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The African SMEs story: Digital skills for the modern entrepreneur

The African SME Story brings different SMEs to share their stories across board, to propagate hope in SMEs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, supported by Support4AfricanSMEs, BusinessDay, Clarke Energy and more.
In this episode, host Linda Ochugbua speaks with Kelechi Uchenna, environmental engineer, information & data consultant, 2019 Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Foundation Alumni, founder of educational start-up Nigenius.ng, and CEO of Innovative Digital Learning Services, an enterprise that works with businesses and individuals to improve their productivity through high-quality training programmes and is presently focused on digital technology skills that will upskill Africa’s next generation of young talent.

Kelechi’s journey as an entrepreneur began while studying for his Master’s degree in Cyprus where he noticed that teaching was optimised using technology, and realised that Nigerian classrooms did not employ technology as they should to maximise learning potential. In 2015, he started Innovative Digital Learning Services to train teachers in soft skills and digital technology, and they have now trained over 300 teachers across 8 private schools in Nigeria. Innovative Digital Learning Services expanded operations to provide training for Nigerian businesses to be more marketable, mainly in soft skills, ICT and project management. However, with the change in market need for digital services during the COVID-19 pandemic, the business conducted a market survey via social media platforms and Google Forms to understand what digital skills were now needed instead. The major needs identified were data analytics, product management, virtual work skills, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and so a new service was launched to provide training in these areas.

Read also: COVID-19 realities: EY, Indian professionals forum, NICCI partner to promote organisational transformation

He admits that his entrepreneurial journey has not been easy; aspiring digital technology entrepreneurs must be ready to deal with rejection and mistakes, should be honest about the appeal of the product they intend to sell and must be careful about balancing passion with market needs.
For SMEs that want to go into online training, Kelechi notes that it is not a commodity-based business or very capital intensive, but is a value and knowledge-based business. He advises those looking to go into the industry to carry out extensive research first to understand what they want to offer and what the market needs.

SMEs must listen to the market and provide what they need, not what they think is needed based solely on their passion and interests. They must be also be experts or enthusiasts in the skills they intend to market, focusing on their strengths and outsourcing weaknesses by collaborating with other trainers to provide other skills. Resources needed include a laptop, internet subscription, Zoom or Microsoft Team subscriptions, which cost less than ₦10,000/month, and valuable content and resource materials for clients to drive positive reviews and word-of-mouth sales.

Kelechi emphasizes that an entrepreneur must be resourceful and should be able to find solutions to problems within their environment. He advises entrepreneurs to plan COVID/post-COVID strategies geared toward solving problems that arise during the pandemic. The digital learning space has its peculiar challenges, with Nigerians having limited access to power supply, internet supply, laptops and other needed resources, that can be worked around by letting clients know ahead of time of all the requirements for their training: internet connectivity, power supply, software downloads, etc.

Innovative Digital Learning Services, when it started, was worried about creating real impact for teachers in their training programmes, and realised that teachers could not maximally apply what they had learnt because they were overworked. This prompted the creation of Nigenius.ng, a mobile application for teachers that automatically created lesson plans and provided a stream of lesson resources. A follow-up survey of the primary addressable market (private school teachers) revealed that most teachers wanted to use it on their computers, and the service has now been reworked as a website.

Kelechi also spoke on the challenges of narrowing the gap for people without access to digital resources, especially among public school teachers where infrastructure is a major problem. The enterprise is seeking partnerships with the government and other organizations to reach public school teachers. He acknowledges that some states like the Lagos State Government are doing a lot of work to train teachers, as well as corporate bodies like First Bank who recently provided tablets to public schools, but believes that together with indigenous SMES doing important work, there is room to grow and strengthen public education in Nigeria.

He concluded by encouraging young Nigerians to acquire the important digital skills that make them employable such as data analytics, product management and virtual work skills (all available from Innovative Digital Learning), to embrace technology since every job has a technological aspect, to cultivate a culture of constantly learning, and to always aim to provide value.

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