Cycles, Nigeria’s No.1 Bike-Sharing Platform Achieving The United Nations SDG Goal 11 – Damilola Soladoye
The private bike-sharing ecosystem is beginning to gain momentum in Africa, most especially in Nigeria. Although not new to the dense Asian cities and some parts of Europe. Some Nigerian startups are now exploring this new business model. Such startup testing the waters is Cycles, as it’s redefining the way people commute within tertiary institutions, communities and cities. Using an efficient, fun and healthy means of transport, building better people, communities and a greener earth. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online spoke with Damilola Soladoye, the co-founder and CEO of Cycles, to know more about the brand good start and insights into the bike-sharing business in Nigeria. Excerpts.
Alaba: Tell us about Cycles and the gap it’s filling.
Damilola: Cycles is a mobility startup solving last mile transportation inefficiencies in Nigerian and African Universities, Estates and communities with our smart and efficient bicycle sharing system.
We are filling the gap of last mile transportation in communities where multiple transportation options do not exist or are not sufficient.
Alaba: What’s your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
Damilola: Currently, we have raised over $5000 dollars in equity free grants majorly from the Fbstart accelerator from Facebook in partnership with Co-creation Hub. Asides this most of our capital has been bootstrapped till date with personal funds from team members.
Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?
Damilola: Our major challenge is the pace of adoption by our target community. Most University and estate management have been slow to adopt our solution. This is purely bureaucratic as some tend to see our solution as a direct competition with the already existing means of transportation which they currently have on the ground.
It has been daunting, but we are gradually overcoming these challenges by presenting our solution as a complement to the already existing transport options and also offering our bicycle sharing system at no cost to the community. Instead, the community generates revenue off our system through a revenue share model.
Alaba: How’s your brand making mobility and logistics safe, accessible and affordable?
Damilola: Globally, bicycle sharing is widely adopted in many major cities, communities and Universities all over the world. This is no surprise because cycling is a green, healthy and sustainable means of mobility. It is so because it removes the human factor of having a driver and burning fuel to make it more affordable for the end user.
It is also an accessible system as it is available 24/7 in any community deployed in. To boost safety on our system we are working closely with officials from Institute of Transport Development Policy (ITDP) and Lagos State Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) to ensure compliance with global safety and stand practices
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Alaba: How’s your brand different and unique to other brands in the bike-sharing business?
Damilola: At cycles, what makes us unique is our passion for building green and sustainable mobility solutions coupled with a particular focus for providing great user experiences with our technology.
Alaba: What’s the future for Cycles and what steps are you taking in achieving them?
Damilola: The future for Cycles is to place Africa on the global mico-mobility map by flooding African communities with sustainable mobility systems. We are taking steps to achieve this daily through partnerships with both local and international organisations to augment our growth.
Alaba: How’s the government supporting startups and SME in your Nigeria?
Damilola: The Government has been supporting startups and SME’s in Nigeria, though I strongly believe more can be done. The future of Nigeria and Africa lies in part in its entrepreneurs and the more government involvement in this sector, the more accelerated growth is bound to occur in the country.
Alaba: What’s your view on the development of Africa logistics and mobility ecosystem?
Damilola: The logistics and mobility ecosystem is accelerating at a mammoth pace. Safe to say that with the recent rounds of investments in logistics/mobility-related startups, I believe massive disruption is said to happen in the coming years and more investment is said to be attracted to this sector.
Though a major set back in my opinion would be infrastructure. This has and will always be a major roadblock for any logistics/mobility-related business and Government should begin to intervene appropriately.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Damilola: Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but in general, I derive joy from knowing that I am a change agent on a mission to develop and change my continent even in the little way I can.
Alaba: What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?
Damilola: My advice to potential entrepreneurs or investors interested in the African space would be to see Africa as a very daunting and challenging market to penetrate. This might sound cliche, but in comparison to other markets of the world, Africa’s market poses so many challenges from infrastructure, the ecosystem to customers in total.
It takes courage, time and grit to build a business in Africa and every stakeholder involved in this such be aware as this would drive their expectations, timelines and overall outlook of the market in the end.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Damilola: I relax mostly by watching movies and I read motivational books.
