I can honestly confirm that being an entrepreneur or innovator involves more than geeky shirts, coding long hours and deploying at the last minute, it is definitely not an easy task as the process is often not glamourous but a work of art. Creativity, critical thinking, teamwork, grit, a willingness to learn, unlearn and relearn are all critical components of this process. My experience with Innovate for Africa(IFA) so far exposed me to this and a lot more.
One month as a fellow in IFA’s Innovation Readiness Training can be summarized with one word – Intense. It modelled in various ways, the fast-paced, high energy environs of a startup. The training was coordinated by an amazing group of facilitators that worked together towards one mission “ensuring we were industry-ready entrepreneurs that would thrive in a startup environment”. The IFA team is a fine blend of top-notch educators, program facilitators and learning design specialists. For me, the touch of class was a seeming “Fingerspitzengefühl” for when to slow the fellows down, turn up the heat or allow a period of goofing off (socials).
Upfront, IFA made it obvious, collaboration was going to be a key part of the training. The other values include being innovative, grit, a growth mindset, inclusivity and diversity. I got to understand and equip myself with these values needed to keep up at a startup.
The training is divided into 4 sessions, they include;
One major mindset shift was in the area of branding. Simply stated, how you present yourself matters a lot. In a world that’s steadily migrating online for work, networking and staying visible are closely tied to staying relevant, an area I had given precious little thought to. The first results, my LinkedIn engagement stats have increased.
This was the bulk of the training. We learned and applied different techniques of the design thinking process over a period of 3 weeks in the form of a hackathon. Applying the design thinking process with my “hackathon team”, I could connect the dots between creativity and collaboration as it sharpens itself in the company of fellow creative minds. We created a solution to provide access to education for out of school kids and named it EdSponsor.
Hard Skills Lab
This session exposed me to the world of product management, and it was one of my favourites. It was a self-paced but rigorous schedule packed with checkpoints and deliverables. Rather than learn abstractly by watching videos and reading PDFs, we worked on real challenges from a real firm. The experience has indelibly changed my mindset. And having worked with a team on Splitspot’s roommate matching product, only served to further strengthen my grasp of product management.
In another touch of class, we were assigned to mentors to help guide us in applying the techniques we learnt. It also ensured we benefitted from years of experience and avoid common mistakes newbie PMs might fall into. I was mentored by Omid Dorani and the jottings I made from our conversations are guidelines I regularly refer to.
Fitting into an organization requires an understanding of the mission, vision and working style of an organization. Much more importantly, one should be able to critically assess and identify the weaknesses in the systems. We explored the techniques: SWOT and STEEPLE. A combination of these two techniques allows any fellow to identify the unique contributions he/she can bring to an organization right from the get-go.
Generously sprinkled throughout the training was the opportunity to meet young, successful entrepreneurs and founders. They shared their stories, inspirations, insights and how they got their dreams from point A to point B. One speaker whose words resonated with me on a deeper level was Chiedo John, a Senior Engineering Manager at GitHub. It was special listening to an entrepreneur who can stand aside from his vision and allow others to move it to a higher level of fruition.
Moving Forward, the one key takeaway for me is PEOPLE; awesome people. The IFA team and my teammates in the hackathon, consultancy project and branding sessions brought out my A-game, they are the definition of iron sharpens iron.
What next? I have a bad habit of diving deeper into "things" that hold my fascination. I already signed up for 2 free courses on Product Management at Product School. And two courses on Agile/Kanban on Udemy to keep improving. I’m looking to bring all these newly acquired skills to bear on a project or product or startup.
Partnering with a startup like yours will be an incredible learning experience for fellows like Gbolahan, IN ADDITION to helping your startup accelerate with passionate African innovators.
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