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Meet Adejoke Tugbiyele: Nigeria’s Charming Visual Art Entrepreneur

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Adejoke Tugbiyele is an interdisciplinary Nigerian artist trained in the United State of America and based in Johannesburg . In 2013, she received her Master of Fine Arts from The Rinehart School of Sculpture at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) under the direction of Maren Hassinger. Since then, her journey in art received continuous blessing from family, former partners, friends and colleagues. Her work continues to transform and evolve and while it hasn’t been an easy road she gets deeper understanding and greater strength to move forward.

In this insightful interview with our Contributor Priscilla Philips, she shares her journey into the world of art, first ever solo exhibition called “WAHALA TEMI – Body Work” amongst others. Excerpts.

 

 

Tell us about yourself and your journey in becoming an Artist.

My journey as an artist built slowly and gradually.  I maintained other employment while making art on the side, after receiving my first degree in architecture from the New Jersey School of Architecture at NJIT (now the College of Art and Design).

In the year 2009, I produced a work entitled AFRIKEA (presented under the artist-name “Wahala Temi”) which featured in the exhibition The Global Africa Project, curated by Lowery Stokes Sims and Dr. Leslie King Hammond, at The Museum of Arts and Design in New York. It also received mention in the show’s New York Times article written by Roberta Smith. Bisi Silva, Director of The Centre for Contemporary Art – CCA Lagos recognized my work in this show and invited me to feature in the all-woman group show “All We Ever Wanted” in 2011.

It was my first time showing in Nigeria and included my work “Moskito Ministry.”  All This recognition combined by leading voices in the field and at a highly reputable institutions both in the US and Nigeria, inspired me towards graduate study in sculpture and to begin building a professional career.

In 2013, I received my Master of Fine Arts from The Rinehart School of Sculpture at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) under the direction of Maren Hassinger. Since then, my journey received continuous blessing from family, former partners, friends and colleagues and I am grateful. The work continues to transform and evolve and while it hasn’t been an easy road there is deeper understanding and greater strength to move forward.

 

Can you share with us your first ever exhibition experience?

My first ever solo exhibition was called “WAHALA TEMI – Body Work” and presented at the Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey – A University show curated by Jeanne Brasile. These works revealed my deep concerns around the practice of female genital mutilation on young African girls. I made several mixed media works on canvas such as “Broken Village” series, “Baby Cut,” “Sewn Shut,” “Type I and IV – Diptych” and “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t,” With the exception of the latter made of African brooms or palm spines, all others incorporated tree branches to bridge ideas around the notion of Mother Earth/Woman’s Body.

The installation entitled “Sacrifice” also improvised and transformed African Brooms into contemporary sculpture. While I am delighted this show touched many hearts and works found their way into distinguished private collections, I am equally proud of the way it helped to heal bonds I share with African women in my own family and beyond. Many who have sacrificed body at the expense of “culture” and “tradition.”

 

What inspires you?

I continue to be inspired by the narratives we carry as blacks or African women. Our shared history of struggle coupled with accomplishments in fields across the spectrum – art, music, dance, literature, sports, business, politics, etc – leaves a lasting legacy for future generations. As a queer black woman I also engage the queer community and currently serve on the board of Women’s Health and Equal Rights Initiative, WHER-Nigeria.

Lastly, I am committed to self-care, progressive family values, strong lasting bonds and being spiritually grounded in one’s faith. As an entrepreneur I am naturally competitive and motivated to succeed with sound advice and guidance. However I define success as a healthy balance of all of the above alongside well-earned financial gain built from a strong work-ethic.

 

What are some of the challenges you face in your industry and what positives do you see from them?

Since the history of Africa is painful and interwoven, and because various entities have on-going debates about the state and future of Africa, it can be difficult to position oneself while maintaining authenticity and, while also learning, growing as a professional artist and as a human being.  This can have a negative effect on sales as buyers learn to build trust and feel secure in the position/direction of the artist. Some positive trends I have noticed is that of allowing individual artist voices to shed greater light through more talks and thoughtful interviews, such as this one. I trust the trend will continue.

 

How are you strategically positioned in the entrepreneurship ecosystem?

My studio practice is currently set up for my operation as a sole proprietor.  This structure is appropriate given the size, scope and functionality of everyday tasks including art production, documentation, media or news dissemination, income and expense tracking (alongside other accounting duties for taxes), studio/space management, supervision, and communications with other artists, curators, my gallery representation, shippers, collectors and general supporters of my work and career.

 

As an Artist, where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

The ideas, concepts, materials and formal language of my work remain constant.  Over the next 5 years I hope to form an LLC, expanding my studio practice physically and structurally. In a new working relationship with Sakhile&Me Art Gallery, I anticipate audiences bearing witness to Museum solo-exhibitions, participation in international art fairs, educational opportunities especially in Africa, retail/commercial product income-generation and social responsibility practices.

