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The Story of Nigenius and why teachers love it – Kelechi Uchenna

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Nigenius Founder, Kelechi Uchenna

Nigenius is a smart website that works with teachers, parents and educators to quickly generate well researched, vetted lesson plans and quality teaching resources. Kelechi Uchenna, the Founder and Application Manager of Nigenius, shared with Business Africa Online the story of Nigenius, this is how it began, and where they are now.

 

How it started:

So, in 2015, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, while waiting on an employment offer which wasn’t forthcoming, I decided that I needed to start a business, solve a problem, and get paid for it. So, I started my first legally registered company called Innovative Digital Learning. Having been good at creating presentations and having been taught extensively with technology during my masters in Cyprus. I noticed a gap in the schools in around me, and that was the fact that schools were not harnessing the power of technology in the classroom. Innovative digital learning was created to train teachers with technology in the classroom to improve student performance and learning outcomes. We started with my neighbours’ primary school, and by 2017 we had trained over 6 private schools in Port Harcourt, with over 300 teachers in teaching with technology in the classroom.

In June 2017, I moved to Lagos and our first training for a school was at Lekki Phase 1. Two important moments, led to the idea of Nigenius. During the 5-day training program for the school, an admin asked me a question and said “Mr Kelechi, what will you be leaving with us after this training? We want more than just the training, we want content, we want resources”. In that same year, Innovative Digital Learning got selected among the Top 50 startups in the BET 7 program sponsored by Diamond Bank (now Access Bank) in partnership with the Enterprise Development Center of the Lagos Business School. During the programme, a fellow female entrepreneur in the programme asked me a very important question, and she said “ Kelechi, how can you prove that you have impacted these teachers, how can you prove that you have transformed the way these teachers teach”.

The Motive:

With those questions bothering my mind, and the resolve to build a solution, I set out on a journey to find out from the teachers if the training had impacted them. We visited all the schools, and we found out that only 2 out of every 10 teachers had actually applied what they learned in the training and actually taught with technology in the classroom. We wanted to find out their reasons for the low adoption and they listed their challenges. Two major problems stood out amongst all the others, the teachers were overworked because they spent so much time creating their lesson plans, and also some lacked the knowledge on how to access these teaching resources online even after they had been taught in the training.

The Idea:

Sitting on a couch one evening, I had a eureka moment, and decided to build a smart digital assistant for teachers. An application to work with teachers, reduce their workloads, and give them access to online teaching resources. We knew that to reduce the workload of the teachers, we had to remove something that took a lot of their time and effort, i.e., lesson plans, and as for the teaching resources. What better way to give them teaching resources if not to give them the resources based on the four components of Innovative Digital Learning of which some of them had been trained. At that point, we called it the “Innovative Digital Assistant for teachers” IDAT. A few days later, in the shower, the name “Nigenius” struck me, build something that can help Nigerian teachers create geniuses. This was the ending of 2017, Nigenius was born.

The Bumpy road:

At the beginning of 2018, I was lucky to have come across some money from family, which I was going to use to invest in my future. We started building Nigenius in January 2018. A friend of mine introduced me to Samson Odele, a web developer, as a contractor at the time, who would go on to later become a co-founder. I pitched the idea to him and we went to work. Building Nigenius involved two things, the application, and the teaching content. We launched Nigenius as a mobile app on the Google store on the 1st of October 2018, Independence Day. Though it had just a few lesson plans, but we launched nonetheless. We started getting downloads, users were growing, but we still needed to get more content in because we believed that only with enough content, we could get people to actually pay for subscriptions.

The Pilot:

After launching in October 2018 as a mobile app, it took us 10 months after to generate enough content to be able to hit the market and offer value to teachers and schools. We were able to fund our content generation and uploads from another of my businesses. We worked with graduate interns, trained them, and set them to work on a pay as you deliver model, that way we were able to get value for the money invested. Our lesson plans and teaching resources were also sent to schools for subject teachers to vet and approve before we upload on our database. One of the biggest challenges in building Nigenius was being able to create a lesson plan which could be easily used and understood by a cross section of both private and public schools.

Before we hit the market, a mentor advised that we do a free pilot with schools as a means of getting feedback on our solution, and to understand our customers experience first, before jumping into the market. At this point, luckily, we had been selected into the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship 2019 session.

The Take-off and experience:

During the pilot, we collected the feedback data from the teachers and analysed it carefully, some of it was negative and some it was positive. Some of the negative feedback was that most teachers wanted Nigenius on their laptops which was where they went to create their lesson plans and to look for teaching resources, not on their mobile phones. We also discovered a need to make our search algorithms smarter because teachers were searching for content, which we had on our database but they weren’t getting results. Armed with the $5000 dollars from Tony Elumelu, we set out to build the new Nigenius Version 2, which would be on a website, no longer a mobile app, accessible to any one on any device. The new version went live in August 2020. We also added a feature to our admin end that helped us see the searches and the download that our users were carrying out on the website.