Alaba: Please teach us one word in your home language and your favourite local dish?
Damilola: “Siṣẹ”, this means work! My favourite dish is pounded yam and egusi soup.
Alaba: What’s your favourite holiday spot on the continent?
Damilola: My favourite holiday spot on the continent would be the pyramids of Egypt.
Damilola Soladoye and his team.
Damilola Soladoye is a passionate and self-motivated individual interested in technology, mobility and solving societal problems. A first class graduate of Covenant University and alumni of the premier cohort of the Fbstart accelerator program from Facebook in collaboration with Co-creation Hub, Nigeria.
Mary Njoki is helping startups tell their stories through Glass House PR
Mary Njoki is the CEO and Founder of Glass House PR, an award-winning pan-African PR firm headquartered in Kenya that offers custom public relations solutions across Africa. She founded Glass House PR in 2012 at the age of 23. Mary has worked with more than 100 organisations, including SMEs/SMBs in Africa, African artists, Facebook, Viber, Paxful, Nissan, and African governments such as Zanzibar and Ethiopia among others through her company, Glass House PR. She has mentored entrepreneurs across Africa through “A Billion Startups, a free mentorship programme that educates entrepreneurs about brand visibility and sustainable development. 11 years after launching Glass House PR, Mary Njoki in this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, shares more on her entrepreneurship journey. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and your career journey?
Mary: I grew up in Ngarariga village in Limuru. I finished High school at the age of 16, but my mother could not afford to take me to University. I found solace in acting, doing some gigs at the Kenya National Theatre to hone what I thought was a fledgling acting career. A year later I gained admission in the university to study Information Technology at Graffins College. It was while here, I concentrated on coding. I then got a job with an IT firm as a marketer, then later a Business developer. I then moved to another IT firm as a Business Executive.
Here, I started volunteering at K Krew and I gained my first experience in the media which ignited my love for Public Relations. Soon after, I moved into a PR agency and it was in between my jobs where I enrolled for part time classes at Daystar University Majoring on Public Relations.
Alaba: What sparked your interest to go into PR and how did you launch Glass House PR?
Mary: After my two jobs in the IT industry and while working at the PR agency, I discovered more about PR and I was determined to find my purpose. Deep down I knew the future of PR was on Digital media. I resigned, determined to start my own company. Initially I wanted Glass House to be a social Media company as I understood technology. I started Glass House PR with an initial capital of Sh6,000 from my savings, a laptop, an Internet modem and tons of optimism.
Starting the company was not easy and the first year of business I did a lot of pro-bono jobs but I learnt alot. I then realized that there was a lot of groundwork needed for my company to gain establishment in the industry. I was a member of Business Networking International (BNI) when I was employed and this network and skills also became my capital. Presently, I have worked with tech giants like Viber,Facebook Paxful,Walt Disney Africa among others.
Alaba: What services does your company offer?
Mary: We are a Pan-African PR Agency, offering PR strategies, media relations and management, digital media communications, event management, we are a whole 360 PR agency that help brands tell their stories through different channels to their audiences.
Alaba: Before venturing into entrepreneurship, what lessons did you pick as an employee?
Mary: I have worked with SMEs, directly working with the founders, I learned and picked different lessons which actually formed the basis of the name Glass House PR. There used to be a lack of communication between us and the management, lack of transparency, and over time one realizes you do not need to share everything with everyone. But I felt that was lacking, and from that I learnt that when I start a business, I have to ensure that there is clear communication with all the public that I am dealing with. Working with millennials and GenZ, I realized the importance of employees’ inclusion, sharing with them the vision and allowing them to see themselves in it. After I resigned is when I realized I was just an employee and I was never included.
Alaba: What lessons have you learnt as a female entrepreneur?
Mary: I have learnt that growth is a process that takes time. Keep discovering and learning every day. Becoming a leader is a process, one has to build a community they can learn from, also lead and leave a positive impact on. I have learnt to walk in wisdom and be more discerning, I have learnt to have boundaries and while disrupting the PR industry, I have previously worked through naivety, which is the major challenge women go through but grown out of it. For one to keep growing, one has to communicate their vision while bringing others onboard.
