Nigeria Summer 2012 Blog

University of Lagos
June 25, 2012 to Aug. 3, 2012

The Last Days

Olateju Abimbola

Sept. 8, 2012

New words

1.  “Gingered”:  jin-jerd ; adjective

Meaning:   To give incentive to, to inspire action

Synonyms: Inspired, Motivated

Example sentence:  The students were gingered after listening to guest lecturers in week 4 & 5

                2. “Famzin”: fuh-mzing; verb

Meaning: to establish friendship, to get acquainted with people who can be helpful to one professionally

Synonyms: Network, Familiarize

Example sentence: Wezam and Olumide were famzin Sim Shagaya to get feedback on Myshopper

Road to Ithaca

Several speakers came in to speak to the students, Fowe, from MoMo’s lecture about trends in the mobile space had a technical twist, I had to pay close attention to follow, but had the programmers in the room who are often quiet asking questions and excited. Zubair and Bayo from Pledge51, young, patriotic and full energy (even though Zubair was fasting) outlined the opportunities they have positioned themselves for and taken advantage of. This served as the perfect case study for what the AITI students could achieve. Bayo graduated from Unilag only few years ago.

Femi from CChub made every student answer the question, “What problem are you solving?” and spoke about the value of social impact innovations.  As always, the class had a good laugh as Team DitaCam tried to explain the value of their cool creation, an app that accesses your phone’s camera, takes a picture of you and then makes a funny sound “hhhuuuuhhh” if the app decides you’re “cute” or “hot” and another sound (they are still working on) if you’re not. Then allows you to upload your results to facebook.  Sorry I got side tracked, was talking about the speakers.

Jobberman co-founder, Deji Adewunmi spoke about how he started a business in his dorm at Obafemi Awolowo University, identified a  unique problem, found a great team to work with, and set aside his degree in Medicine to develop Nigeria’s largest online recruitment platform. He closed by challenging the students to provide a solution that makes JAMB (SAT equivalent in Nigeria) easier to study for. A problem every single student faces in Nigeria.

 Sim Shagaya, HBS and Google Alumni, Serial Entrepreneur, Co-founder of E-Motion, DealDey and Konga  was the first speaker of the CEO Speaker series and definitely made an impression on the students as he explained a founders journey with insights and examples from all his companies and the different emotions an entrepreneur experiences, he described the founders journey as analogous to the poem “Ithaca” ……

“And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you.

With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experience,

 You must surely have understood by then what Ithacas mean”.

In summary, the speakers gingered the students. The following week, the students’ excitement and commitment was almost tangible, there was no pushback when we scheduled a weekend “hackathon” to clean up their apps.

Reality Check: Have you mastered the art of Pitching and “Famzin”?

The same MIT honed “famzin” skills (as my students described it) that got most of the speakers, got us 10 seats at a Fate Foundation event, courtesy the Tony Elumelu Foundation. I selected the most prepared four teams, Omoonile,  Myshopper, HandymanNaija and Graid to get the opportunity to attend a training on “How to Pitch Tech Ventures”,  as well as pitch their ideas, and watch and listen to other tech entrepreneurs pitch too.

The teams all arrived on time, stuffed in Busayo Longes car and I got to see them in business formal for the first time. All ready to pitch, they recanted their memorized pitches flawlessly before we went in.

 The training was facilitated by Nigerian born Palo Alto, CA, venture capitalist, Eghosa Omoigui, Managing partner of Echo VC. There were a ton of entrepreneurs from different startups, the students were happy to run into a familiar face Bayo from pledge 51, but also mingled comfortably with the other Entrepreneurs  and pitched their ideas over and over  again to anyone who cared to listen.  They even made a good famzin shot with the biggest fish in the room, Eghosa.

 I think for the first time, I knew what it felt like to be a proud mother.

The Final Pitch & App Demo

The class looks different and at first glance I think it’s because we have had the very touching last class and said our semi-goodbyes or because after seeing them every weekday I haven’t seen them in 10days,  the extra time  given to the students to fine-tune their pitches and clean up their business plans before the Buisness Plan Contest  or maybe its because thanks to CITS and Prof Uwadia, we got approval to use Lab 001, a more fancy space,….. but its none of that; it’s because the  students are dressed formally, ready for their final pitch looking all gingered.

There are also a bunch of notable guests in the audience, Entrepreneurs from the CChub, and a number of other start-up CEO’s, an angel investor from Boston, a Stanford Business School student ,  friends and family of the AITI  students as well as the judges, Wole Odetayo from Wennovation Hub, Celestine Omin from and Ayodeji Balogun from the Tony Elumelu Foundation.

