Eyitayo Ogunmola is the CEO of Utiva, a leading tech education startup in sub-saharan Africa and a technology education entrepreneur with more than 9 years experience in Product management, international development And technology leadership. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, He talked about his entrepreneurship journey, the Utiva brand and how they are helping people transition into roles in the technology industry in Nigeria and Africa. Excerpts.
Alaba: Tell us about Utiva and the role you play?
Eyitayo: Well, Utiva is a one-stop-shop for everything technology education. What we do is help Africans learn premium technology skills and then create paths to helping people transition into roles in the technology industry. If you think about this inform of a mission, I’d say that ours is to help Africans participate in the digital economy and benefit from the value that
digitalization gives to us as a continent.
One of the ways to think about this is to think about the population of the African youths.
According to research, by 2030 Africa will have one of the largest populations of young people that are ready to work in the job market, about 600,000,000 of them. And what we do at Utiva is to lower the barrier to entry and learning for so many young Africans that want to acquire technical skills. And also help them access new jobs.
Within 2 years, we have developed learning programs in some very specific areas of digital skill training. From Product Management to Product design to Data Analytics to Artificial intelligence to Digital Marketing. Our focus is to make the learning programs so interesting and attractive for people to participate. That is pretty much what we do at Utiva.
Now talking about my own role, I am the Chief Executive Officer, so what I do is to lead the team, lead the practice, and to champion the organization’s policy the way the organization is structured. So I typically will report to the board, I am the person that pursues the investors, also the one cheer leading and helping the stakeholders to get attracted to the brand Utiva.
Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
Eyitayo: Now the interesting thing about Utiva is that we bootstrapped from the very beginning. We didn’t raise a dime. I pretty much used my own personal savings to run Utiva from day one. And as a social enterprise, I will say that we have benefited so much from impact investing or social impact financing in the form of grants to subsidise our training.
So Utiva has been a bootstrapper from the beginning, we so much believe in bootstrapping to a point before we start using other people’s money to run the organization.
Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?
Eyitayo: Well in terms of competition, I will say that we pretty much do not always see ourselves as competitors in the education space, we love to see ourselves as complementors. But there are other amazing companies and organizations that are playing in our space. There are organizations that are niched and are focused on different areas of technology education training, so I may not be able to mention names here but I will say that there are great organizations that are focused on training in programs. There are organizations that do not do training, they just connect people to the job market, there are organizations that are focused on digital skills training, some are focused on providing internships to people that have been trained.
So what we do which is like the competitive advantage that we have is that we are a one-stop shop for everything technology skill training. From Data to Product to Design to Digital Marketing to Growth Hacking to Artificial Intelligence and this is a value proposition that makes our students get very attracted to Utiva. Because they trust us and the trust is pretty much built around the fact that we have built several digital schools and they know that yes we really know what we are doing.
In terms of the way we also overcome the competition, we built Utiva to be very affordable. We lower the barrier to entry for Africans and we do not believe that you need to break the bank to learn a technology skill and that is one of the areas of the competitive advantages that we have. Another one for us is the post-training values that we offer our students.
We have built 3 different models around our post training value. One is the virtual internship. What this means is that at the end of every training program, you have the opportunity to work on multiple projects in the form of virtual internship. The second one is access to job opportunities. Our students gain access to different job opportunities because we have a large network of employers that are hiring through us. And the third one which I consider to be an awesome value is the fact that we are lowering the barrier to entry for those that really need help, speaking of people with disability. We actually just launched a training program that gives 500 people with disability an opportunity to learn digital skills.
These are some of the many values that we offer that makes people want to be a part of our learning program.
Alaba: How does your organization measure it’s the impact?
Eyitayo: So, there are three major ways of measuring impact for us and we are quite very intentional about the way we measure impact. So think about it this way, we measure impact, first by measuring how we are helping you as a student close the knowledge gap. So from the beginning, we want to know what you know, then at the end of the learning program we want to know what you know. So we see the knowledge gap and how we have been able to close it.
The second way we are measuring impact is how you have been able to take the knowledge from the class to practice and we do that within the 3 months virtual internship, we look at how our students have been studying using multiple analytical strategy to evaluate how our students are working on multiple projects and how they are able to juggle these projects and most importantly how they are able to translate what they have learned from the class environment to the real work environment through that virtual internship.
