Meet Idris Ayodeji Bello – Afropreneur, Wennovator and Global Health Advocate

In recent times, several Western media have repeatedly focused on Africa, analyzing the prospects of the ‘dark continent’ whilst raising caution about the ability of the next generation to manage resources effectively and carry out the required changes. In this exhaustive interview with BN’s Gbenga Awomodu, an exceptional young African from Nigeria speaks on a range of issues bothering on social entrepreneurship, development, sustainable health care, and Africa. Idris Ayodeji Bello, a 2012 Weidenfeld Scholar in Global Health Science, trained as a Computer Engineer at the Obafemi Awolowo University, and has had varied global experiences with leading multinationals, including Procter & Gamble and the Chevron Corporation, with social and business networks spanning five continents. He was profiled in 2011 as Huffington Post’s ‘Greatest Person of the Day’ and listed among CNN’s Top Ten African Technology Voices to follow on Twitter in 2012. Dedicated to the enhancement of lives by developing and deploying attractive platforms for innovation-driven, technology-enabled investments across the African continent, he shares from his wealth of experience and sheds more light on the just concluded 2012 Oxford University Pan-Africa Conference. Get ready and enjoy this encounter!

Could you tell us about yourself – growing up and schooling?
I was born in Jericho, Ibadan, about thirty-two years ago, but my childhood was mostly spent in Ilaro, Ogun State. We lived and schooled on the campus of the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, and life was very simple. There were very few distractions and the rule with our disciplinarian librarian father was “Never get caught without a book!” I read Chinua Achebe’s “The trouble with Nigeria” before I was ten, and Kole Omotosho’s “Just Before Dawn” about the same time. Growing up was fun. My parents were not rich, but we also were not poor. In addition to my four other siblings, we had several cousins living with us who had come to pursue polytechnic education. At no point did the dinner table have less that thirteen people during my childhood days. In May 2002, I graduated with a First Class in Computer Engineering from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. I had learnt to juggle several things and still keep up a stellar academic record. This was helpful as I went straight into employment.

What was your experience like working with two reputable multinationals?
Even before finishing at OAU, I was recruited by Procter and Gamble to become the Planning Manager of the Ibadan Plant with responsibilities for production planning, materials management, and warehouse inventory across the West African region. Coming straight out of school armed with just a degree and a little internship experience I had undergone in my fourth year, P&G was like being thrown into deep waters, but with the knowledge that just as you were about to drown, someone would probably step in to rescue you. I remember asking Adeolu Akinyemi, the Recruiting Manager then, what it meant to work at P&G. He said, “You will learn a new definition of Challenge!” There were long days and nights (including weekends) spent at the plant, long hours spent on the phone negotiating for raw materials from foreign suppliers, and explaining to Nigerian port officials why our clearing agents were not allowed to give ‘tips’ to get our raw materials released from the port. My time at P&G was like a mini-MBA without a curriculum, and it really built my foundation in entrepreneurship following my technical education at Ife.

In what ways have your previous employments/jobs contributed to the progress of your recent social entrepreneurship projects?
I have been very blessed in terms of the kind of jobs I have had, and how they have moved me closer to my goals. When I choose to accept a position, money has never been at the top of my criteria. The bigger question for me has always been: “what value is this employment going to add to me as an individual?” “What experience is this job going to offer me that would help to move me nearer my goal?” In much the same way as the potential employer spends time interviewing me, I spend more time researching them, and interviewing them too. With a first class degree in computer engineering, I could have gotten a job in any Telco, or oil company in Nigeria then, but what was more important to me then was gaining a global exposure through my job, learning skills which were very different from what I had learned in school, and being giving responsibility from Day 1. When I left P&G to go abroad for my Masters, several of my friends questioned my move. I had gotten very comfortable at P&G and was doing well. And here was I abandoning such a position to seek out an uncertain future. However, I never saw it in that light. I had achieved my objectives, and it was time to take on the next challenge. When it came to time to choose a research area during my Masters, I opted for Data Analysis in Particle Physics. I knew nothing about particle physics, but that was exactly the point. I ended up writing my thesis on different non-parametric density approximation techniques applied to signal detection in particle physics. It really stretched me, but laid the foundation for my next job after graduation. At Chevron, I got the opportunity to do several things ranging from upstream technology to digital fields monitoring, from strategy and planning to information management. I also had the opportunity to travel widely overseeing projects across the US, Latin America, Angola, and Asia. Those experiences I believe further helped refine my thinking and decision-making process, and my management and people skills. It also exposed me to what it meant to do business at a global level. Hence, after six years, when I felt it was time to move on from Chevron and pursue a degree in Global Health at the University of Oxford, it was also a conscious choice. I felt I had proven myself and gained very valuable skills, and it was time to move on from individual success to making significant impact.

