Idris Ayodeji Bello calls himself "Afropreneur." And the term, coined by the 33-year-old Nigerian entrepreneur, is catching on. Bello is a self-made tech innovator, and, in fact, has founded various tech initiatives with the goal of encouraging entrepreneurship and empowering communities across Africa.
He co-founded the Wennovation Hub in Lagos, Nigeria, sort of a technology think tank that encourages entrepreneurs to develop their ideas into businesses.
Bello studied computer science in Nigeria before moving to the United States and the UK, where he furthered his education in entrepreneurship and global health. He later worked for several multinationals such as Procter & Gamble and Chevron.
After returning home to spread the entrepreneurial spirit, Bello also co-founded AfyaZima, a health technology and management start up that utilizes mobile phones to provide access to health information. AfyaZima (a Swahili word for complete health) won the 2012 Dell Technology Award (in collaboration with the Oxford Engineering World Health Group) for developing a low-cost device called Blood Pressure MCuff that enables blood pressure monitoring and data transmission via mobile phones.
Next, Bello launched YoKwazi, an online educational tool. He is still developing YoKwazi, but it will use deploy OTGPlaya, an offline wireless cloud device, to house and host online educational tools. YoKwazi is just one innovation to come out of Wennovation Hub. We spoke with Bello to find out more.
TNJ.com: What are some of your goals for Wennovation?
Bello: Wennovation Hub is attempting to solve the problem of limited access to entrepreneurship vehicles and knowledge for millions of West African entrepreneurs. Similar to the role that similar institutions have successfully played in Silicon Valley and the successful creation of thousands of successful society-changing innovative ventures, the Wennovation Hub aims to replicate this within Africa.
According to a recent survey on VC4Africa.com, access to finance is one of the biggest challenges faced by young African entrepreneurs. Other challenges include the lack of a conducive and enabling environment to support startups. Getting a business registered in a country like Nigeria can be a very tedious process, and the added problems of navigating bureaucratic bottlenecks, getting legal advice and finding good mentors has precipitated an economic environment which has sent many good ideas from their ‘embryonic stages’ to their untimely ‘economic graves’.
Wennovation is redefining the process of innovation and entrepreneurship common in many parts of the world. In many places, if you have a creative idea, you get a small team together and work on it in secret for months, you rush to be the first to ‘protect’ or ‘patent’ your idea and you ultimately try to attach yourself inextricably to the idea or technology such that you receive maximum profit from the idea.
TNJ.com: Why the term Afropreneur?
Bello: I believe that Afropreneur is a better description of the type of human resource and capability that is sorely needed for us to address the myriad of challenges we face today. Previous approaches have yielded only partial results and the essence behind Afropreneur is a special type of ‘Afrocentric Entrepreneurship.’ What does this term mean? From education to community health, or the macro-economic issues of job creation and the development of stable capital markets, Africa's problems are big and require bold, daring ideas. I use the term to describe myself, and other bright, independent and tech savvy entrepreneurs using creative thinking and the power of innovation to take over Africa's economic destiny.
Suddenly, one can hold out hope that Africa's numerous social and economic problems, which have defied solution by governments, will be solved by the new wave of young women and men, enabled by technology and facilitated by new social media, who are taking ownership – bravely — of the continent's economic destiny. These are the people I like to describe as Afropreneurs.
TNJ.com: How did you start Wennovation?
Bello: I coined the term “Wennovation” when I attended the Nigerian Leadership Initiative’s Future Leaders Class, to further my vision of business incubation, which I had successfully been involved with in the U.S., and explore how I could translate that to Nigeria. It is based on the belief that when like minds develop new ideas or solutions through purely collaborative work, such a result is not just innovation—which recognizes the primacy of the individual—but rather wennovation, replacing “i” with “we” to emphasize the collaborative feature of Afrocentric entrepreneurship. Our value proposition to the entrepreneurs is that you cannot go it alone. You need to team up to refine your idea and attract funding. I also intended the ‘We-‘in ‘Wennovation to refer to West Africa, our focus region.
TNJ.com: What are some of your successes?
Bello: Our successes include:
• Over half a million dollars raised so far from local investors and grant competitions
• Over 100 entrepreneurs passed through the hub
• Awards won include CEO Mentor Award from Tony Elumelu Foundation, Africa Diaspora MarketPlace by OTGPlaya, Finalist in Anzisha Prize by MobiQube
• Ongoing partnerships with MEST in Ghana, Harambe Cameroon, Innohub Ghana and other hubs across Africa
• Finalist SAP/ASHOKA “The Power of Small-Entrepreneurs Strengthening Local Economies” Competition
TNJ.com: What are some of your major obstacles and how do you overcome them?
Bello: I believe the biggest obstacle I have faced has been juggling multiple commitments and initiatives together. While operating Wennovation Hub, I have also been involved in other global health and education initiatives across the developing world, in addition to also mentoring young individuals in Houston, Texas. However, being surrounded by a very strong team of individuals has helped greatly in moving things along.
The other big obstacle, which we have faced especially at the Wennovation Hub, has been with regards to funding our activities. Keeping the doors to our incubator open, while having to pay for electricity, Internet access, and at the same time being able to provide relevant support to the entrepreneurs who come around daily, has been tasking financially. The funding of the day-to-day operations of the Wennovation Hub to date has been provided mostly by our personal funds. The Africa Leadership Forum, one of our founding partners, has also been of great help. However, we have already outgrown our current space, and will require a lot of external funding to expand our operations.