The new Nigenius ran on single and multi-user subscriptions. We offered users a free one-week trial, after which they would have to subscribe. However, 6 months after launch of V2, we didn’t have a single subscription payment. We discovered lesson plans and teaching resources were valuable to our users, but they weren’t enough pain point for our users to pay for. So, we decided to pivot our model. We made Nigenius free to use and launched the Nigenius Home tutor service. We already had over 500 teachers on our platform as at March 2021. And were going to sign up our teachers as tutors, connect them to parents who were looking for tutors for after school lessons for their kids, charge the parents a monthly fee, pay the tutors and collect a commission.

The Nigenius home tutor service had a unique selling point, we are not just providing highly trained, and qualified tutors, our tutors also leverage online line digital resources from our application to give kids the best learning experience.

We were also lucky to receive an investment from Aidi ventures as we joined their group of portfolio startups. With the investment, and immense expertise and mentorship from Aidi we are now charting a new course as we add amazing new features to our business model.

We are building a vibrant ecosystem of teaching and learning where teachers can access free lesson plans and teaching resources, parents can request highly qualified home tutors from top schools across the country. Teachers can create, and host group online lessons and parents can sign up their kids for these lessons.

 

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African Diaspora: The face behind the only Black woman founded and led ice cream brand in Amsterdam

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African Diaspora, Nekeia Boone is a senior UX and tech manager turned ice cream entrepreneur. Originally from Harlem, NYC, she created her brand, Tudy’s Kitchen in the midst of a burnout, family tragedies, personal health issues and a pandemic. Named after her Grandma Tudy, she dedicate this brand as a legacy to all that she did for others – and in gratitude to all that she’s done for her. Tudy’s Kitchen is a Black woman founded and led ice cream brand based in Amsterdam. Their flavors are a delightful surprise, turning traditions right side up. Sweet and savory is umami heaven in their book – and often the star of the show in their handmade desserts.

Tudy’s Kitchen is using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, while creating business opportunities for underrepresented groups. Particularly womxn and people of color, is at the heart of what they do. As such, Tudy’s Kitchen has a strong bias to collaborate with people who come from these groups. And partner with entities who believe in these values, to help them build their brand.

Achievements

In just a few months, they have taken production literally from her kitchen into Kitchen Republic, a startup space aimed at helping food and drink entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. 

Currently, Tudy’s Kitchen is sold at Sterk Amsterdam, a speciality shop with a host of unique international products. And coming soon, they hope to kickstart their own webshop, along with having their products available on a variety of delivery apps.

The above have already proven useful in helping them scale up production, gain greater brand awareness, and attach new customers. But limited funding has created several roadblocks in helping them fully realize these efforts.

Goals and timeline

In the first six months of launch, they’ve established two key goals:

  • Create brand identity and establish awareness.
  • Tap into opportunities that allow them to scale.

Their approach to scaling this business leverages the small-step philosophy. They are currently doing this by:

  • Setting small, measurable and achievable goals.
  • Quick roll out of product to the market.
  • Gathering data from customers to validate their efforts.
  • Then iterating, improving and rolling out again.

In taking this approach, they envision success at the end of the six-month period to include, but not limited to:

  • Boosting sales, having reached their target audience via multiple platforms (e.g. food delivery apps, new retail locations, Tudy’s Kitchen webshop).
  • Building their social media following to a minimum of 1000 new followers.
  • Increasing number of mentions in publications (e.g. digital or print), influencer pages (e.g. food bloggers), and/or other marketing mediums, creating an uplift in brand awareness and sales.
  • Expanding the team to include support staff (sous chef, cleaning crew, dedicated delivery service), more creatives (designers, writers, stylists), and operations (financial planning/analysis, logistics, strategists).
  • Generating enough data (e.g. via surveys, product reviews/feedback, etc) to establish goals for the following six-month period.
  • Creating financial stability for the brand to cover operational costs (e.g. rent, equipment, etc) and to pay the many volunteers the money they deserve for helping us get this far.

