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2020: Disrupting Kelvin

My 2020 Year in Review

Disrupting Kelvin

If you had shown me a glimpse of 2020 while I was writing my 2019 Year in Review and making plans for 2020, I would have said you needed to stop watching too much fiction. The year was unlike anything I had experienced before; it came with a rollercoaster of emotions and felt so long because a whole lot happened from beginning to the end — nonstop. Just like a well-written fiction, the world was in suspense, the future always seemed bleak and at a few times, it almost seemed like the end of the world.

As I continue on the journey of cataloguing my memoir through my yearly reviews, I was almost tempted to not write anything for 2020. This was because we lost a lot, including the lives of our brothers and sisters. Their lives were taken by Coronavirus, bandits & terrorists, the Nigerian police & army and the Nigerian government. I have chosen not to recount all that happened throughout the year because you also lived through it (assuming you’re not from the future). 2020 saw people from all over the world stay home and wear a face mask to fight the Coronavirus pandemic, we all came together to take a stand with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we also saw Nigerians and Africans all over the world raise their voices to demand the end of police brutality in Nigeria with the #EndSARS movement, and with heavy hearts, we all had to count our losses, the progress made and move on.

L-R: #EndSARS Movement, Justice for our fallen heroes.
L-R: #BlackLivesMatter Movement, COVID-19 Palliatives loot session, COVID-19 Pandemic.

Moving on

Just like everyone else, my 2020 began with grand ideas and thoughts. In my 2019 Year in Review: Finding Kelvin, I wrote this:

In 2020, I will be diving deeper into building these platforms and products to enable people and businesses, especially across Africa, reach great heights.

At the tail end of my 2-year journey in the Edtech space — building STEM communities in 15 states across Nigeria, running programs with Google, IHS Towers, MTN, hundreds of schools and various state and local governments, creating courses for secondary students interested in STEM, publishing an academic paper and a book, impacting over 20,000 young people directly and setting the structure to reach far more people across and beyond Nigeria — I decided to bow out and make one of the biggest & disruptive shifts in my career yet; move into the startup space.

Working in the STEM and education space is a lot fulfilling because education and skill development is one of the most critical things that can change the economic status of an individual. It levels the playing field and creates access for the individual. Talent is one of the major things that continue to put Nigeria and Africa in the global technology space. With the work done with TechQuest and Consonance, I felt convinced that I could start doing more for businesses. This is another critical thing that can change the economic status of not just an individual, but of many individuals, the country and also the continent. Nigeria and Africa need a lot more businesses to grow, succeed and lift millions of people from poverty.

The move to the startup space was mostly hinged on my passion for building platforms or products for people and businesses to achieve their greatest positive potential. I already had a few experiences building, growing and working with startups. Some of these experiences included building VoissApp with my friends in 2015 and Salescabal with Adetunji 'TeeJay' Opayele in 2018, organizing Pitch2Win with Oo Nwoye in 2019 and growing TechQuest with Charles Emembolu for the past 2 years.

I had just tendered my resignation letter in January 2020 and was recommended to startup roles in Facebook and the UK Nigeria Tech Hub, things were looking good already in the year until I started getting my L’s. For a brief period in February & March, I was both jobless and homeless. This was especially scary because we had just gone into a country-wide lockdown. Luckily, Co-Creation Hub was hiring for an Incubation Program Manager role and I was available. After what I feel was the best and fastest hiring process, and proving that my experience as Program Manager and Head of Business Development at TechQuest would be useful in supporting startups and managing startup programs, I got the job.🎉

I consider the work we do at CcHUB a privilege because we get the opportunity to solve or support startups that solve some of the most challenging problems on the continent. It has been almost one fulfilling year supporting our portfolio startups, designing and implementing startup programs and working with multiple startups across the continent.

Highlights of the Year

My 2020 was characterized by a lot of startup engagements and my major highlight was joining CcHUB and supporting the great work the teams, especially the Startup Support team, are doing across the continent.😎

Milestones Achieved

  1. I Survived — This year was a lot, just being alive, healthy and hearty in 2021 is more than enough to be grateful for.
  2. Got a New Job — Successfully moved to the startup space and got a job as the Incubation Program Manager at Co-creation Hub.
  3. Got a home upgrade — Got a new apartment 7 mins walk from my office. I created a space for myself where I could optimize for productivity.
  4. Paper published — The paper I co-authored on ‘Building a community of STEM educators in Nigeria’ was published with 200 downloads.
  5. Pan-African reach — One thing I hoped to achieve was working with startups from other countries in Africa. Doing this in 4 countries now.
  6. Running & Painting — Found new hobbies. I have completed 100 runs and covered 300 km running. Made my second painting.
  7. Raised Funds — Raised pre-seed funding for Salescabal to support product development and launch.
  8. Bumpa Update — Completed the product development sprints for Salescabal as Bumpa and will be launching soon.
  9. Government partnership — Partnered with the Ogun State Government to make Adire products globally accessible on adireogun.com.
  10. Data certification — Started the data journey to become much better in making business decisions for myself and for the startups I support.
L-R: Painting, Running & Bumpa Screenshot
L-R: Gov Dapo Abiodun & Lai Mohammed at Adire Ogun Launch & Published paper on Community of STEM Educators in NG

2020 Engagements

Startup Support

As a program and portfolio manager at CcHUB, beyond designing and implementing startup programs, I work directly with our portfolio startups (startups we have invested in, e.g. Gricd, Findworka, Assembly Hub, Doctoora, Truppr, e-estate) and support them across 4 key pillars — product, talent, distribution and funding.