I hope to build with my partner and studio manager, Priscilla Philips, a practice that financially supports family while inspiring/empowering the queer community so that we may be shining examples for others to follow.

 

What advice would you give to Artists who want to start a career in Africa entertainment?

I advise artists to hone their unique voice, maintain authenticity even when others doubt, do research and be aware of the happenings within the studio as well as discourse on the periphery, document, keep sound records and lastly, operate with gratitude and humility. At the right time, seek a gallery ready to advise, nurture and support long-term growth through their networks in the industry so that most studio time can be spent making great art!

 

How are you participating to the development of Africa? 

My career contributes to the development of Africa in many ways. I build on the legacy of many pioneers of contemporary African (postmodern) aesthetics developed around the time of independence movements of different African countries, thus adding to post-colonial discourse around identity, cultural authenticity and ownership.

Furthermore, my career challenges old patriarchal beliefs and values around the role or value of black women in Africa and beyond, in relationship to male counterparts. My practice interrogated the negative space/thoughts assigned to LGBT people based on lack of understanding, ultra conservative and religious systems that weave into socio-political landscape – scapegoating those who need help the most.

As a successful artist I hope to shatter false myths while building new narratives on the limitless potential of women and queer voices in Africa and the diaspora.

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Trueflutter – Matchmaking App for singles of African descent: Interview with Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye

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Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye

Trueflutter is a matchmaking app built for single Africans on the continent and in diaspora, in search of committed, fulfilling relationships. An online community of Single Africans in search of something real, make genuine and authentic connections. The App takes you beyond surface appearances with the use of audio bios to hear what a person sounds like and what’s important to them even before you connect. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola speaks with Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye on his experience growing a Matchmaking brand, successes and challenges in Africa. Excerpt.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself, business and the gap it’s filling?

Dare: My name is Dare Olatoye, I’m the co-founder of Trueflutter which is a matchmaking app for Africans on the continent and in diaspora

Alaba: What’s the inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for Trueflutter?

Dare: My sister got married for the first time when she was 47 years old. She met a great guy and they have a beautiful family. The interesting thing is that the person she married lived just 15 minutes away from her and had also been searching for a partner for many years.

Thinking about that, I realized this was a problem that technology could solve, which is why my brother and I set out to build Trueflutter.

Our vision is to provide a platform where single Africans can easily connect with highly compatible partners.

Alaba: What makes your brand USP stand out and how has the market responded to your products?

Dare: The major challenge people have with online dating is that most of the profiles have sparse or superficial information. Our platform helps you get a much deeper insight into a potential match with the use of Audio Bios and responses to carefully thought out prompts.

Alaba: How long has Trueflutter been in business?

Dare: We launched the MVP in September 2018 and had over 15,000 users sign up. That helped us gain valuable user insight which we built into the current version that was launched in January 2021.

Alaba: What are the key initiatives for the success of the business and great accomplishments?

Dare: To us success simply boils down to assembling a great team at Trueflutter and building a great community around the product. This means the most important thing we can do is listen to our users and ensure our product continues to evolve based on their feedback.

Alaba: Kindly share your most difficult moment in business and what did you learn?

Dare: Our founding team has always been very goal driven and when we set targets, we drive ourselves incredibly hard to achieve them. We had set a goal to launch the new platform on January 8th 2021 and had all our promotional partners ready to go.

However we experienced a serious setback in timelines with our development and ideally should have postponed the launch date, but we literally worked 18 hour days to still meet the timeline.

Unfortunately we launched prematurely, with quite a number of bugs on the platform. We have since resolved these but that premature launch meant we lost many of the early adopters of the platform. The major lesson is that it’s okay to release a product that is not yet perfect, with the caveat that users know it is still on beta (just like what Clubhouse did). Public launch dates should only be set when the platform has been stress tested by thousands of users and you know the user experience will be flawless.

Alaba: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Trueflutter’s growth and/or the user experience?

Dare: I think online dating is one of those few industries that thrived because of the pandemic. We saw an 820% spike in activity on our platform and a 270% increase in organic downloads. Our voice and video call features are also now used by more people with duration of calls at an all time high.

Alaba: What’s your favourite feature of the App so far?

Dare: Hands down it’s the Audio Bio feature, which also lets you reply with a voice note to users you like. People don’t actually realize how much your voice says about you, and when they listen to someone’s audio bio, it helps them easily decide whether or not they want to connect.

Alaba: Where do you see your brand in the next 5 years?

Dare: As the primary platform where single Africans on the continent and in diaspora meet.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Dare: I am incredibly proud to see what my peers on the continent are doing. Despite the challenges of funding and infrastructure, we are beating the odds to build incredible products that are solving real problems. And the rest of the world is sitting up to take notice.