The third one is what employers are saying about our students, that’s like ultimate value. We currently have a 65% transition rate into new jobs and beyond the transition rate, we also look at how employers are getting satisfied with the quality of talents that are passing through Utiva because it is not enough for you to transition, we also need to know how satisfied these employers are with our students.
So, these are the ways we are measuring impact. How you are transitioning to new jobs and the values that employers are getting from the quality of students that pass through our programs.
Alaba: What is the future for Utiva and what steps are you taking in achieving them?
Eyitayo: I am going to be very brief about the future for Utiva because for us at Utiva, we are still in the execution phase. Our focus today is to deliver quality training for our students. But the future of Utiva is to help other educators become successful. The education space is an amazing space to play in and one of the things that we are doing is that we are helping every other educator to become successful in the future.
Beyond being a company that offers quality training, and helping young Africans transition into new jobs, we also want to help other educators to become better so that we can scale the value for Africans, I mean we can’t do it all, how do we even train 600,000,000 young people alone? So we want to replicate ourselves in other educators. That is the future for us.
Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of the educational sector in Nigeria and Africa?
Eyitayo: Yes, yes! So let me explain a little bit about that. Our contribution is to replicate ourselves, so the way we think about this is that we want to be successful, we want to build successful models, we want to build a successful learning approach. We want to be successful and we want to help other educators to be successful. We want to help other educators to learn the right andragogy and the right pedagogy to become successful.
For us at Utiva, success is built around how much we are helping other educators in the educational sector to become successful. It is in view of this that we launched a mini project which is like a startup incubator for educators. And right now we have about 10 of them that we are coaching and mentoring and helping to access funding abroad just to scale success and that is the way we are thinking about that.
Alaba: How is the government policy supporting startups and entrepreneurs in Nigeria?
Eyitayo: I would say that there are two ways to think about this right, there are so many government policies out there that are structured around providing support to lots of entrepreneurs in Africa, so I will give you an instance, the creative industry loan. The creative industry loan was a CBN initiative that was built to support Nigerian startups. Let me give you another example, the Vice President launched multiple projects to attract investors and also to make the entrepreneurial ecosystem quite very attractive.
However, the policy is not the challenge, what the real challenge is the access. Because most of these policies that the government put in place are there and also the programmatic intervention that the government put in place are there. Where the problem lies is that most African or most Nigerian entrepreneurs do not have the capacity to access some of these opportunities. You know the CBN interest rate policy supports startups, supports entrepreneurs. They are there, but Nigerian entrepreneurs need to be supported in such a way that when these policies are enacted, the barriers to benefiting from these policies are lowered so that we can access them.
Also, the government needs to create an opportunity to talk to entrepreneurs. Beyond just creating policies here and there, the government needs t o talk to entrepreneurs every time. The more you talk to entrepreneurs, the more you are able to understand what works for them and create structures that can really support them.
Alaba: What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?
Eyitayo: The Advice I would give is to start. Start fast and learn fast. I mean you cannot over-prepare for entrepreneurship in Nigeria because it is a totally different ball game. But start and learn very fast. That is the advice I will give, and I would say that think more global, build a more global product. It’s ok to build products for a Nigerian market, but build a global product so that you can benefit from the global dynamics.
Alaba: How does it feel to be an African entrepreneur?
Eyitayo: I think it’s a mixed feeling. Sometimes you are excited because of the opportunity, because of the market, because there are problems and where there are problems there are opportunities
and that is exciting. Then another one is like as an African entrepreneur, you are fighting too many unnecessary battles. We can really build a successful or a super successful African entrepreneurship ecosystem or build a super successful business landscape for the African market if African entrepreneurs do not always have to fight unnecessary battles.
Like you fight battles with electricity, you fight battles with bad roads, you fight battles with bad employees, taxation. You are fighting multiple battles that the government is supposed to fight for you so that you can focus on your core which is building business.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Eyitayo: I travel a lot. Although COVID-19 has really taken that opportunity away from me, because travelling is my thing. Then I read a lot of books around internal navigation, around leadership. That’s one of the things I have been studying so much. Beyond just the motivational leadership books, I read some core books around internal navigation. So one of the areas of books that I have been exposing myself to is biography. I have been reading the biography of some super successful entrepreneurs and I will recommend that other entrepreneurs also start to study biographies of other super successful entrepreneurs. Thank you!