COVID-19 Support

At the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, CcHUB put out a call for projects to provide funding, research and design support for COVID-19 related projects. In the past 8 months, I have been working with 17 startups across 4 countries to reach over 10 million people, produce thousands of PPEs, record 676 African COVID-19 facilities and train over 350 health workers. Read here.

Music-Tech Innovation

Music is one of the major exports of Nigeria, at the top with Nollywood and Banking. It is also one of the spaces that have not experienced local innovation in recent times. CcHUB and Bez Idakula decided to do something about it and created the Music Tech Space. Out of over 200 applications, 12 finalists pitched at the MTI Pitch Event attended by 300 people. The top 5 selected startups will be going through our incubation program.

CcHUB Syndicate

The venture capital available to startups is still one of the major determinants of success for African businesses. As remittances from the diaspora continue to rise, we created the CcHUB Syndicate, a means for individuals and institutions (both home and abroad) to invest in some of the fastest-growing early-stage startups in Africa. You should join us.

Digital News Africa — DNA

Media in the tech space is more relevant than ever — highlighting remarkable solutions being built, identifying areas of synergy and collaboration, and depicting the ecosystem in a good light remain super important. I worked on Digital News Africa with Leonard Stiegeler and grew the page to over 10,000 followers while investing in startups with DNA Ventures.

L-R: Music Tech Innovation Pitch Event & CcHUB Syndicate
L-R: COVID-19 Support Impact numbers & DNA chat with Oo Nwoye

Salescabal <> Pioneer

Releasing Salescabal public beta with my cofounder Adetunji 'TeeJay' Opayele earlier in the year was key in learning more about the space and the target market. We maintained the first position in Africa on Pioneer for weeks and was selected to join Pioneer. We got a lot of freebies and support since joining including hardcover books, advisory and free subscription on Gsuite, AWS, Notion and a host of other platforms.

AdireOgun Launch

One of the major wins for 2020 was working with Ogun State government to create a platform that makes Adire globally accessible — adireogun.com. Governor Dapo Abiodun was the first person to purchase products on the platform live on stage during the launch. This platform was entirely built on the Salescabal infrastructure. BellaNaija wrote about it here.

DevFest 2020

Since 2018, I have been a part of the GDGLagos team organizing DevFest Lagos — handling partnerships and sponsorships. In 2020, we organized the first-ever virtual DevFest Lagos in partnership with Google, Opay, Enyata, Termii, INITS and Benjamin Dada. Read about this here.

OyaMakeWeGroove 2020

For the 4th year running, since 2017, I have worked with Oo Nwoye to host the tech community in what we like to call the end of the year party for tech founders, funders and everyone in between. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this was called the social-distancing edition as attendees had to wear face masks and limit close contact. See pictures here.

Project BuildUp

As talent is still one of the major drivers of the growth of our dear ecosystem, Enyata partnered with Consonance to launch Project BuildUp that will support the growth of 50 young Nigerians with Macbooks and 6-months access to Pluralsight. Out of almost 5,000 applications, 50 were selected through a rigorous selection process. Read about it here.

L-R: Pioneer Pitch & OyaMakeWeGroove
L-R: DevFest 2020, AdireOgun Launch, Project BuildUp

Other Highlights

  • OSCA Fest 2020: At the beginning of the year, even before Coronavirus became a thing in Nigeria, Samson Goddy, Ada Nduka Oyom and their team held one of the best tech events I’ve attended yet. I was invited to host the event and I did a pretty good job as I was told. See video.
  • Lagos Tech Meetup: The UK-Nigeria Tech Hub hosted their first-ever tech meetup in February 2020 and I took part of the organization via TechCircle. The Lagos Tech Meetup was attended by most known tech startup founders and investors. See pictures here.
  • #PayAsYouKnow Hackathon: Organized FSI hackathon, one of the biggest hackathons in Nigeria covering over 20 locations in Nigeria with 270 teams registered for the hackathon. The winning teams went home with over N8 million. TechCabal wrote about it here.
  • FB Startup Circle: Facebook introduced Startup Circles in 2020 and I became the ambassador for the Lagos community. The community has since grown to over 100 founders. The engagements and activities in 2020 were quite low but will increase this year.
  • Treford Product Marketing Class: Harry Enaholo invited me to train their Product Marketing students in building communities around their products. I found this fulfilling because I tried to pair up my knowledge of building communities with my experience in building products. See deck.
  • Venture Matrix: In 2020, Toyin Bamidele (Batel) started on a journey to engage, enlighten and expose students to business leadership and entrepreneurship. I was invited to lead the community leaders through a conversation on building valuable communities. Watch here.
L-R: Findworka Webinar, OSCAfest & Treford Product Marketing Bootcamp
L-R: FSI Hackathon, Lagos Tech Metup & TheVentur Community conversation