Mariam, from the Omononile team starts off the team presentations ……  “There are about 40,000 students in University of Lagos and only 4,000 bed spaces provided by the school”. She’s loud and clear about the problem their app solves and the carefully identified niche market, revenue model and growth strategy. I watch as the judges adjust in their seats to give her their full attention.  No wonder the OmoOnile team won the Judges Choice Award.

Tobi, from team Graid, presented their dark green themed slides a subtle reminder of their target market, and explained with screen shots of the app, the features of their alpha product, an app for poultry farmers that allows them to: track then recommend optimal feed and water consumption, serves as a reminder for vaccinations, provides regular tips and a directory of suppliers and vendors (revenue source). The judges were excited about the foresight the team had to go after a market in serious need of innovation and the potential for social impact. Also one of the most diverse teams, no surprise they won the Audience Choice Award

Other team presentations went well as well, the judges didn’t let some teams go off as easy as others.

 Ifeanyi, Team DitaCam started their pitch by asking the audience “who here thinks they are good looking?” this won the audience over. Personally, I was impressed with the picture of the good looking girl on the home page of their app but the judges were only eventually convinced that there is value in exploiting peoples vanity  and that they could make money, (If Instagram could make money, maybe DitaCam can)  after the team answered several questions.

Other apps, developed by the other teams include: PC Repair Toolkit an app that provides a step by step approach to solve basic PC problem and provides a directory of certified PC repairers, Virtual Market a directory for small supermarkets inventory and prices explained their progress with the Unilag market., HandymanNaija (Yelp equivalent) and VOP aka Voice of the People, an app that allows users to comment on feeds of  ongoing programs from different media sources. Members of these teams all presented their business plans, each explaining what problem their app solves and received feedback and answered the judges questions.

We were running past the scheduled end time when Team MyShopper began their presentation, the audience was distracted with the sodas and meatpie going around but Wezam, closed the team presentations with a flawless pitch of their business plan. (Bravo!). This earned them a resounding applause from the Judges and their classmates.

Myshopper has developed an app that will host a directory of grocery inventory and their prices for users to make orders that will be sourced from their patners (reputable supermarkets and grocery stores) and delivered to their customers doorstep. Their pitch included Problem Statement, Product/Solution, Team, Target Market, Entry Strategy (Delivering orders from YemYem Supermarket to Unilag students), Industry Analysis, Growth Plans and their Ask.  Everything they've learned and more. They won the well deserved Best Pitch Award.

Wura from Google, gave very kind closing remarks to officially bring the MIT AITI Business Plan contest to an end.

Special thanks to University of Lagos, the CITS Team, Google Nigeria, all our guest speakers and partners, my fellow instructors, Victor and Bolu and all the AITI Nigeria students  for a successful  program.

Catching the Startup Fever with Sim Shagaya

Dibia Victor

Aug. 21, 2012

In week 5, we had a flurry of speakers with really rich content to keep us all inspired. One of such speakers is Sim Shagaya, a serial entrepreneur and one whom I think closely resembles Derek sivers ( in approach to leadership and entrepreneurship. Sim kindly shared his experiences as an entrepreneur ranging from founding e-motion advertisements (the first digital billboard/advertising company in Nigeria), founding (a successful coupon distribution service for Nigeria similar to groupon) , (ecommerce website) amongst others. I’ll share some of the main highlights from the talk below

