Experience is the best teacher, they say. For Ijeoma Oguegbu, not-so tasty pastries from a store lead her to think of ways to improve training and skill acquisitions in SMEs. From there, Ijeoma co-founded Beavly, an online marketplace connecting people to top professionals in their sector for knowledge-sharing.
In this exclusive chat with SLA, Ijeoma shares her dream of African women tech investors and offersers her advice for other young women going into the tech sector. The keyword is patience and preparation.
What gap were to trying to fill in the African market with Beavly?
The idea came to me through an experience.
I bought some terrible snacks from a recently opened pastry shop close to my house. Feeling deep concern and worry for the lady who had obviously made a huge investment into becoming a business owner, I pondered why she didn’t have the necessary skills or employees to make better pastries.
This sparked my passion and interest.
After further investigations, I discovered that despite the popularity of informal learning, people still experience pain and difficulty in discovering training offers from professionals. This is an age old tradition, yet problem is, offers are often publicized through ineffective ways such as social media, newspapers and classifieds.
I got together with my co-founder and then we came up with a solution —Beavly. The aim? Disrupt the informal learning industry in Africa and facilitate skill acquisitions in small industries.
How long did it take to build up and what was the process?
I took us approximately 5 months to build and launch the first version of the platform.
We went through a validation process, using interviews, survey and some cold calling to validate the problem hypothesized. Feedback after validation, encouraged us to go ahead and create a solution. Also, it greatly opened up huge insights into what kind of value we could create for both sides of our users —professionals and trainees.
Not longer after, we were invited to take part in TheSFactory program in Chile; giving us access to $15,000 equity free grant. A startup accelerator focused on empowering female entrepreneurs; and powered by the renowned Start-up Chile. At the end of the program we launched Beavly, on February 6 in Nigeria.
Beavly is an online marketplace that connects people to top professionals, to learn alongside them in their workplace. People get inspired, gain practical knowledge and hands-on experience; all through interacting physically with the professional .
What challenges did you face initially?
When we launched the platform, getting the first few users to sign up was tough.
Our target users care about brand value, in relation to trust, satisfaction and quality of service. As we were just starting out we had to put in extra effort, to make the first few connections and build a reputation.
Also, we were a team of two with a lot of tasks to handle and roles to fill. Nevertheless, we were able to scale through and maximise our capabilities. Sometimes you realize through experience that constraints often drive innovation.
How receptive is the tech space in Africa to women in the sector?
Through both my experiences at the MEST Africa program in Ghana and being an entrepreneur in Nigeria —I would say it has been supportive.
With the recent hype to encourage women in technology, massive opportunities have opened up. It has made it easier to approach people and perhaps, shed just enough light for us to flourish.
Though, I still get the typical reaction of awe when I introduce myself as a software developer. Admiration is being given to women who venture into this space.
According to you, what needs changing in the tech scene in Africa?/ What can be done better?
It would be great to see a rise of African female tech investors.
I’m talking venture capitalists, angel investors, and huge investment funds managed by women. Raising investment for a startup is hard, but it’s even more challenging if you are a woman and from Africa. You have a lot more to prove.
I love what Kathryn Finney is setting out to accomplish using Digitalundivided, after having a particularly interesting experience while raising investment.
We need more people like this popping up in Africa; and a greater number of programs like the SLA Accelerator and TheSFactory for women to shine. I believe it will expand opportunities to raise funds and most importantly build relationships to share contextual knowledge particular to Africa.
Also, I strongly feel there should be better support from the government to encourage tech innovation whether inform of partnerships, setting up more tech hubs or grants.
Any advice for other women going into the sector?
Stay focused and undeterred towards your goals. Building a startup is hard work, most times you don’t start reaping real benefits for say 3-5 years. During this time you have to find ways to keep your passion and motivation alive; master the art of patience.
Prepare for rejections and setbacks. Take a learning outlook, and utilize them to create hacks that work to improve yourself.
Startup life is a rollercoaster, gender limitation or not, it depends on if you can hold on for the long haul and reap the great benefits.
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