Let’s keep that momentum going strong and help them African Diaspora bring it home! Support her

 

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Margaret Adekunle, Founder of the first Black owned Canadian company with a branded secured credit card

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Margaret Adekunle is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of City Lending Centers, a credit building solution company. She has worked in the banking industry for 20 years, and her passion for progress and dedication to her community has been universally praised by Friends and Colleagues alike. Margaret has seen the struggles immigrants face and experienced them firsthand. Driving her forward to take action and uplift her community, so that nobody will have to endure their struggles alone. She founded Immigrants Inclusive Credit to tackle the complex struggles with systemic racism and financial insecurities that immigrants are forced to adapt to as they integrate into the Alberta ecosystem.

A Diversity and Inclusion Strategist and the Founder of ATB Black team members Network. The network that advance the Inclusion of Black team members by providing development opportunities and creating diverse talents throughout the organization. Her vision is to create a pathway to leadership for all underrepresented groups.

Margaret Adekunle is committed to bringing Inclusion, Diversity, Human Right and a Sense of belonging to the forefront through education and community initiatives. Teaching and mentoring new immigrants on how to adapt to the Canadian workplace culture is a cause that has been fulfilling for her.

About City Lending Centers (CLC)

City Lending Centers (CLC) is a custom credit building solutions that help you take control of your finances. And helps you get a good credit score, and a high score means better loan terms and lower interest rates on lending facilities such as loans, mortgages, and lines of credit. CLC helps build new credit, improve existing credit scores and fix damaged credit.

With over 21 years of experience helping customers rebuild damaged credit, build new credit, get out of debt, and save more. A company of former bankers with branch management experience and equipped to advise on all areas of money management. They understand how credit scores work, and can help you improve your credit scores faster. Also, they understand that financial strain could impact mental health. Therefore, provide free credit counseling and mental health evaluations through their partners.

They offer a secured credit card that works like any other card that helps build credit. CLC’s secure credit card helps customers create new credit or rebuild damaged credit. The only difference between CLC’s credit card and regular credit card is that clients pay an upfront deposit to secure their credit limit. CLC reports all payments to credit bureaus similar to the bank’s process. Clients are be expected to make their monthly payments promptly.

 

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Shalom Lloyd: Building A Skincare Company on Valuing Healthy, Ethical and Sustainable Living

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Shalom Ijeoma Lloyd is an award-winning, senior business professional, with over 25 year’s experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Shalom is the Founder of Naturally Tribal Skincare, a natural chemical-free skincare company built on valuing healthy, ethical and sustainable living whilst empowering African women. She holds several NED positions on the Milton Keynes Chamber of Commerce and SEMLEP boards. Alaba Ayinuola had an amazing opportunity to ask Shalom a few questions. Time to discover Naturally Tribal.

 

Alaba: Hi Shalom, could you briefly tell us about your journey into entrepreneurship?

Shalom: In 2014, after four cycles of IVF, I gave birth to my twins, Joshua and Amara. My son Joshua was covered in eczema. As a pharmacist I understand the value of medicines in our life, but I tapped into my African roots. After experimenting and mixing in my kitchen, I stumbled across the right formulation. Three days later Joshua’s skin cleared and this was the birth of my company Naturally Tribal Skincare.

With Shea Butter being my main ingredient, this journey led me to build a Shea Butter processing facility in Niger State, Nigeria, where we employ and empower our women. In addition to being a supplier of proudly made in Nigeria Shea Butter, I source my ingredients ethically from there, and then bring them into the UK to manufacture, formulate, test and distribute the finished products.

Today, Naturally Tribal Skincare is stocked in Harrods Beauty. So, if you are looking for quality unrefined Shea butter and great natural skincare products, Naturally Tribal Nigeria is able to supply that.

Naturally Tribal Skincare Products Group Shot

I am also one of the directors of JE Oils, a state of the art Shea processing facility based in Gwagwalada, Abuja!

In 2018 I co-founded another amazing company called Emerging Markets Quality Trials. Although black people represent about 17% of the world’s population, less than 3% of us are involved in clinical trials, so this company, eMQT, focuses on bringing diversity into clinical trials. It gives African patients access to medicines and African healthcare professionals the opportunity to be part of global trials. It also gives pharmaceutical companies access to a great patient population.

So all roads in my entrepreneurial journey seem to lead back to Africa, which makes me proud of my British African heritage.

Alaba: What are your offerings and the problem you are solving?

Shalom: Our offerings and solutions are;

The Nature lover: Our products speak to the nature lover who is passionate about plant-based power. These are the natural skincare lovers, the vegan and cruelty free skincare lover who is passionate about our environment and planet. 

The luxury skincare and beauty lover: We speak to and cater for the results driven and luxury skincare lover who appreciates our use of ingredients with the power to battle wrinkles and tighten the skin naturally.