  • In business, the timing of a product is as key as the idea itself.  
    In the late 90’s, Sim purchased the online distribution right for a huge collection of Nigerian homevideos, sitcoms etc and made them available for download at After several months and with very few dowloads/views that endeavor failed.  In retrospect, the idea was excellent but the timing was not ideal. Internet penetration back then was fledging and the online information consumption pattern in Nigeria was barely existent. Great entrepreneurs should carefully assess the conditions and ecosystem before investing .
  • Many times, the entrepreneurship road can be lonely but resilience and steadfastness is key.
    Sim shared his experience with setting up the very first digital billboard in Abuja Nigeria, attracting his first paying customer and managing the emotions along the way. There are the entrepreneurs moments – jumping up 3 feet high in joy, talking to God in your shower, managing disappointments. Rollercoaster emotions followed by periods of intense wisdom and learning.
  • The difference between B2B and B2C businesses.
    Sim highlighted how drastic the difference between B2B and B2C businesses affects entrepreneur and thus his preference for B2C business. In B2B (business to business) transactions, you deliver a service, and have to contain possible bureaucratic delays before you get paid. On the contrary, when you deal with consumers directly (B2C), they actually pay before receiving a service. This creates positive working capital and can make the world of difference in determining if you meet you loan repayment plans, pay your staff in a timely manner, suffer foreclosure or bite the tasteless meat of bankruptcy.
  • Leadership as a call to humility.
    Sim  believes (and rightly so)  in leadership as a call to humility. As an entrepreneur, ones primary function is to peddle a dream, and along the way, attract a group of people to join in achieving the dream. At the heart of it, it is really the first group of enthusiastic dedicated followers that make or break a startup/movement. In Sim’s words “How did I get a group of people to run with my dream ? Spending themselves, continuously believing in me ?  This should breed a sense of huimility and sadness. This shouldn’t be arrogance.”
  • Do not innovate for yourself -  the adjacent possible rule.
    Sim stressed the need to create products/solutions that are based on immediate “close” problems rather than far fetched problems. As a Nigerian entrepreneur, your chances of success are higher when you invent solutions for the average Nigerian (students, farmers, workers etc) as opposed to attempting to build a jet engine pack for space travel. :). Your product should also be easily explainable.
  • Empower people as you lead.
    The mark of a good business is how well it progresses after you leave. This is achieved by believing in colleagues, delegating responsibility/decision making to them, giving room for mistakes and providing guidance when needed.
  • Select a co-founder and build a complimentary team.
    A great way to select a co-founder is to assign some responsibility to them at an early stage. Their willingness to contribute and ability to deliver in a timely manner – even when no remuneration has been received or promised marks out dependable co-founders. Along the journey it’s also important to build a team of people who can do what you cannot or are unavailable to do.
  • Do not be afraid to fail.
    Sim shared some of his less famous trysts with entrepreneurship – starting a solar farm, a windmill in jos, a dating site, a job search site, importing refined petrol (disaster) etc - endeavors that didnt workout. Any failure is a learning experience and increases your level of comfort and wisdom in handling risk . Failures can actually be good.

Sim rounded up by encouraging the students to dream big, believe in their dream and exhibit resilience. Lots of questions were asked. I learned alot, and I do believe we all did.

Birthday things .

Incidentally, Sim's lecture was the same day as my birthday and the class took out time after the lecture to extend their warm wishes ! I’m indeed much much much thankful! Below is a picture (courtesy of Busayo) with my little birthday cake .

Ese gan, Ese dada, Adupe ! (thank you in the local language here in lagos - yoruba). 


Week 3 - Everything Android.

Dibia Victor

Aug. 20, 2012

Week 3 has been a bit of a blur, moving very very fast! This is partly because we have actually began some heavy lifting in android – learning all about widgets, activities, services, intents and debugging . In learning about android application development, one of the early challenges is getting a hang of the proper widgets and layout views to employ in crafting your user interface in accordance with your conceptualized wireframes.  Another slippery area is the sleek art of debugging runtime android application errors (basically done by inspecting Logcat and identifying the erring line of code). 

While covering the relevant documentation gives great pointers on the above problems, the real skill is built through practice. Each team have worked hard in building the first screens of their applications on the minimum and some have actually built ALL their screens from their initial wireframes! Congrats guys! Overall, the class has been more vocal with people asking deep and interesting questions that demonstrate their growing understanding of android!  

Working on some student Wireframes

Working with a group to hash out some initial wireframes

The Wennovation Touch

Wole from Wennovation Hub came around this week to enlighten the students on the  innovations in the  Nigerian tech space and more importantly how Wennovation worked with a couple of groups from last year’s AITI Program in refining their products and forming a healthy startup . Wole also took time to listen to each teams ideas, carefully discussing each and providing critical feedback to the teams. Thanks Wole, we are most appreciative of your time!   


IEEE University of Lagos Student Branch Meetup

This week, I was kindly invited by one of the students (Busayo Longe), to speak at their IEEE student professional awareness conference. I was really delighted by this, and immediately accepted. Busayo is the current IEEE University of Lagos Student Branch Chairman, and given that the branch has been inactive for about 4 whole years before Busayo came along, I deeply salute his teams efforts in kickstarting the student branch activities once again! The process of clearly communicating value proposition and generating interest/signups for ones idea is a key test of true leadership. As IEEE Unilag SB executives , Busayo and his team have the daunting task of clearing conveying the intrinsic value of IEEE to students and reasons why they should pay for student membership. This was the main goal of the student conference and the title was “Starting your professional  career with IEEE”. 