What inspired you to enroll in a Masters programme in Global Health Science?
I had always had issues with the healthcare system in Nigeria, especially after losing two of my siblings to the system’s inefficiencies, and another close friend to a strike action at UCH a few years back. However, it was at Rice University, during my MBA that I strayed into the field of global health. I got acquainted with Professor Marc Epstein, an expert in microfinance and the use of commerce models to improve health and promote development in poor regions. He had partnered with Rice 360° Institute for Global Health Technologies to teach “Commercializing Technologies in Developing Countries” in which teams of MBA and undergraduate engineering students develop business plans for global health technologies, and then travel to Rwanda where they undertake field research for their business plans. This interaction exposed me to the problems of access, the lack of relevant statistics, and several other challenges faced in the area of global health. However, my greatest motivation for applying for a place in the Global Health program at Oxford stemmed from belief that solving the daunting challenges faced in the field of global health requires a multidisciplinary array of people who are able to bring to bear their diverse backgrounds and innovative approaches.

You like to refer to yourself as an Afropreneur, a Bandstormer and a Wennovator. (How) did you originally coin those?
I woke up one morning and thought it sounded cool to join entrepreneurship and Africa to form “Afropreneurship” (afrocentric entrepreneurship). Bandstorming is the collective pooling of philosophically linked ideas focused on solving social and economic problems. It was actually coined by Michael Oluwagbemi, another enterprise-focused Nigerian that I met in Houston, and the Founder of LoftyInc Allied Partners Ltd, an organization dedicated to the enhancement of African lives by developing and deploying attractive platforms for innovation-driven investments in education, technology, and healthcare in the ECOWAS sub-region. We were jointly teaching a class on “Emerging Markets’ at the Frontier Markets Scout Program of the Monterrey Institute of International Studies in California early last year when a problem came up, and we decided to brainstorm. As we went through the brainstorming process, each person continually built upon the other person’s ideas, and Michael exclaimed, “This is not brainstorming, this is bandstorming!” I coined the term “Wennovation” when I visited Nigeria a while back to attend the Nigerian Leadership Initiative’s Future Leaders Class, and to pursue my vision of business incubation, which I had successfully been involved with in the US, 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. Today, we promote wennovation through the Wennovation Hub, a business incubation program and facility in Lagos, Nigeria, but soon to be replicated across West Africa through an alliance with the Africa Leadership Forum and the African Innovation Prize.

Continue reading here: Man on a Mission: Idris Ayodeji Bello – Afropreneur, Wennovator and Global Health Advocate – talks about Social Entrepreneurship, Technology, Africa and Much More!

Interview with Nigerian Cakes Maestro Tosan Jemide Speaks Exclusively to BN on his Humble Beginnings, Love for Baking & the Upcoming “Ultimate Luxury” Exhibition

When Nigerian brides are preparing for their wedding day, they search far and wide, high and low, for one man who can make their wedding cake dreams come true.

He is Tosan Jemide, the CEO of Cakes by Tosan. Contemporary Nigerian brides know that when they go to him, all their desires of a fairy-tale cake will come to pass. The master baker who has been in the industry for well over ten years has baked cakes for socialites and celebrities plus brides whose weddings have been featured here on BN.

BN’s Gbenga Awomodu sits down with the master baker as he speaks exclusively to us on his humble beginnings, his staying power in the industry, his love for cakes, his upcoming Ultimate Luxury exhibition and how, with all the success he has, he still orders study materials to improve his craft on a monthly basis.

Please tell us a bit about yourself, what you do, your educational background, and where you grew up.
My name is Tosan Jemide. I am a master baker, cake artist and an entrepreneur. I run the CBT group comprising of Cakes by Tosan (A Luxury brand for Sugar Craft Master Pieces), Celebrations by Tosan (A Commercial Cake outfit about to Launch), Topcrust Bakery (A Commercial Bakery that provides quality bread for the mass market) and Cupcakes by Tosan. I studied Sociology in the University of Ibadan and took cake making courses in the UK after discovering my flare for the art. I was born in Warri, Delta State and grew up in different parts of the country at different times.

