• Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Fall and rise of 48-year-old Sim Shagaya, brain behind Miva Open University, uLesson Group


Sim Shagaya is a Nigerian media and technology entrepreneur and the brilliant mind behind Miva Open University.

He has left an indelible mark on the education landscape in Africa, along with several innovative ventures that have both succeeded and faced challenges.

Sim Shagaya can infact be likened to that man who falls down 9 times and rises up each time, given the number of failed tech startups he has under his sleeve.

In no particular order, Sim created a dating site, Alarena.com; a job site, Jobclan.com; a classified site, Gbogbo.com; and media streaming service iNollywood.com. These projects would go on to fail because they were all ahead of their time in Nigeria.

According to Statista.com, Internet penetration in Nigeria was about three percent in 2006 compared to now. With a figure like that, there was little or no chance of these projects surviving, unless millions of dollars were raised to keep them long enough in the market.

QUOTE: “Many businesses fail not because there is anything fundamentally wrong with the business model. They fail simply due to management’s inability to control costs and run efficiently.” – Sim Shagaya

In the case of Alarena.com, for instance, the project started around the same time OkCupid, also a dating site, started in the US. With high Internet penetration and adequate funding, the latter has gone on to be acquired by another dating company, Match Group, in 2011.

Jobclan.com and Gbogbo.com have been iterated so much in Nigeria’s startup space and, in the process, spun out companies like Jobberman and Jiji, that now thrive because of an increase in Internet penetration across the country.

iNollywood was an interesting concept Sim tried to make work even before YouTube launched in the US, something iROKOtv, would later leverage on to start as NollywoodLove.

After moving on from these projects and starting E-Motion Advertising, Sim would later give reasons why iNollywood failed in a 2010 interview.

“My first Internet startup was in 2005, iNollywood.com, which sought to distribute Nigerian movies over the Internet. Although it did quite well because we had a few Nigerian classic content, it failed for a number of reasons, most notably because at the end, the timing was not right.”

Equipped with the knowledge gotten from these failed ventures, Sim Shagaya has gone on to exit three companies he founded — the now defunct DealDey, Konga.com, and E-Motion Advertising

He created several websites like Alarena, Jobclan, Gbogbo and iNollyWood which were relatively unsuccessful before the launch of DealDey in March 2011 after he convinced the board of the billboard company he owned to invest in DealDey.

On 3 July 2012, he founded Konga.com with a capital from Swedish investment firm Kinnevik. According to Shagaya, the primary aim of Konga.com is to “aggregate the youngest and fastest-growing market that was dispersed, under-served and that traditional retailers were simply failing to reach”.

After the failure of all these businesses, Shagaya started hitting it right with uLesson, an edtech company that provides teaching videos to students.

Founded in 2019, it immediately raised a total of $3.1 million in a seed round led by TLcom Capital and subsequently raised $7.5 million in a Series A round in January 2021 led by Owl Ventures.
The edtech startup has made significant progress in West Africa and has promptly made moves to expand to eastern and southern Africa.

Born and raised in Nigeria, Shagaya’s journey to success can be said to be a testament to resilience, innovation, and unwavering determination. Shagaya is the founder and CEO of uLesson Education Limited – an app built to make education available to learners across Africa.

Before his entrepreneurial adventures, Sim’s work experience spanned over 10 years in new media and investment banking. Upon his return from the US in the early 2000s, he had a brief stint with Rand Merchant Bank South Africa before moving on to Nigeria, where he became head of Africa for search giant Google and Lucent Technologies before launching e-Motion Advertising in November 2005.

In 2014, he was named among “10 Most Powerful Men in Africa” in Forbes’ list. In August 2019, Sim Shagaya was invited to and accepted to serve as a member of the Economic Advisory Council of the Executive Governor of his home town, Plateau State, by Samuel Lalong.

He completed most of his education in the US. He is a graduate of George Washington University and holds a Masters of Engineering degree from Dartmouth College. He also graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2003.

Sim is the founder and chancellor of Miva Open University which was recently launched and received its operating license in May 2023.

Miva and uLesson Education, which in 2023 was ranked #1 on Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies in Europe, Middle East and Africa

Miva Open University, a part of the uLesson Group, has received an Open Distance eLearning License from Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council.

Miva Open University launched in 2023, four years after uLesson began its operations, and Shagaya says this has always been in the works.

Stories like that of Shagaya’s, paints a picture of humble beginnings to entrepreneurial success, marked by both triumphs and challenges, it serves as an inspiration to millions of young entrepreneurs.

Through his innovative ventures and dedication to education, he continues to shape the future of Africa and empower its people to achieve their fullest potential.