Given I was once the Vice Chair of and IEEE student branch during my undergraduate studies, I could relate to both the magnitude of the Busayo’s task, and the struggle to see any perceived value from the students point of view.  Interestingly, a large amount of value obtained from being an IEEE member becomes more evident after graduating from college! In my 15 minute talk (amidst projector glitches), I shared a bit on my background, my experience with IEEE and the different ways it has contributed to my academic and professional career.  With IEEE back then, I had the opportunity of attending national conferences, building my professional network, building skills in leadership, working with a team, presenting my first technical paper, and handling tutorial sessions. Though I did not realize at the time, this was a lot and formed the bedrock of guiding principles I work with today! Active IEEE membership is also a testament of academic/professional passion and I believe it significantly contributed to my successful MSc application and subsequent scholarship. 

At the end of the event, after fielding some questions here and there , about 7 people committed to paying the membership fee and signing up for IEEE. Yay! I am thankful to the IEEE Unilag student branch for having me, and I look forward to seeing them grow and achieve more things.


Thank you Unilag.

At this point I would like to express our deep gratitude to the University of Lagos Administration for all the support we have received thus far. This week, we had a couple of brief setbacks – projector issues (broken VGA cable) , air conditioning and even lab availability. But during each of these, they have coporated by closely working with us such that we never had any significant downtime.

Week 4 – Pleasant Suprises and the Dawn of Python.

Dibia Victor

Aug. 14, 2012

This week was full of several pleasant surprises that are keeping the class gingered and inspired.

The Woman in Engineering

Last week, we promised to give a gift to the first person to independently complete the android calculator lab over the weekend. Given that the students are still on session, taking classes and associated assignments,  extra effort and diligence are required to complete the more demanding AITI labs . Naturally, I was very delighted to see a 90% complete calculator app on Monday – and from a girl, Oluwafunmilola Kesa! Funmi (Year 3, Computer Science) has always shown very high class participation levels, asking intelligent questions as well as diligently completing all the labs.  During one of the classes, we presented Funmi with a branded Google IO Extended white tee :) .  Congratulations, funmi , we strongly believe you will make lasting contributions to field of computer science and engineering! 

Android Ninjas

During the course of this program, I have learned new approaches to android app development from the students and gained experience debugging android errors I never knew existed. From all kind of strange irreproducible behaviors of the eclipse IDE, to layout xml , unexpected runtime app behaviours and external library errors. The challenge has been formidable, but stackoverflow has been our friend :) . I can also say the students have learned a lot too. Towards the end of this week, I began to witness an interesting trend in most of the groups. With each passing day, they all had something new to show me! A new screen added to their app, a simplification of function, tales of overnight victorious code battles :) ,  success with university business plan contests etc. This is really inspiring and shows that the students are building a skill vital necessary for success as tech Entrepreneurs – Independent research driven learning.  

Python things

On the technical side of this week’s work, Bolu handled a couple of classes on introduction to the distinct ways of the python programming language.  We used python 2.7.3 installation on windows and followed out usual model of lectures and in-class lab exercises. We are setting the stage for next weeks work with the django python framework for rapid web application development.

An Awesome Start!

Dibia Victor

July 15, 2012

This week has been great! I got the chance to meet with all key stakeholders before class start – the Google team, the other MIT AITI team members (Teju and Bolu), the Head of Computer Science department, and some of the Unilag Students (300 level Computer Science)!

Unilag is quite picturesque – tall trees on the sidewalks, organized road structure, pedestrian sidewalks and  for the most part it does live up to its hype as one of the leading Federal Institutions of Higher Learning in Nigeria! We have been graciously allocated Lab 102 on the first floor of the CITS building, and it’s a great lab! 3 synchonized projectors (we are still trying to get two to work), air conditioning, 55 desktop workstation all hooked up to the internet with decent connection speeds!

Thus far, I have had two technical sessions with the students and I am convinced we have an awesome mix of people this year! In the very first class, we had  a meet and greet session and quickly discovered an interesting array of hobbies J - singers, dancers, avid sports fans, footballers, professional photographers (you’ll be seeing some flicks soon, hopefully), *gingerers , comedians , outspoken folks .. and more! A mix like this would go a long way in ensuring the ideas generated are creative, rigorous, well-examined, criticized, refined and polished .. leading to successful products! Awesome! Class participation has also been wonderful , everyone has put in substantial effort to follow all the activities during the in-class code lab walk through with over 70% completion rates and some extra credit work done.  It was also very encouraging to watch the students work enthusiastically through the initial assessment test/code lab on the first day of class! (aimed at assessing their current technical capabilities) .. and with great results too!
All of these being said, I can’t wait to see all the ideas take shape and gradually come to life!


Other events worthy of note are ..