Alaba: Finally, what advice would you give entrepreneurs and investors in your industry?

Dare: To entrepreneurs, I would say every challenge is teaching you something. Every investor that walks away from your pitch meeting without investing, does so for a reason and if you find out why, it will make you better prepared for the next pitch.

Every customer that leaves a bad review is communicating a problem that thousands of other users are also experiencing, so you shouldn’t take it personal but embrace the feedback with gratitude.

For investors looking at the online dating space, few people realize how profitable it could be until they start diving into the numbers. But they also need to realize that it’s a long game, and like most consumer tech products, needs to be approached from the perspective of a long term investment. Trueflutter has been very fortunate to attract these kinds of investors.

 

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Prudence Ramotso: The South African entrepreneur who turned her love for shoes into a brand

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Prudence Ramotso, Founder and CEO of PRUDENT (Source: Prudence Ramotso)

Prudence Ramotso is a South African young lady who is passionate about fashion and envisioned a different kind of a brand that cares about customers and offer high quality products services. She decided to follow her dreams by creating the brand PRUDENT. A brand with designs inspired by African names, Prudent Shoes is a South African Shoe Brand established in 2019 and manufactured by one of the best and finest stylish shoe makers in Italy. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Prudence shares her entrepreneurship journey, the gap her brand is filling in the industry and the future. Excerpt.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself and your brand?

Prudence: My name is Prudence Ramotso, I was born and raised in the Vaal (Sebokeng). I love shoes and fashion , I am ambitious and goal driven. I realized there was a gap in the South African female footwear when I was shopping around for shoes back in 2016, my entrepreneurial spirit couldn’t let this to rest. After my research in 2019 PRUDENT shoes was born, we offer what was missing in the market which is good quality shoes at affordable prices and shoes that have characters from the African names that are engraved on the outsoles.

Alaba: What inspired you to go into entrepreneurship and start Prudent?

Prudence: The rate of unemployment in South Africa increases daily and knowing that I have the ability to make a difference and create jobs in the future inspires me everyday. I took my love and passion for shoes and turned it into a brand that fills the gap in the female footwear industry. It started in my bedroom on my cell phone. I left my full time job as a financial advisor for an insurance company and gave birth to PRUDENT shoes in 2019 and I never looked back again.

Alaba: What makes your brand USP stand out and how has the market responded to your products?

Prudence: Our shoes are made of high quality material and attention to details (better workmanship). Our insoles are glued and stitched on, with our unique style names engraved on the outsoles. Like the brand name says PRUDENT, you take prudent steps when walking in our shoes, which means taking careful and calculated steps you think for the future.

The market response is very good, customers are happy with the quality and saying the shoes make them comfortable. Most customers say the shoes speak to them laughing.

Alaba: Any challenges so far since you launched early this year?

Prudence: The challenges we have is reaching a big scale of the market and getting the brand out there.

Alaba: In what way do you think the South African government can support entrepreneurs?

Prudence: Government must encourage localism, encouraging customers to “buy local” is a pillar of regional development strategies. There are products that are not manufactured in South Africa due to lack of suppliers, however they are South African brands and they make us a competitive country. Also, the government should give small businesses a real advantage in procurement policies and the process must be clear, protective and accessible to all small businesses.

Alaba: Where do you see your brand in 5 years?

Prudence: I see my brand growing and being the trusted female footwear brand in South Africa and in 10 year recognized globally. Also, as a brand helping fight the high rate of unemployment.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Prudence: Being an African entrepreneur feels amazing at the same time is hard and exciting. We are 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies as Africa and the ease of doing business in Africa is improving to an extent that a good number of countries including South Africa, Ghana, Mauritius and Tunisia now outperform China, India, Brazil and Russia, we can say our future is bright as AFRICAN entrepreneurs.

Alaba: A little piece of advice to young and budding entrepreneurs out there?

Prudence: Believe in yourself and your dreams, it is true your network is your networth. Be persistent and never give up, start where you are with what you have and go for it. If you can imagine it , you can do it!

 

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Babusi Nyoni, the Zimbabwean Powering Africa’s Digital Health Economy with Sila Health

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Babusi Nyoni is the co-founder and CEO of Sila Health, a global social enterprise that helps people everywhere access healthcare on any mobile device. Sila Health provides last-mile health care access across Africa using chat platforms and machine learning, creating comprehensive datasets to advance regional healthcare. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Babusi shared the Sila Health journey and the vision to provide healthcare access to Africa’s most economically vulnerable. Excerpt.

 

How It Started

I started Sila Health in 2019 as an AI-powered health service after my mother fell ill in the Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo. Complications related to a relatively manageable condition (megaloblastic anemia) had gone misdiagnosed several times in the city’s under-resourced public health institutions, nearly costing her life until she sought private care.

