Becoming an Innovator- The Innovate for Africa-Novustack Experience
I used to think innovation was all about bringing big ideas and solutions. The Innovation Readiness Training changed my perspective.
In constantly seeking ways to learn and grow, I applied for the Innovate for Africa(IFA) fellowship because, at first glance of the application portal, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned because I sent in my application late and received a rejection email saying I wasn’t considered for obvious reasons-It came in late!
Applications for the July cycle opened, and I applied again. This time I got in, and I was elated. Now, I was faced with a difficult decision because I also got a job offer, and both opportunities required full-time participation. Yet, I went with Innovate For Africa(IFA). You ask why? Because, more job opportunities will come but, there’s only one IFA.
Novustack is an organization led by Harvard-MIT graduates with a mission to build innovation ecosystems across Africa by supporting aspiring and existing entrepreneurs to power development in Africa. The Innovate For Africa(IFA) fellowship, the flagship product of Novustack, is a one-year fellowship that identifies and trains existing and future innovators in key industry skills and facilitates startup placements while providing professional support. It starts with a virtual one-month of Innovation Readiness Training (IRT). The core values of Novustack are; being innovative, collaboration, growth mindset, grit, and inclusivity & diversity. The IRT simulates a fast-paced startup environment allowing me to embody every one of these values.
The IRT training curriculum covered the following areas;
- Personal Branding
- Design Thinking
- Strategic Analysis
- Hard Skills Lab
In a competitive environment, it is important to let your personality shine through while exhibiting what sets you apart. I learned how to showcase my skills and competitive advantage by creating a resume that focuses on impact, quantifiable duties, and avoids generic terms and buzzwords, crafting a good LinkedIn profile, formulating a portfolio that showcases my work, past experiences, and reflections from projects, and learning how to prepare for interviews using the STAR(Situation, Task, Action, Result) approach. All in a bid to better position me as an innovator.
To achieve a hands-on learning experience, the design thinking process was applied in an intense two-week hackathon. This was one of the most interesting parts of the fellowship. I collaborated with a team of five(5) individuals consisting of three(3) Data Analysts(me inclusive), a Digital Marketer, and a Product Manager. The prompt was to, identify problems faced by smallholder farmers and proffer a solution to help maximize supply chain and financial inclusion. Deliver a prototype and pitch the solution at the end of two(2) weeks. Together, after applying all design thinking processes, we pitched a solution-FarmEasy. An online platform that collects farmers’ data from cooperatives and assigns them a credit score to access affordable finance; they are then linked to off-takers to sell profitably. On evaluation from industry experts and startup founders, our team performed excellently and scored a whopping 90 points out of 100. One of the judges also showed interest in working with us to push the idea.
Strategic analysis refers to the process of researching an organization and its working environment to formulate a strategy.
Using my client project-Novustack as a case study, I was able to do extensive research and strategically apply decision-making tools such as SWOT(Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and STEEPLE(Social, Technological, Economic, Political, Legal, and Environmental factors) analysis to determine the performance and position of the organization.
Hard skills Lab
For the hard skills lab, I chose Data Analysis because it is to used find meaning in data so that the derived knowledge can be used to make informed decisions. These decisions cut across all aspects of life.
Even though I had never done Data Analysis, working on a real-life client project which was, “Developing a matching Algorithm for Novustack” gave me hands-on experience. I learned to perform data collection through web scrapping using the beautiful soup library in python, data cleaning and compilation, and developing a matching algorithm with Fuzzy-wuzzy a python library for string matching.
With Kaodichinma Eneh, my teammate we took up the challenge with grit and a growth-mindest. Researching, self-learning python programming for data analysis, and working on the client project. For a project that was supposed to be done by a team of four, two people dropped out of the fellowship leaving both of us to do the work. Thanks to the resources provided by Novustack as well as mentors always ready to listen and guide us.
Apart from learning innovation we had seasoned innovators who are industry experts and Startup founders as guest speakers. The co-founder of Social Lender- Faith Adesemowo, Pricepally- Luther Lawoyin, Wella Health-Ikpeme Neto, Drugstoc- Chibuzo Opara, and the Founder of Talent Mine Academy- Aramide Kayode. These speakers shared their experiences with us to learn from their mistakes and wins. They were also happy to answer questions from fellows.
Some key takeaways from these sessions are;
- Be prepared to morph- as you innovate, build, take out, keep going.
- Be emotionally ready for acceptance and rejection.
- Learn to document everything you are doing.
- Conflict resolution is the most important skill to look for in a co-founder.
- Prepare like you have achieved your goals. Look it, act it.
- Any education that does not change or affect your life positively is pointless.
- Show up, but don’t show up with nonsense!
- Design thinking should be at the core of everything you do.
Reflections and Insights
From my experience at the Innovation Readiness Training, I now know that innovation can be, simply walking in people’s shoes, understanding their problems, identifying their pain points, then finding ways to solve them or improving existing solutions.
Collaborating in breakout sessions and the client and hackathon projects further reinforced the importance of Teamwork. In line with the popular saying, “Together, each achieves more”, all projects produced results that would not have been achieved within the time frame if we had worked individually. Using digital tools such as Canva, Kahoot!, padlet, google classroom, zoom, Trello, flipgrid, Miro, Slack, Googleworkspace, Calendly, and many others further showed how much technology aids effective remote collaboration.
During interview preparation, I was surprised at how I was able to articulate my responses using the STAR approach. I also got valuable and honest feedback from the facilitator.
Finally, I look forward to utilizing everything I have learned especially my newly acquired data analysis skills in adding value to organizations and crafting innovative solutions that will impact humanity especially in areas like Agriculture, Mental Health, and Gender-based violence.
The journey doesn’t stop here as I will continue to embody all of these values; grit. growth- mindset, being innovative, collaboration, and inclusivity and diversity throughout the one-year fellowship and beyond; learning from past and future experiences.
Thank you to the Novustack Team, my mentor-Amit Kooner, and colleagues-The Alpha Pack!