  • On day 1, Teju and I discussed with the students on possible ground rules they thought would ensure we have a successful program. I was delighted with a student requested for  “No Overly theoretical class” .. a rule which we readily agreed to ! We are going hands-on full steam! I also hope they keep their own part of the rule by ensuring they turn in all their labs/assignments on time!
  •  Today, while going through the homeworks submitted , we found the following comment from a student ..

                   “I thoroughly enjoyed doing this assignment. Looking forward to the next class already!

what can we say? We feel really encouraged, excited and are committed to giving our best! Thanks guys!


To sum up, power conditions have been good, no hitches and we hope it continues like this! J If you ask me .. I think it’s an awesome start!


The Fine Art of Pitching and other Highlights from Week 2!

Dibia Victor

July 15, 2012

Getting the best out of the time we have.

Teaching technical material in 6 weeks is quite interesting , engaging , daunting and rewarding too. Our students are currently in school session (meaning they still have coursework and associated engagements), and thus have limited time to work on homeworks and labs after class. To work around this and ensure the students have the much needed practical coding time, each technical class has been structured to fit in at least 1.5 hours specifically for working on part of each lab. During this lab time, I and bolu are constantly working with them, providing clarifications and the result has been a higher completion rate on lab submissions!! The rest class time is used to teach new material and have discussions. Thus far we have had a chance to cover the basics of java over week 1 and 2, covering the semantics of programming in java, working through several labs and finally an introduction to android! I’m excited and look forward to the apps we are going to start building!


A little this and that on pitching!

This week, we also saw the students pitch about  their ideas! Elevator pitch .. 2 minutes and guess what? Great stuff came out! I’m quite amazed at the great work Teju is accomplishing with the students this early and delighted at how fast they are learning!  I also learned a lot – that an elevator pitch should hit on 4 major parts

  • Your name, company, competence .. establish credibility  
  • Your product, name what it does, problems address, usefulness
  • Your potential market, customer segments and channels
  • Your ask .. price, investment, signup

Teju also went ahead to describe a top down approach to making back of the envelope estimates (also called market sizing). For example -  How many people buy cars each year in Lagos ? Seems insurmountable, but there’s actually an organic method that could ferret out such information -  without asking anyone.  It’s a about asking the right questions, piecing the information together and synthesizing an output. For the question above, we star from what we know and hack away with questions like

  • What’s  the population of lagos ? (20 Million)
  •  What’s the average size of each family in lagos ? (say 5 .. means we have about 4 Million families)
  • How many cars are owned by each family ? (2 .. considering poor families .. leading us to 8 Million cars)
  • How often do families buy new cars ? (Every 5 years … 0.2 cars per year … 1.6Million Cars each year by all families in lagos)

After a few questions, discussions and agreement,  we actually arrived at a well thought-out estimate. (The above is just a simple attempt to re-enact the real process done by teju .. Im a techie learning about business J ) . I reckon this would be a great skill for any and all entrepreneurs, awesome in quick market sizing to aid on the spot decision making! I’ll try to practice it as often as I can J.  

Like I mentioned in my first post, I'll leave you with a flick from one of our students - busayo! Yay, thanks!


The next big idea.

Olateju Abimbola

June 28, 2012

I'm back in class, seems like i've been here all my life, but last i checked i was sitting in the midst of 40+ students listening to one of the esteemed MIT Professors. Well, this time, courtesy of Google backed MIT AITI, i'm standing by myself, trying to make eye contact with a class of almost 60 students at Unilag trying to spur them to come up with the next big idea.

Weird thing is, its alot more fun than i could have hoped for. I'm going on about some of the challenges we face in Africa, Nigeria, Lagos and even University of Lagos and how this creates an opportunity for new business ideas. So we turn this into a class exercise, thinking of these problems and brainstorming ideas for how to solve them. One student raised his hand and confidently asked to present his ideas to the class.

He's got ideas that will serve as solutions to the problems around finding housing in Lagos. His idea will help you find a "shanti". (A minimal cost apartment) or a high cost serviced apartment. He also had ideas for review and rating service providers (similar to Yelp) that could help solve the poor customer service challenge. I heard so many ideas, to solve issues around traffic, security, access to information etc., I could've been back at MIT.

We are off to a great start, we've only been together a week, but i can tell, It's going to be great.

I've learnt some programming, met some great people, even got to hang out at CCHub (reminds me of dogpatch in Cambridge). But most importantly, i've mastered the amount of time it takes to get to Unilag from Lekki Phase 1 between 2 and 3pm on a weekday. FYI its 1hour, +/- 5minutes. It took me a week to figure out, someone i know, is figuring out a way to keep track and charge people for such information. I'd pay for that.

TGIF, i finally get to read a detailed description of each teams idea.