently produced in Asia, to what extent do you consider them ‘homegrown African’? Will more parts of the production be moved to Africa?

“In the fashion of top smartphone makers we design locally but currently mass produce in Asia. The software side of the Nerve has a lot of homegrown aspects as well as the local content being offered. Unfortunately, the economics of hardware manufacturing on the continent is still challenging. However, we are resolute on bringing home more of the production process to Africa as the power and infrastructure issues improve. Our current setup plans in a local foreign trade zone, as well as interest in setting up a FabLab are proofs of this commitment.

I can categorically state that as early as next year we will be carrying out 100% of our packaging and some level of hardware assembly locally. Further down the line, we seek to achieve the scale that will fast track greater local production. In the long term, we wish to carry out the entire silicon-to-device value chain processing on the continent…. We believe in Africa!”

Do you also have plans to shift towards more ‘fair’/sustainable production than normal procedures, like the ‘FairPhone’?
“Absolutely, the ‘Fairphone’ project is big inspiration, and we hope to learn more so as to be able to forge a similar path as our local production deepens. I personally believe that social responsibility and the bottom line are not mutually exclusive and should indeed fuel each other.”

How do you use VC4Africa, and is there anything else you’d like to add?

“I use VC4Africa to gain a big picture of the continental startup ecosystem as well as zero-in on potential near-future collaboration with my peers in Nigeria. I also use VC4Africa to gain insight into the thinking of investors active in the African space… its interesting to see the rising interest and the structure that VCs are bringing to valuation/deals here. Our current funding round is listed on the platform and VC4Africa has been an invaluable resource.

Just to add; I believe we are the tipping point where the talk about “Africa rising” is shifting from a consumer-spending-power conversation to one of innovation and productivity. I see ventures here growing into the pedigree of Tata, Infosys & Alibaba in the next decade with some others making major exits via acquisitions by multinationals seeking for where to use their offshore funds.

Backing early stage companies like Nerve and several others listed on VC4Africa is the smart move any investors should make.”

For more information see Nerve’s VC4Africa venture profile. Only registered investors get access to all details and can express their interest to invest.