By Onyeka Akumah, Cofounder and CEO of Plentywaka
I’ll never forget my Techstars accelerator experience. It was 2017 and my Nigerian-based agtech startup Farmcrowdy was lucky enough to be accepted into Techstars Atlanta in Partnership with Cox Enterprises. To describe it as anything less than a whirlwind would be remiss. The program gave us a crash course in deals and funding, a major valuation boost, and exposure that we would not have gotten in Nigeria. The experience was like a Master’s degree in entrepreneurship, but over a few months rather than a few years.
And now — incredibly — I’m about to do it all over again. My latest startup, the bus-booking platform Plentywaka, has been accepted into Techstars Toronto. Some have asked why I am doing it again, but I respond to them: why not?
Taking part in another Techstars accelerator with another startup will enable my cofounders to learn invaluable lessons, expand our business into a new continent, and grow our network among amazing members of the worldwide startup community who Give First. Here are three reasons why founders should sign up to Techstars — even for a second time.
One of my biggest drivers in returning to Techstars for a second accelerator is my team. Plentywaka, our Lagos-based “Uber-for-buses” model that connects commuters with buses via an app, has been very busy since its launch in September 2019. The platform, whose name roughly translates to “plenty movement,” went from serving 100,000 rides by the six-month mark to facing drastic operational changes brought by the pandemic.
Our team has dug deep despite the challenges, and it shows in our recent milestones. We have expanded our intrastate services into two other cities in Nigeria, including the country’s capital city, Abuja, and moved about 300,000 people in total. Further, Plentywaka is getting to a point where we’re becoming more like an aggregator, as we onboard transportation companies on our platform.
Now, with this momentum, it is vital to plot our next moves. I see Techstars as akin to a school of entrepreneurship and the perfect place for us, as a team, to hone our business approach for the coming years. The goal is to broaden our minds, rub shoulders with other ambitious founders, and acquire the right resources to build even bigger and better.
It’s no secret that Nigerian or African startups, in general, rarely make their way into Canada. Plentywaka is on the verge of doing so thanks to the accelerator, and this is another key reason why returning makes complete business sense.
We have our eyes firmly set on international expansion, and Canada is the perfect place to start. Techstars Toronto Managing Director Sunil Sharma agrees: “We know that Western cities have legacy transportation systems. However, there are many transportation challenges, even in a city like Toronto,” he recently told TechCrunch. “And we think that Plentywaka’s technology and approach in improving the lives of citizens and their daily commute needs can be brought over to cities in the West just as they are in Africa.”
I have no doubt that the connections we make and the investors we meet will go a long way to our development in this new market. I know because I have experienced it. My last startup, Farmcrowdy, raised $1M shortly after the accelerator, and stories like this are not uncommon. Demo Day brings together hundreds of investors under one roof and often results in lucrative deals on the spot. We certainly look forward to transforming the lessons and connections we make into funding opportunities.
Lastly, on a personal level, our team is humbled to act as ambassadors on the world stage. We truly want to showcase the best of our country and continent and pave the way for other African startups in need of support from further afield. Lagos is a hotbed for innovation and it is exciting to play a small role in attracting investor attention to our corner of the globe.
I’m not going to lie, we went shopping around multiple accelerators for Plentywaka. But one of the major draws for Techstars, and something that I simply could not overlook, is the network. I value relationships, and the relationships I have built through Techstars are second to none. The people go the extra mile, the care is genuine, and the interactions last long after the program.
It all comes from the mentality of Give First. To Give First means simply trying to help other entrepreneurs without any expectation of getting anything back. In my experience, this isn’t just some sort of slogan, but a concept that embodies the actions of founders looking after founders. The end result is a powerful network of caring people, all flourishing because they are all giving to one another.
I honestly cannot wait to bring my team into the fold and begin this crazy journey once more. Whether it’s once or twice, founders stand to learn so much from Techstars accelerators. These programs are certain to change your life and the course of your startup.