You are generally referred to as Nigeria’s foremost Cake Maker, Sugar Crafter & Confectioner. Tell us how you developed interest in Baking, and how you made your entry into the Industry?
I got an early exposure to the art from my late mum, who used to bake cakes. As the last of her five boys, I helped when she baked. Sometime in 1983 she passed on and coincidentally that was the year my eldest brother was getting married. I decided to take my chance with his wedding cake and it turned to be a good attempt. Then, at a very early stage in my life, I discovered an innate ability to be creative. So after I left Ibadan, I was left with two choices: first, was to tow the path of survival and join the “Career Rat Race”; the second was to harness my God given ability and become “The Purpose Fulfilled Tosan”. I chose the latter. In expressing my creative instinct, I thought of fashion and I actually did toy with a clothing line (T-Shirts basically), but then it occurred to me that I could dare to be unique and different. So, I decided to delve into cakes which was at the time an “awkward” trade for a man. Following this decision, I moved to the UK in the mid 90’s to hone my skills. While in the UK, I attended courses and worked for some of the biggest cake shops for over four years. Armed with the combination of raw talent, passion, desire to blaze the trail and acquired skills, I came back to Nigeria in 2001 to start up Cakes by Tosan.

Continue reading here: Interview with Nigerian Cakes Maestro Tosan Jemide Speaks Exclusively to BN on his Humble Beginnings, Love for Baking & the Upcoming “Ultimate Luxury” Exhibition

Photo credit: Body Lawson

The Entrepreneurial Scientist: Meet Yemi Adesokan – Innovator, CEO & a TR35 2011 Winner

Nigeria, no doubt, is blessed with an array of brilliant minds who continue to excel in their various fields of endeavour, at home and in diaspora. 34-year old Yemi Adesokan is a scientist and entrepreneur with experience in the development and optimization of multiplex capture and high-throughput genome sequencing technologies. As a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, he pioneered the development and implementation of the BioWeatherMap project, an initiative that collects real-time assays and uses them to track and limit viral outbreaks and antibiotic resistance in the developing world. An industry consultant with extensive experience in providing strategic advisory services to Fortune 500 life-science companies, Yemi holds a BS in Biology from the University of Houston and a PhD in theoretical chemistry from the University of California, Irvine. In this exclusive interview with BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu, Yemi who was recently named among the world’s top 35 innovators by the MIT Technology Review, speaks about his career, his startup pathogen sequencing firm, Pathogenica, which he co-founded in 2009, and the impact of his work in improving global healthcare.

Meet Yemi Adesokan
My name is Yemi Adesokan and I grew up in Okupe Estate Maryland, Ikeja, Lagos. I went to the Maryland Convent Private School and in 1989 went to Command Day Secondary School Ikeja completing SS3 in 1994. I remember that summer vividly as that was when the Super Eagles performed stupendously at the USA ’94 World Cup. Like most kids, I played soccer barefooted outside, went to “lesson” after school, endured mosquitoes, malaria, ate Suya and had hot nights without NEPA and no petrol for “gen”… good ol’ growing up in Lagos.

How would you describe your journey in the field of Biotechnology thus far?
Exciting and challenging at the same time. My doctorate is in theoretical chemistry, so switching to genomics as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard was frightening for a fleeting second. However, having an advisor like George Church, plain hard work and God’s mercies got me over the initial hump. Biotechnology and genomics, in particular, has been a driver of the healthcare industry over the past decade, especially with the completion of the human genome project which has catalyzed the emergence of the field of personalized medicine. I and the Pathogenica team feel very fortunate to be at the fore front of the genomics revolution.

You were recently named among the world’s top 35 innovators 2011 by the MIT Technology Review. How do you feel about the honour, and why do you think you made the list?
When I googled TR35 to review the list of individuals such as Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Sergey Brin (Google) and Konstantin Novoselov (Nobel Prize Winner in Physics) that have made the cut over the last 5 years, I felt honoured and humbled to be considered among such greats. The successes of the TR35 innovators over the last few years show that the MIT Tech Review has a pretty solid track record of predicting emerging technologies and innovators. We are excited about the recognition, and we also realize this is no time to rest on our oars. We are working as fast and as hard as ever before to commercialize this technology globally.

Continue reading here: The Entrepreneurial Scientist: Meet Yemi Adesokan – Innovator, CEO & a TR35 2011 Winner

Nigeria’s Polo Queen: Meet 23-Year Old Uneku Atawodi, The World’s Only Active Black Female Professional Polo Player

What a man can do, they say, a woman can do better. 23-year old Uneku Atawodi began her journey into professional polo when ten years ago she fell in love with horses. Regardless of subtle discouragement from her family members, she proved determined and focused enough at becoming the best player that she could be. Today, she has played professional polo in over fourteen countries, represents Nigeria at the Federation of International Polo, and contributes to policy formulation at the Federal Capital Territory. In this exclusive interview with BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu, Uneku, who is currently the only active black female player in the world, shares beautiful tales of her journey thus far, revealing her love for business and travel.