P R O F I L E
Eyitayo Ogunmola is a Technology Education Entrepreneur with more than 9 years experience in Product management, international development and technology leadership. He has lived and worked in 4 countries and also led at the VP level of a consulting company.
Eyitayo founded Utiva, a leading technology Education company in Sub-Saharan Africa that helps Africans learn tech skills relevant for the future of work. Prior to Utiva, He worked in the International development sector, working on USAID funded tech projects. And also founded PM Hub, a boutique for product development.
He holds a Masters degree in business strategy, leadership and change from Heriot-Watt University. He is a MIT Solve Entrepreneur, 2020 Facebook Accelerator Leader, Halcyon Incubator Fellow, Global Good Funds Fellow; Chevening Scholar, Atlas Corps Fellow, 2019 Unleash Talent.
In 2019, Eyitayo was nominated for Future Awards Africa 2019 under the Education category and most recently is his nomination for the Tech Times Africa Awards under the CEO category.
Zoe Adjonyoh, the Ghanaian Irish Chef, Writer and Activist revolutionizing African Cuisine
Zoe Adjonyoh, Founder at Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen (Source: Zoe Adjonyoh)
Zoe Adjonyoh is on a mission to bring African food to the masses. Born to a Ghanaian father and Irish mother, the writer and chef from South-East London deepened her understanding of West African cuisine after a trip to visit her extended family in Ghana. Described by the Observer as “the standard bearer for West African food” and named by Nigel Slater as ‘one to watch’ bringing immigrant food to Britain. She was named one of “London’s hottest chefs” by Time Out and most recently has been included as one of ‘The 44 Best Female Chefs in the World’ by Hachette Cuisine France. She became a judge at “The Great Taste Awards” in 2016, which is known as the “Oscars” of the food industry, and in 2018, she won the Iconoclast award at The James Beard Foundation.
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
Zoe began by selling Ghanaian food outside her front door during the 2010 Hackney Wicked Arts Festival to ‘make a bit of pocket money’ after returning from traveling across The United States. After the popularity of the stall she set up selling peanut stew outside her front door, Zoe went on the host many supper clubs in her home consistently selling out.
Zoe has been making waves in the international food scene ever since. Zoe has taken her fresh interpretation of classic Ghanaian flavours to pop-up venues across London, Berlin, Accra, Russia and New York, and is a leader in the new African cuisine revolution. Along with her world-renowned supper clubs, Zoe launched her first fixed restaurant space in 2015, at shipping container community project Pop Brixton.
In 2017, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen became a roving private dining, street food, wedding and events company, which Zoe ran alongside her chef residencies. The brand is a prominent force in the festival community around the UK, including Camp Bestival as part of The Feast Collective, and came runner-up as ‘Best Street Food Trader’ at the UK Festival Awards 2017.
Revolutionizing West African Food
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the first modern West African Restaurant in the United Kingdom. Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the epitome of social, relaxed and affordable dining – where guests gather to enjoy Ghanaian favourites, notable for their heartiness and spice, alongside Zoe’s contemporary West African creations.
In 2014, Zoe began writing her debut cookbook titled ‘Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen’ and was released in 2017 by
Octopus Books. The first modern West African Cookbook to be published in the United Kingdom. Due to its demand the publishers decided to re-release of the cookbook in November 2020 and is the process of working on her second book.
Visit Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
Coco Olakunle, the Nigerian Dutch photographer passionate about humanity, inclusion and diversity
Coco Olakunle is a Nigerian Dutch photographer with a background in Human Geography based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Her cultures and lived experience are constant sources of inspiration. This produces a photography style that can be seen as a crossover between documentary and fashion, where she always try to highlight the importance of the subject’s identity and background. During her work time, she likes to create a space where the subject feels comfortable and at ease being themselves and letting their personality show. Coco finds that when the subjects in her work feels comfortable, it is felt in the overall process and in the end product.
Her work revolves around people and the personalities they embody: Coco uses her camera as a way to engage with humanity and peacefully open the doors of full spectrum inclusivity and representation. She’s constantly creating spaces for her subjects to express themselves and discover who they are. The subject is always the starting point but what you see in the image is actually a snapshot of her vision: how I want to see us.