Alaba: Could you share some of your accomplishments so far?
Mary: I have worked with more than 100 organizations, including SMEs/SMBs in Africa, African artists, etc. I have also mentored entrepreneurs across Africa through “A Billion Startups, a free mentorship programme that educates entrepreneurs about brand visibility and sustainable development. I have spearheaded the conversation of the future of finance in Africa through the annual ADFS summit “The Africa Digital Finance Summit”, which is held in conjunction with governments, regulators, start-ups, and thought leaders from around the world in the digital finance and decentralized finance industries. I have won several awards locally and internationally.
Alaba: How has Glass House PR impacted society?
Mary: I came up with a billion startups, we are yet to grow it to where it’s supposed to be. It is a platform where we have been mentoring entrepreneurs and we hope to do more across the world. Glass house PR intends to help these startups tell their stories, get their market share and learn how to position their brands to their audiences. We have also spearheaded certain conversations in the society like the “The future of finance in Africa” through African Digital finance summit; to redefine value exchange in Africa, inviting governments, regulators, stakeholders and private sectors to discuss this.
Alaba: What’s next for Glass house?
Mary: We are getting into a lot of content production and content marketing. We hope to be part of the people who will shape the future of media and how the future of decentralized media will look like.
Alaba: What is your source of inspiration?
Mary: I draw my inspirations from God, I have learnt from him over the years through practice. Everything I do, people or companies I bring on board, things I walk away from, I seek God’s guidance. Any mistake in the past has become a lesson that I have learnt from as a leader.
Alaba: Any advice to someone who wants to venture into PR and entrepreneurship ?
Mary: Pursuing a career in PR can be a rewarding and exciting career choice for those interested in telling authentic brand stories.
Deraya entrepreneurship initiative to boost job creation in Libya
Young entrepreneurs in Libya face many challenges, including accessing markets and financial resources, and navigating regulations and administrative procedures. The Deraya initiative is designed to equip entrepreneurs with the essential know-how to turn innovative ideas into successful startups. The initiative was jointly developed by the Ministry of Local Government (MoLG), and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with the European Union (EU) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Targeting youth and vulnerable groups, Deraya is open to innovative and aspiring entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 35. Through interactive webinars, the initiative’s participants will be given an opportunity to engage with experienced entrepreneurs, subject matter experts, and role models from Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia and learn from their success stories, wealth of knowledge, and expertise. The initiative will also entail startup weekends in Tripoli, Benghazi, Sebha, and Derna, culminating with a pitch competition where the winning startups will receive financial support, financed by EU and AfDB, to further develop, grow, and take their business ideas to the next level. As a critical step towards sustainability, entrepreneurs will be linked to the municipal business incubators being set up with MoLG with UNDP’s technical support.
Commenting on the launch of the programme, Dr. Bader Al-Deen Al-Tomi, Minister of Local Government, said: “The Deraya initiative plays a pivotal role in the Ministry of Local Government’s strategy to develop entrepreneurship and micro-enterprises at the local level, empower municipalities economically, and provide job opportunities in line with Law 592 and Resolution 15003. We are delighted to work towards these goals in cooperation with our international partners, EU, AfDB and UNDP.”
EU Ambassador Mr. José Sabadell added: “Libya’s economic prosperity will be driven by young entrepreneurs with innovative, forward-looking ideas. They will be the key to a more diversified Libyan economy, a strong private sector and new jobs. Together with our Libya and international partners, the European Union therefore seeks to offer strong and concrete support to young Libyan entrepreneurs, to realise their business ideas.”
Mr Mohamed El Azizi, Regional Director for North Africa at the African Development Bank, further commented: “Private sector development is key to boosting economic diversification and job creation in Libya. Supporting the trajectory of young Libyan men and women to develop and grow their start-ups has enormous socio-economic potential and will contribute to job creation. It is also important to ensure an adequate business enabling environment and institutional support. The EEYES project, financed by the AfDB through the Youth Entrepreneurship and Innovation Multidonor Trust Fund, and implemented by UNDP, supports these components.”
UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Marc-André Franche, said: “Libya has a new generation of young people, women and men, with promising capacity and big ambitions. The country has the potential to be one of the biggest entrepreneurial ecosystems in North Africa, and through the Deraya programme, UNDP seeks to help inspire and provide young entrepreneurs with the necessary resources and assets to realise growth and innovation.”
The Deraya programme is part of UNDP’s Local Peacebuilding and Resilience efforts in partnership with MoLG, aimed at creating socio-economic opportunities for youth and vulnerable groups to promote sustainable growth in Libya, including the establishment of the first Municipality-led business incubator and the TEC+ Accelerator programme.
The Deraya initiative, co-funded by AfDB and EU, is designed and implemented in collaboration with a consortium consisting of Flat6Labs, Tatweer Research and MAZAM, bringing in years of experience and specialized knowledge in helping young entrepreneurs launch successful ventures in both the Middle East & Africa regions.
Senegalese Agripreneur says digital marketing key to luxury tea startup success
Senegalese businesswoman Adja Sembene Fall said she had no choice but to launch her start-up business online because her new Contanna fair-trade tea company only had $200 to its name.
“Due to lack of finance, it was not possible to get a physical shop. We started out in the backyard of my brother’s house. We sold our teas via social media for three years,” said Fall. She says her line of luxury brand tea products is about more than taste. Fall says Contanna teas sell a “Senegalese experience” that promotes a women-owned, 100% locally sourced and processed product based on recipes infusing family and cultural traditions.
“Digitizing our buying process was really important. We were also able to present and adjust packaging of our product online, [to emphasize] it was premium and different from what was available in Senegal,” the 29-year-old added.
Contanna says its first year of operations, a focus on Instagram and its website drew $5,000 in online sales. As the online business grew, Fall said, Contanna hit $12,000 in sales and established a community of around 2,000 clients.
Contanna recently opened a pop-up stall at Dakar’s Sea Plaza shopping mall. In January, it was named a winner of the African Development Bank’s AgriPitch Competition, which supports African youth agripreneurs by improving their business bankability and ensuring that they are “pitch ready” for potential investors.
The 2022 AgriPitch competition, which started last October, received nearly 750 complete entries from entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector – or “agripreneurs” – from 38 African countries. The judging panel comprised women- led enterprise support advisory firm, Private Equity Support; the Private Financing Advisory Network, a global network of climate and clean energy financing experts; and EldoHub, an education, innovation, and technology organization targeting youth and women.
The competition, which this year awarded $140,000 in prizes, is a key activity of the Bank’s ENABLE Youth Program.
“African youth have great ideas. It was exciting to see the high level of innovation and passion from these young agripreneurs, particularly the large number of women-owned enterprises like Contanna,” said Edson Mpyisi, the Bank’s Chief Financial Economist and ENABLE Youth Coordinator.
AgriPitch organizers selected 25 semi-finalists, 68% of them women-owned or led businesses, to attend a two-week business development virtual boot camp. The boot camp culminated in a pitch session to judges, who chose 9 agripreneurs to advance to the finals.
“I was pitching in front of my shop – where customers were passing by. They were so encouraging when they discovered that [my business] is a 100% Senegalese company and especially that the founder was a woman,” said Fall. She received $25,000 as the winner in the AgriPitch competition women-owned business category.
Fall says she’ll use part of the prize money to upgrade a digital payment system and for computers and digital skills training for Contanna employees, all women.
“We don’t eschew hiring men. The women were first to apply and were qualified. They currently log their work production and stock building in paper books. We are training them to build capacity to use Google Sheets [and other digital software],” Fall said.
Contanna and the two-dozen other competition finalists will retain access to the AgriPitch “deal room” to avail of post-competition digital expertise, business development, and investor engagement.
“We look forward to working closely with the entrepreneurs in the coming months through individual business advisory support and investor engagement in the deal room,” said Diana Gichaga, Managing Partner at Private Equity Support.
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