Meet Uneku Atawodi
My name is Uneku Atawodi; people from the south call me Neku, and those from the north calls me Une. I am 23 years old. I am an equestrian, business owner, and starting recently, I also work for the government. I hold a BSc in Equestrian Science, with a British Horse Society stage 4 riding accreditation. I also have a Masters degree in International Business with Spanish. I grew up in Kaduna, and moved to Pakistan with my family when I was 5, and then we went to Brazil for a few years but my mother froze (pun intended) when the next stop was Russia, so we moved back to Kaduna for a couple of years. I attended college and university in England.

When did you start playing polo and how did you develop an interest in the sport?
I used to hunt in England when I was 13 and the smell of dirty leather really fascinated me. I was not a very strong rider then, so jumping hedges and following the hounds around new terrain really was a risk, I remember completely clenching tightly to the horse, which are a lot bigger than polo ponies, and just praying that if I fell, “nothing go jus tear come expose person dignity!” When I was in Kaduna, life sort of evolved around the polo club. Weekends were spent watching matches, my father ended nights there, and even chicken for the next day’s stew was got from the polo club! And yet, I was discouraged from playing partly because I was a girl. “Une if you get hit in your face, ba wanda zai aure ki!”(nobody will marry you!). A psychologist would say being told ‘no’ increased the urge to play… I think I just really, really, really wanted to play. So when hunting got banned in England, I immediately fell to polo. I met my coach David Anderson at 14; he had stopped coaching, but he agreed to coach me, and I got badly stung by the polo bug.

Uneku on a night ride in Abuja

Despite discouragement from friends and family, how were you able to prove your capability and genuine love for Polo? My parents, though loving, were initially skeptical about me playing, especially as I wanted to play professionally, and I pretty much tested the level of their worries when I decided to study horses! I know now that it is their love and worry for me that brought about such fears. They stopped paying for the upkeep of my horses at 16, when they figured I was being headstrong. I did not let that deter me, and took up a job at Epsom Polo Club mucking out, which basically means packing horse s**t! At 6.00am I would wake up, put on double gloves on each hand, because the cold kept tearing into my skin when shovelling, and do about eight stables. It was actually great for keeping my arms fit for polo! I then partnered in a polo project in Argentina, and went on to own a small polo ranch breeding horses, so I had some sort of income coming in. When my parents saw my passion and determination, they eased off on me a bit, but I did have a tricky time with being judged for a while.

Why did you study for a B.Sc. in Equestrian Science performance, and how well has it paid off thus far?
I wanted to learn everything about these animals, inside and out – their nutrition, how they walk, how they reproduce, the diseases that affect them, everything. Studying Equestrianism gave me a whole new eye into the Equestrian world. I find that a lot of riders, especially in Nigeria, do not know a lot about their horses. I wanted to change that by educating people about this animal that is central to our sport. My degree helped me work in eight different countries including managing a polo club in New York, and giving high profile lessons in the state. My expertise is appreciated internationally, as well as in Nigeria. Studying Equestrian Sports Science also allowed me to train in other areas of Equestrianism; I practiced dressage, show jumping, and worked in one of the top race yards in the world during my internship. Introducing these disciplines to Nigerian riders is what I work towards.

How does it feel being in a male-dominated sport; and, have you ever been discriminated against in terms of race or gender?
Funny story. I was playing in Argentina some years back, and we were donning team colours – yellow and blue or something. This British lady who had been staring at me, came up to me with a yellow top in her hands, and so I asked her, “what colour am I?” She gave me the yellow top and replied, “You are black.” Then she realized what she had said and she was mortified: “I am so sorry! I meant yellow… I meant you are playing in yellow.” She apologized repeatedly and later told me that it was not because I was black, but because she was so shocked to see a black girl playing, and that it was the first time she had ever seen that. I have never experienced racial discrimination in polo; polo is such an international sport, and I find that players treat each other like family. What I do get after a game though, is a surprised, “oh wow, you are really good!” because most people see me and expect me to be some awful beginner. I don’t complain though because it gives me an advantage in the first few chukkers of a game, with me being completely unmarked, a few goals later, and the game play changes. You are the only female Polo player to have gone professional in West Africa and only active black female player worldwide.

Continue reading here: Nigeria’s Polo Queen: Meet 23-Year Old Uneku Atawodi, The World’s Only Active Black Female Professional Polo Player.