“For most of us, 2020 was a tough year. At the beginning of the year, all my jobs were cancelled. Being in lockdown and not being able to work forced me to rethink my skill set. I wasn’t able to practice photography though photoshoots, but I was able to share my experience as a freelance photographer with others. During that time, I got the opportunity to be in front of the classroom multiple times at various art academies, including one I had been previously rejected from as an applicant. To me, this proves that there are different tracks and ways to achieve your goals. Talking to the next generation of visual artists about my work and the philosophy behind it was a new experience for me. It was refreshing to bring other perspectives to the table, especially not coming from an art academy myself. I feel a great responsibility bringing new perspectives into these institutions and guiding students in finding their visual identity and translating it into their creative work.” Coco said.
One of my absolute highlights from 2020 was shooting the cover of ELLE magazine’s September issue. This was super exciting because I got to focus more on the fashion side of photography, and it was such an honor to have my work on the cover of such a big magazine. I look forward to doing more work in the field of fashion, where I can bring my photography style and cultural background to the table. I am constantly inspired by so many great African photographers, some of which are Nigerian, which makes me even more proud. Seeing all the creative work that comes from the continent inspires me from a distance, and even more when I am there.
Coco aim to get back to Lagos, as soon as possible. She said, “Creating in the motherland is very personal for me because it’s a way for me to connect with and learn more about my culture and my people on a deeper level. Being on Nigerian soil gives me a different type of creativity and inspiration from within and I love working with my people when I am there. My camera is like a passport that gives her access to new people and stories which I love bringing back with me and sharing.”
One of her personal projects is a documentary fashion series about her family in Lagos, which she sees as a personal exploration of her Nigerian culture and an exciting challenge. The idea for this project stems from when she was young. “I dream about Nigeria a lot and created my own image of how it would look in my head, and how my family would be. This visualization is my starting point for this series, blending my own vision with what I see when I am there. This project is a way for me to connect with my heritage and discover more about Nigerian culture, and, through that, myself.” Coco said.
In terms of personal development, she hopes to explore different sides of photography she is less familiar with. Coco is excited to master the physics of lighting, because she believes light is how you paint a picture. She loves learning new things in general, making the entire process to be a fun one.
“The past year brought me a lot of new opportunities and new perspectives which I am grateful for, and hope to take with me further into the next years. For the new year, my focus will be on sharing and creating supportive environments where other photographers can connect with and uplift each other.” She said.
A few weeks ago, Coco organized a ‘Creative Catch Up’ for a small group of creatives to reflect on the past year and share ideas for the next year. With good food, music and a table filled with (photography) books this get together turned into a supportive environment where they shared project ideas, thoughts and insecurities. Something she thinks they as freelancers should do more often.
Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Entrepreneurship Programme Application Opens
The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), Africa’s leading philanthropy dedicated to empowering African entrepreneurs, opens applications on its TEFConnect digital platform (www.tefconnect.com) today, January 1, 2021.
This year’s intervention prioritises the economic recovery of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) and young African entrepreneurs, following the Covid-19 disruption to economic activities.
To address the unique challenges arising from the pandemic, lift millions out of poverty and create sustainable employment across the continent, the Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Programme will empower 1,000 young African entrepreneurs, selected from the 2020 cohort. The Foundation will also open applications to an additional 2,400 young entrepreneurs in 2021, in collaboration with global partners.
The Tony Elumelu Foundation, which celebrated ten years of impact in 2020, is empowering a new generation of African entrepreneurs, through the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme. Successful applicants receive a world-class business training, mentorship, non-refundable seed capital up to $5,000, and global networking opportunities. The Programme is open to entrepreneurs across Africa, both new start-ups and existing young businesses, operating in any sector.
CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu stated, “The Tony Elumelu Foundation now more than ever is demonstrating our commitment to unleashing the potential of young African entrepreneurs, the key to Africa’s long-term economic transformation. The pandemic has created challenges across the continent, but we know that with the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s tried and tested Programme, we can execute the largest Covid-19 economic recovery plan for African SMEs and break the cycle of poverty in Africa.”
The Tony Elumelu Foundation’s $100million Entrepreneurship Programme, launched in 2015 to empower 10,000 entrepreneurs over 10 years, is now entering its 7th year and has empowered to date, over 9,000 young African entrepreneurs from 54 African countries.
Prospective applicants should apply on the digital networking hub for African entrepreneurs, www.tefconnect.com
Source: The Tony Elumelu Foundation