Unfortunately her story is one of many across Africa where doctor-patient ratios are an average 1:5000 and low income levels mean quality healthcare is out of reach for many even as the continent’s internet growth and mobile payment adoption rates continue to outstrip the world. I saw an opportunity to connect millions of uninsured patients to healthcare providers on existing chat apps while helping them manage and find information on easily treatable conditions instantly on our platform just as my mother does.

Today we help thousands of Africans and their governments affordably bridge health gaps at scale and we are connecting the continent’s growing telemedicine industry to its first billion customers.

The Problem

Africa’s digital health infrastructure is not built to scale as millions struggle with accessing basic health and medical care through traditional methods. Currently online health advice is inaccessible to most of the region’s inhabitants as many online health-solutions are data-heavy and are not built with the context of the African user in mind while players in the healthcare ecosystem lack the real-time data insights needed to contain the spread of preventable diseases.

Additionally, Africa’s telemedicine industry is growing at a slower rate than its global counterparts. Many surveyed telemedicine platforms struggle with recruiting quality patients due to the high costs of acquisition. Existing patient management platforms lack the features needed to provide comprehensive and scalable patient aftercare.

The Solution

The Sila Health user-facing product is a chatbot that enables individuals in low income countries with limited access to healthcare and the internet to instantly obtain health advice that can help them significantly improve their health. If the automated interaction proves insufficient a user can make an appointment with a trained healthcare services  provider via phone. Our services require very little internet data, therefore are accessible to our target group and our integrated COVID-19 module that helps people see if they show symptoms of being infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Our chatbot is accessible via Facebook chat, WhatsApp and SMS. These platforms are very popular among our target groups and are accessible on the lowest data plan tiers. By having our product accessible via these platforms the user is able to have access to medical information with very little internet data costs. Other medical chatbots require expensive app-downloads and are generally inaccessible to users with low-incomes. Our product is built for low to middle income households first, and for that reason has gained significant  popularity with a 5/5 star rating and over 50% month over month growth. 

Data Product

Sila Trends, our data product, enables NGOs and governments to obtain real-time data on reported symptoms in the areas they preside over. Where currently health data is hard and expensive to access, our tool enables our clients to: 

  1. Quickly recognize breakouts of infectious diseases, which is crucial for a quick and informed response. 
  2. Follow general health trends real-time to better evaluate health policy. Understand what works and what doesn’t.
  3. Predict the future demand for health equipment and medication by locale.

Telemedicine Product

Lifeline, our data product, helps telemedicine platforms struggling with acquiring quality users by handling the triage process on WhatsApp, Messenger and SMS and referring only high-intent users to partners. Lifeline provides doctors with critical context on a patient’s history including their profile, reported symptoms and triage result. We also provide environmental context on common symptoms in the patient’s location powered by our analytics product, Sila Trends. This saves your practice time and money. Lifeline helps practices across Africa achieve the following

  1. Increase practice revenue by 12% 
  2. Reduce administrative costs by 30% 
  3. Increase quality of care by 5% through improving outcomes.

Prepaid Cover Product

HealthPass is a prepaid product that allows Africans living in the diaspora to pay for and provide world-class healthcare for their loved ones back home. Smarter than medical aid, fulfilled by verified healthcare practitioners, HealthPass members enjoy pharmacy perks, free delivery and more; all from less than the price of a Netflix subscription.

Benefits include: 

  1. Guaranteed medical & dental cover, members can explore a world of benefits with the HealthPass network of verified providers.
  2. A virtual pharmacy wallet that enables sponsors to automatically manage and pay for prescribed medications at no extra cost.
  3. Free country-wide prescription delivery for all members with medicine delivered directly to each doorstep.

B I O G R A P H Y 

Babusi Nyoni is the co-founder and CEO of Sila Health, a global social enterprise that helps people everywhere access healthcare on any mobile device. He uses emerging technology to develop sustainable solutions for communities in the global South. He founded Sila Health after identifying an opportunity for artificial intelligence to fill the institutional voids created by poor healthcare systems in developing economies. Babusi has a strong passion for new ideas that will change the lives of those around him and is a firm believer that African innovation will shape the technological zeitgeist worldwide.

Other Current Responsibilities;

His is an Innovation Consultant to UNHCR (Switzerland); helps drive innovation to assist and protect millions of refugees, returnees, internally displaced and stateless people. Technology Advisory Board Member at Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (UK); He advises the UK-based global foundation on Artificial Intelligence implementation at scale. Technology Advisory Board Member at UNDP Africa Leading the 4th Industrial Revolution Technical Advisory Group(UK); he provides technical advice and guidance for the Africa Leading 4IR portfolio of activities.

 

 

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