Meet the 5 Nigerian tech entrepreneurs heading to MIT
Nigeria is the emerging capital for technology in Africa. Kenya and South Africa may have seemingly gotten off the block ahead of Nigeria in terms of youth innovations and investments in technology ecosystems, but change is on the horizon thanks to the sheer enormity of Nigeria’s human capital, segments of which are passionate about creating solutions for local problems.
The globally renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has this year extended its intensive one-week bootcamp opportunity to five Nigerians who, against all odds, have been working on technology-based solutions to some of Nigeria’s most notable challenges in transportation, education, agriculture and health.
The bootcamp scheduled to hold 23-28 August, 2015 will provide these five Nigerian tech entrepreneurs and less than 50 counterparts from across the world with some education and connections needed for their entrepreneurial pursuit.
Emmanuel Adegboye is the founder of busstop.ng, a web platform set to address the peculiar problem of navigating in a poorly planned city like Lagos and other Nigerian towns. Adegboye tells me his enterprise was inspired by his experience. “Like almost everyone else, I find that I have to ask for directions at every other garage which makes advance route planning quite difficult,” he said.
When busstop.ng (currently in development) comes on stream, users across the country will be presented with various options to navigate from one point to another, beginning with Lagos. Different modes of transportation are being considered.
Adegboye, who had his first and second degrees from the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, is utilising lessons from his background in geoscience and his passion for social enterprise to tackle a challenge that daily costs millions of Nigerians amazing amounts of working hours.
Like Adegboye, Zuby Onwuta’s dual innovations – ThinkAndZoom and the KentiGame – are positive reactions to challenges, albeit of a more individualised nature. Zuby was in the United States military and planned to study medicine but fate would have it differently, as tests revealed he was visually impaired to a degree to compel a medical discharge in 1998.
With “Low vision” defined as visual acuity below 20/20 (normal vision), Zuby’s visual acuity of 20/200 meant his visual impairment fell under the category of legal blindness. Undeterred, Zuby dedicated his life to studying causes of macular degeneration, the cause of his visual impairment. Along the line, he happened on a solution, ThinkAndZoom – a wearable visual enhancement solution for the visually impaired, especially those with low vision.
Drawing strength from seeming adversity, Zuby deployed his passion for invention to develop a solution (ThinkAndZoom) for himself and 700 million other people affected with low vision. His second invention, Kenti is a research tool for the study of visual impairment, the first of its kind as well. With Kenti, Zuby is deploying a software platform that will aid his proposed study on the sustained use of elecctroencelopgraphy (EEG) in daily living. He tells me “I chose to use games as these could be deployed on mobile devices – phones and tablets. The first game out of these “ThinkGames” series is “Kenti”, full name “Ene-Kenti-Oba”, an Ibo bird.”
Kenti is already a scholarship winner of the 2015 Apple World Wide Developer Conference.
Looking at the business aspect of Zuby’s innovation, ThinkAndZoom is presently not in any partnerships even though it is a software application that merges Google Glass and Neurosky EEG headset to show that visual magnification can be powered via brain waves. When I asked about the health implications of a device powered by brain waves, Zuby assured there are presently no known side effects even though research efforts in that regard continue.
Yet another young Nigerian entrepreneur heading to Massachussetts for the two-week technology bootcamp is Simi Adejumo, a 2014 graduate of Chemical Engineering from the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Osun state. Interestingly, Simi’s technology enterprise, aajoh.com is built around health care even though he is not a medical doctor.
Concerning his motivation to launch into a seemingly unfamiliar territory, Simi tells me that “Aajoh.com resulted from the long queues I faced whenever I wanted to access doctors at my university medical centre, and I thought to myself, why can I not access doctors on the go?”
It is true what they say, that adversity is the mother of innovation. As with the four other Nigerians embarking on the trip to the MIT bootcamp, the chaos that is the daily experience of patients like him, in interfacing with doctors for diagnosis, treatment and prescriptions led Simi to research possible solutions. His solution, aajoh.com is now being embraced by hospitals, helping them to increase accessibility by patients by reducing physical exchange. The online platform also features an interactive medical records system, online payments and necessary data for hospital administration.
The two other Nigerian entrepreneurs who will be benefitting from the MIT bootcamp are Chris Kwekowe, founder of online learning platform, slatecube.com; and Nasir Yammama, the brain behind the innovative startup, Verdant which is set to transform how we do agriculture in Nigeria via mobile phones.
Chris Kwekowe is an innovative entrepreneur and technology consultant that believes that the average African youth is the driving force for global impact and sees ICT as the propellant on which this goal is dependent. His enterprise is therfore built around equipping people by facilitating learning opportunities with affordable ease.
There are quite a number of courses to pick from on slatecube.com that have not only been designed to fit into the convenience of clients, but also come with internship opportunities with real organisations upon completion. And yes, there are certificates.
Nasir Yamama is a creative technologist and a Masters student at the Middlesex University in London. He is fascinated by technology, design and agriculture among other things. He founded Verdant, a web platform still in development, to help farmers in Nigeria have access to subsidised information about their crops and to agricultural intelligence while also creating an experience around their culture. The application which will be accessible to smartphones and through text messages will guide farmers through details such as the location of their crops, harvest seasons, crop types, seed choosing, and sources of affordable fertilisers, among others.
Asked why he founded Verdant, Nasir says “We have to consider the challenges we are faced with and apply technology to solve them.”
Already, Nasir has won the Enterprise Challenge with the Verdant idea, which earned him a mentorship opportunity with founder of the Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson.
Nasir and other Nigerians heading to the bootcamp in Massachusetts have one thing in common; they are all looking forward to the tremendous learning opportunities that the MIT bootcamp is known to present to entrepreneurs. A vivid testimony of this lies in the fact that 25,600 companies started by the entire pool of MIT alumni have generated approximately $2 trillion in revenue and have created 3.3 million jobs globally.