In the spotlight: Youth Entrepreneur – Chris Kwekowe

The Anzisha Prize Gala recently saw Nigerian entrepreneur Chris Kwekowe (22), founder of Slatecube, win the $25,000 Grand Prize at the 5th edition of the Anzisha PrizeSlatecube offers a job-relevant skills learning platform and job placement services. Slatecube has had significant success to date with potential for scale and will serve as an inspiring beacon for other youth interested in entrepreneurship. 

This is a summary of an interview Chris did in July 2015 with It’s New Africa.

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
    My name is Chris Kwekowe. I’m a Nigerian and I hail from Umuahia South Local Government of Abia State. I’m the first child in a family of 5 very exceptional children (all boys). I co-founded my first startup, Microbold – an innovation and research driven ICT solutions provider for Startups and SMEs, at the age of 19 with one of my younger brothers, Ebube.

Currently, I’m a 400 level student of Computer Science at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. In summary, I’m a passionate young tech-enthusiast and entrepreneur that believes that the average African youth is the driving force for global impact and sees ICT as the propellant on which this goal is dependent on.

  1. Tell us about Slatecube?
    Slatecube was launched October 2014. Basically, Slatecube leverages knowledge with skill acquisition to promote employability and social
    development by enabling users to learn, collaborate with world class professionals and develop industry relevant skills that make it possible to work anywhere.

Essentially, what we do at Slatecube is really simple but very important. We help individuals develop new knowledge or build on already existing knowledge and then expose them to industry-relevant skills with hands-on training from real organisations in order to make them more employable and improve their social and economic relevance.

Slatecube also provides aesthetically designed e-Learning environment for High Schools (Secondary schools) and Colleges (Tertiary institutions), and offers Virtual Training Modules for organisations to train their staff on professional training programs offered by leading institutes from around the world, without these staff members having to leave their current location, and their job duties thus cutting down on costs.

  1. Where did the idea for Slatecube come from?
    In 2014, twelve students – mostly my classmates interned at Microbold, my first startup. 2 months into the 6 months that the internship was meant to last, another of my classmates who had just arrived in Lagos approached me saying he’d love to take part in the internship but due to distance he wouldn’t be able to make it. At that time, we had played around the eLearning phenomenon at the office, but on a very fundamental level.

It had most of the traditional e-Learning functionality – nothing new. Also, I have always had an issue with conventional education and how stereotypical I think it has been. I believe Education and Learning should be about developing skills that help tackle real-life challenges. It should be engaging, collaborative, industry-relevant, practice driven, and directed towards providing solutions to our everyday problems. I started thinking about a way forward. A way around the problem. That’s when an idea struck me. What if we could revolutionize education to reduce the amount of people who lacked jobs by leveraging online courses and virtual internship programs as tools to properly balance knowledge with skill acquisition, in order to promote a society that has individuals with skills to tackle its challenges, and eventually create value for them for doing so?

So I discussed the prospects with my younger brother, we came up with a blueprint, and we assembled some of our staff, interns and freelancers to work on researching deeper into the concept of Blended and Distributed learning – and other forms of eLearning. That’s how I started Slatecube – which has now been used in all continents of the world, and has offered course training to more than 2000 users (virtually and onsite). Hundreds of those trained have interned or have been attached with real organisations, and 80% have high test, project and implementation scores.

  1. Where do you see your startup in 10 years’ time?
    We are poised to achieve some very significant milestones in the next decade.
    This would include expanding our courses and skills development program’s by investing heavily into the quality of all our course offerings. This would be achieved by:

 Bringing in more top-notch industry experts from as many industries as possible (including Agriculture, Fashion Design, Real Estate, Healthcare).

 Brokering partnerships with more leading organisations from around the world to groom and adopt qualified users, where applicable.

 Initializing and sponsoring 50 additional Bootcamps and Educational excursions each year to promote collaboration and other relevant social skills.

 Replicating our courses and skills program in 17 local languages across Africa.

This would help us create a breed of over 50,000 sound and experienced individuals who are either running their companies, gainfully employed or ready to be adopted into the workforce. To achieve a feat as important as this, within 10 years, there are some very peculiar challenges we would need to tackle – a significant one being access to good Internet facilities. A major challenge with eLearning in Africa, and many rural communities across the globe, is poor internet facilities or none at all.

  1. How can people benefit from your startup?
    It depends on who is involved. Slatecube is designed to be beneficial to people through the following means:

 Helping students/users develop industry-relevant skills.

 Helps users obtain work experience.

 Our self-paced and aesthetically designed eLearning environment improves the level of impact courses can have on students to a great extent. Schools record better academic success in their students with Slatecube.

 Approved freelance instructors can teach socially and economically beneficial courses on any topic of interest to a global audience and get paid.

 Organisations can improve their employment decision process and invariably, their work force by first virtually attaching a prospective employee, then analysing their performance before eventually employing them or otherwise.

– Organisations can also deploy the Virtual Training Modules to enroll their staff on professional training programs offered by leading institutes from around the world without having to spend on transportation and accommodation cost.

– Deserving students/users can easily get employed wherever they want after successfully completing a virtual

  1. Have you faced any challenges in beginning your startup?
    Oh yes! A lot. First my age. Secondly, my physic could easily pass for a minor making it difficult for most people to listen to my proposition. In school, I have to sacrifice most of my school hours just to think and brainstorm about the idea – even during exams. Trying to get course content developers with little or no payments (I literarily had to come up with ingenious ways of paying them off in the end).

Organizing Slatecube Bootcamps with personal cash and very lean cash allowances. Convincing Organisations to try out the platform and partner with us. Painstakingly reviewing the platform’s over 1 million lines of code in order to fix bugs and optimize its delivery algorithm. I never really had a perfect condition to build the platform. Additionally, my parents were concerned about our education – at some point they demanded I leave my younger brother so he could face his studies if I was no longer serious with mine. Of course most of these challenges are gone now – and my family is undoubtedly our biggest supporter.

  1. Have you won any awards for your current startup or previous startup?
    Yes. We’ve had our fair share of recognition. One very prominent one is being short-listed for the Anzisha Prize for Entrepreneurship – a prize by the African Leadership Academy that celebrates young Africans with remarkable entrepreneurial success.

I was also invited to the African Union Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia during the 2015 eLearning Africa Conference to present the concept around the Slatecube platform. I’m slated to make similar presentations in Berlin at the Online Educa Conference in December 2015, and at the Innovation Arabia Conference early next year in Dubai. Another well-treasured achievement for Slatecube occurred when 2 Slatecube users, both females, went on to present their projects at a National event and emerged second overall.

Microbold, the company from which Slatecube was birthed has been very successful on the other hand. It was declared one of the best startups helping local businesses in 2014 by Signl. This year, Web Summit – the biggest technology gathering in the world also selected and listed Microbold as one of Africa’s most promising startups, while selecting startups from around the world slated for a chance to demo at its conference in Dublin.

  1. Is there is anything else you want us to know?
    Slatecube is positioning itself as a leading focal point for excellence in education for both teachers and students alike. It is also exposing bright minds to top league companies and organisations. We believe therefore that this is indeed a priceless opportunity for everyone to grab with both hands.

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