[HultPrize interview]: “I expect more participation from UI students because it is very important for us to have so many people participating.” – Toheeb Ojuolape

[HultPrize interview]: “I expect more participation from UI students because it is very important for us to have so many people participating.” – Toheeb Ojuolape
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He is a fellow of Tony Elumelu and an alumnus of Y Combinator’s Startup School. Toheeb Ojuolape is the CEO and cofounder of Tell! which is a popular social journalism platform, gaining relevant among students. While he pitched on the SkillX team during HultPrize 2019 on-campus event, his idea, along with his team, didn’t make the first three position, but the idea runs in wide-fire-race beyond the gown. He joined Oredola Ibrahim at SkillNG where he is the CTO of the big Hub making ground on Ibadan and expanding. Participation is very important and key as it widens, strengthens and encourages one’s gut to take up a social challenge and solve it.

Tell us about yourself?

My name is Toheeb Ojuolape and I am a final year student of the department of Petroleum Engineering. I am currently the CEO and cofounder of Tell! which is an online publishing community for African writers, thinkers and story tellers. I am also the chief technology officer of SkillNG based in Ibadan.
You participated in last year Hult UI, what is about your team and the problem you were trying to solve?
I was the team lead for Skillx. The problem my team tried to solve was the problem of unemployment as regards the Hult prize theme for last year which was to develop an idea that creates jobs for 10,000 people in the next ten years.

What was your idea about?

So my idea was based on a startup which I currently act as CTO in SkillNG. The idea was a skill acquisition and talent development accelerator that helps upskill young people digital evolution and entrepreneurship skills that are relevant in the job market and also intelligently matches these upskilled young people with small businesses and start ups and also big companies that require their talent.
Our idea helped to solve the problem of unemployment in Africa by first upskilling African youths with relevant skills through which they could either get meaningful jobs in the job market or perhaps start businesses of their own and then also indirectly by helping small businesses and startups access young people with the right talents and skills to help scale up their businesses and build better products.
We believe that when startups are able to scale and focus on product building they would be able to become bigger brands and then employ more people which is a way we would indirectly solve the problem of unemployment as Hult prize challenge required.
During the course of building our product we did a lot of research and found out that in Africa especially for African startups, finding the right talents is one of the major problems faced by businesses. The average startup has a 90 percent failure rate in its first two years and so we believe that helping startups and small businesses to solve this problem would invariably help to create a conducive ecosystem for startups which would encourage the emergence of new startups in Africa, and help startups to grow faster and through the emergence of new startups and the growth of already existing startups, there would be job creation for young people.

How did you get to know about Hult Prize?

I heard about Hult prize through the former campus director, Dimeji. He was a close friend and acquaintance and he encouraged me to participate and so I did. I formed my team and tried my luck at it.
You seem to be experienced in entrepreneurship judging from your profile. So, have you ever pitched in any competition before Hult prize?
Hult prize was my first experience at pitching an idea and it was quite revealing in its own way.

What were the major challenges you faced while competing and how did you tackle them?

So one of the major challenges faced was lack of experience. Because Hult prize was the first time most of my team members had to pitch ideas and so we were more or less inexperienced. Because of this we had to watch lots of previous videos by previous winners from various countries. We tried to leverage on that to become better at pitching and that was how we solved the problem.

Were you at any point scared or felt you weren’t well prepared?

There was a certain point which I believe we were unable to properly explain our ideas to the judges at the on campus event. One way we have been able to tackle that is we learnt how to hold feedbacks and tried to redefine our idea, refined it and found better ways to express the ideas such that it came out fully formed and more sophisticated.

What position did your team take in the last Hult?

We were not among the top three.

Your team participated in the regionals?

Yes, we went through wild card. An online application for team members in case they are interested in participating in Hult even if they were not among top three.

What made you so tenacious?

I was able to participate as much as I could because I was on internship. I just felt like it was an opportunity for me to develop that entrepreneurship part of myself for future reasons and also for the grand prize that was given out (laughs). It was a shot that was shot (laughs). That was it! I wouldn’t say I was tenacious but to some extent, because I believed my idea was one that could win. But we thank God. My idea is currently working.

How has Hult prize UI impacted you?

Participating in hult prize has really been an eye opener and I have come to see how interested young people are in trying to redesign the future and make impact which is a good thing because we are all that we’ve got. if we want the future to be great we have to build it ourselves and I have also been able to leverage on the opportunity to meet with like-minded people especially through my participation in regionals. I got to meet students from various parts of the world in Nigeria. And we are currently friends and we have been able to share ideas which in our own little way try to improve the Nigerian ecosystem for better and for the benefit of the young people like ourselves in the nearest future.

Give a word of advice to the new participants?

I would tell the new participants to believe in their ideas, one thing I have learnt in life is NO means next opportunity it doesn’t not have to mean no. If judges perhaps say that your idea is not good enough that does not mean that it is the actual truth .it just means that you have to perhaps properly examine your idea and then try to find ways of making it work better. Push on and believe in yourself. The judges don’t have the final say on how your startup idea or business is going to eventually turn out. Also hult prize should just be like an experience that you get to evaluate yourself and should not necessarily be the determinant of the success of future of startup or business idea.

What are your expectations for HultPrize 2020?

My expectations for HultPrize UI 2020 are more impactful ideas, better judges. I expect more participation from UI students because it is very important for us to have so many people participating. Because that would mean that a lot of people are interested in making impact which would be a good thing. Perhaps would lead to more businesses and startups being launched from Universities that are impact driven and social development oriented.

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