For skin conditions: With around 900 million people in the world suffering with a skin condition, skin diseases remain a major cause of disability worldwide. We are changing the narrative and will be the leading global natural skincare brand for customers with skin conditions as well as customers who want to maintain their skin as nature intended. From consumers with skin conditions to those undergoing medical interventions that will impact the skin.

Alaba: What is your main product and its pivot story from founding to the current state?

Shalom: YARA Body Food is the product that started Naturally Tribal Skincare so I guess you can call this our ‘hero’ product. YARA is special because it worked for my baby and gave me the confidence to start the company. Hence, the name YARA which in Hausa means children. It depicts love, care, protection; making it amazing for the most sensitive skin. Made with high quality unrefined Shea butter, our YARA is packed with natural goodness. It annoys me when we sometimes turn our noses at the scent of the liquid gold that is Shea Butter not realising the jewel we have.

Alaba: How have you attracted users and grown your company from the start?

Shalom: When customers see us, they can see themselves as part of our journey because it’s not about the glitz and glamour but more about the substance. The value one brings to the table and the impact we have on skin, on our planet and on people’s lives.

Hard work, tenacity, resilience; these are not just words! We have a long way to go but having the right people with the right mindset and who share my passion has helped the company grow. When you do something that solves a problem, impacts lives, and have fun in the process, that is a winning formula. On the business side, understanding my numbers (which does not come naturally). Defining my supply chain and knowing one’s position in a crazy, beautiful saturated market helps a lot.

Today, Naturally Tribal Skincare is a proud United Kingdom Department of International Trade Export Champion!

Alaba: What are the challenges and achievements since you launched?

Shalom: Finance was of course the main challenge. I had to remortgage my home to start this business but it has been worth it. Building the factory in Essan required investment and I am honoured to be working with investors who are also colleagues and friends. I wish I had mastered communication and people skills earlier in life. Involving and working with the right people from the start would have saved me a lot of pain. But going through this process throughout my journey has taught me some valuable life lessons.

Shalom and the NTN Essan Team

The greatest achievement is seeing the proud look on my husband and children’s faces. That feeling that the sacrifice has been worth it. 2021 is the year our products launched in Harrods and that is such a big deal for me and my amazing team. We are exporting more, and have been able to complete the formulation of our facial and hair care products.

Alaba: Why are you so passionate about Nigeria and Africa at large?

Shalom: Naturally Tribal Shea butter supply chain is an impressive demonstration of my love and passion for Africa. It has been a journey of ‘Ethical Sourcing and Empowerment’ Pillar. The Shea industry supports and provides income to over 16 million women across the African continent.  My research into potential supply sources led us to Niger state, Nigeria and an introduction to the King of Essan. I fell in love with the Kingdom of Essan and today, the Naturally Tribal group has a Shea Processing facility (with creche and worship rooms) that harvests and processes the shea directly in the region, employing about 22 rural women with plans to employ up to 70 in the future.

JE Oils Gwagwalada

Our JE Oils shea processing facility boasts of the fact that all our supervisors are women which is a big deal in Nigeria. Having a facility that produces 400 metric tons of shea butter is no joke! This has created an ecologically sound and sustainable infrastructure, jobs, training and more commercial co-operative opportunities to market and sell shea butter.

Essan Nut Collection

Alaba: Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty and wellness industry?

Shalom: We are more aware of the impact we have on our planet, more aware of consumerism. So the modern beauty industry is on a journey to impact the 120 billion units of unrecyclable plastic we put out annually. Of course, making money is important, we run businesses after all however, It’s not just about making money it’s also about purpose and impact. We no longer look at wellness as a separate topic, we have made beauty, particularly skincare part of one’s holistic wellness – don’t forget that your internal wellness can manifest on your skin.

Alaba: Where do you see yourself and Naturally Tribal in the next 5 years?

Shalom: Our pipeline is exciting, and we are currently working on our facial and hair care products, using innovative and unique ingredients. We are building even stronger relationships with our current stockists. Looking to grow and expand into the Hospitality industry, partner with great luxury SPAs and make great inroads into being stocked in airline duty free luxury goods.

In 5 years time, I see myself, taking a bit of a back seat and overseeing others running my companies. Enjoying the fruits of my labour with my family and friends.

Alaba: Finally, what is your advice to female entrepreneurs in the beauty industry or first-time startup founders?

Shalom: The journey is tough so do something you are passionate about. NEVER let the lack of finance stop you. Align with the right type of people, be genuine, surround yourself with a great team (no one knows it all). Most of all, ENJOY the ride, bumps and all. The beauty industry is so saturated, so be unique. Let your passion shine and come through. Know your numbers and know the value you bring – never sell yourself or your products short. If you are going to do it, do it well and don’t cut corners.

 

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