It wasn’t all highlights

2020 brought its fair share of pain and sadness. I reached my lowest earlier in the year when I was between jobs and without a home — I acknowledge my privilege as I write this because I had some money saved up and could stay with my friend while I house-hunted. While this was happening, the pandemic hit and everyone had to stay isolated. As a people person, this was a very difficult time for me and I had to organize zoom calls with my friends for a company many Fridays. Towards the end of Q3, we started the #EndSARS protest and we saw our brothers and sisters killed for demanding their rights… and as if that wasn’t enough already, my dad fell critically ill.

Everything we were experiencing in 2020 took a toll on my mental health. At some point, I lost all hope and was convinced I wasn’t going to survive Nigeria or survive the year. It was scary. I wasn’t sure where my head was at but I knew that I had to keep on going — I got a frame from Ife Agboola that read ‘Keep Showing Up’ and placed it above my workspace, to remind myself that I had a responsibility to the people around me to keep showing up.

Most people are super ambitious in their career but I don’t think I am. I think I’m only ambitious with regards to the kind of impact I want to make or the change I can help effect, and this drives everything I do. This sometimes takes me off the well-walked paths and leaves me finding my path in such a noisy world — this gets a lot lonely — and I felt like this a lot in 2020. I had a couple of wins that made 2020 my best year so far, but more importantly, I saw myself continuously grow, evolve and pick myself back up every time I fell — with the support of my friends.

L-R: Alone with my thoughts, my homies (love these ones) and a snapshot of my workspace.

Lessons from 2020

Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist and philosopher, said, “Every particular in nature, a leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole”. Every small droplet of beauty that is a part of nature only adds to the immeasurable beauty of the entire world — each piece having a role to play to make the full symphonic beauty that we can enjoy if we simply take the time to take it all in.

Towards the end of 2020, I could see how everything I had done all through my adult life prepared me to take on a new path — Engineering Innovation. This is the beautiful mix of both Engineering and Entrepreneurship. I was able to accomplish a few things in light of this — one was working on a new tool with my team at CcHUB that can help portfolio managers easily collect information and understand areas startups will be requiring support. Another one was working with Perfect Makanju to figure out better ways to distribute music in Nigeria without the internet but through radio.

Beyond clarity in my path, I learnt to have and show a lot more gratitude towards what I have and not exactly wait to feel pain before I appreciate my gains. This video by Kurzgesagt helped. Practising gratitude was key for me in feeling content, satisfied and optimistic. Through 2020, I also started actively cultivating an athlete’s body and an artist’s soul. Naval and James Clear communicated these things in different ways, as things that can’t be bought, so in addition to having an entrepreneur’s mind, I started running and painting. These decisions have been some of the best decisions I made in 2020, and I do not plan on stopping.

Looking forward into 2021

If 2020 taught us anything, it’ll be that we might as well throw the word, “normal” out the window. The “new normal”, on the other hand, is also constantly changing and quite chaotic. We might have to keep on living with the world burning around us. Most of us expected 2021 to be a lot saner but it’s been just a few days into the year, and we’ve seen a new strain of the Coronavirus, a plane crash, and the rebel against democracy in the US.

I have made peace with chaos.

2021 already started on a high note for me because on Saturday, 9th of January, we gave out the MacBooks to the awardees of Enyata’s Project BuildUp. It was surreal… the happiness, joy and excitement could be felt by everyone. There’s such a great feeling attached to knowing that you just might have transformed 50 lives for the better and have given them the advantage to be all they can be and go on to impact much more lives. I am looking forward to phase 2 of the project as we hope to reach more people and involve other companies on the project also.

Images from Enyata’s Project BuildUp

I’m also pretty excited as two products will be launched soon, first is from Babajide Owosakin and our team @ Consonance — we’ve been working on a community product that can help newbies find their path, see curated resources and track their growth. The second is Bumpa, the updated version of Salescabal, which can already be found on both the Android & iOS app stores. These products to be launched, including Project BuildUp, MTI and my work supporting startups are all parts of the platforms and products that I mentioned I’d be diving deeper into building in 2020, to help people and businesses reach greater heights.

The reason I can do a lot of these things is that my role as a Program Manager is optimized for managing several different things, and in 2021, I will expand on these and focus on creating systems around all of them to achieve greater sustainability. 2020 was the year of disruption, and 2021 will be the year I take a major leap in my life and career — interestingly, I am not exactly sure what that leap will be, but I feel ready. I am also committing to building in public via my Twitter and maybe, just maybe, through an audio/visual platform also. This should be exciting!

Thank you again for joining me on this journey. Maybe in a few years, these things will all make sense, but for now, we just keep showing up!

Happy New Year!🎉

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Kelvin Umechukwu

Kelvin Umechukwu

Community. STEM. Startups.

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