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Jesudamilare Adesegun-David: Impacting Africa's Underserved University Communities

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

"Ennovate Lab is an innovation hub that seeks to build resilient innovation ecosystems in underserved university communities. We do this by identifying and resourcing the best entrepreneurial and tech talents in the universities that make up our host communities whilst building a supportive web of stakeholders across these ecosystems for our talents to thrive."

Q1:Tell us about your yourself:

Esudamilare "JD" Adesegun-David is a Thought Alchemist and a Community Transformation Strategist. Ennovate Lab, a community he co-leads, is an Innovation Hub and a Start-up Foundry committed to building resilient innovation ecosystems in underserved university communities and creating borderless innovative solutions for communities of all kinds.

A graduate of Agronomy in 2011 and a Teach with Africa Fellow (South Africa) in 2015, he has a knack for bridging the seeming divide between diverse disciplines. In 2019, he was recognised by YNaija in its New Establishment List and his work has been featured in other local and global media.

As an ecosystem builder, he has resourced and mentored hundreds of entrepreneurs and tech talents in conjunction with local and global organisations including Eridan Group, StudentBuild, GDG, Startup Grind, Hult Foundation, GIZ, Atos, and Impact Hub among others. In 2021, he became a Branches Worldwide Leader and a We Will Lead Africa Fellow and in 2022, he became a Butterfly Works-certified Design Thinking Mentor.

In his quest to ensure his work consistently leads to human flourishing and virtuous culture creation, he recently completed the Praxis Academy course on Redemptive Business, a program by Praxis Labs, New York, USA.

Q2: What does your company do?

Ennovate Lab is an innovation hub that seeks to build resilient innovation ecosystems in underserved university communities. We do this by identifying and resourcing the best entrepreneurial and tech talents in the universities along the path of our host communities while building a supportive web of stakeholders in the ecosystem for these talents to thrive.

Q3: What inspired you to start your business?

Ennovate Lab was founded as a response to the marginalisation that small cities and towns experience when it comes to innovation, funding and infrastructure. However, research shows that such marginalisation is counter-productive.

"Of the 55 percent of the world’s population that is currently estimated to be urban, about 40 per cent reside in secondary towns and cities. This trend is similar in the Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) region. By 2015, 46.94 per cent of the urban population in SSA was living in towns and cities with less than 300,000 persons.

This share was more than other region(s) in the world. However, despite evidence that secondary cities and towns are the epicentres of urban growth in SSA, many of the urban development and governance interventions have focused more on primary and mega cities, presumably with the expectations of trickle down of social, economic and physical developments to other tiers of towns and cities, including secondary towns and cities.

Despite the existing multiple deprivations, secondary cities in SSA exhibit strategic opportunities due to their strategic locations, availability of land and resources, and cultural identities, which provide development advantages for addressing multiple deprivations..." (Daniel Githira et al., 2020)

We believed that by establishing an innovation hub in Ogbomoso, a secondary town and an underserved university community, we would be changing the narrative and creating a model for others to replicate.

Q4: How do you define your business model; what differentiates your products or Services from others?:

Our business verticals includes:

  1. An Innovation Hub which offers co-work services, tech and entrepreneurship training, capacity-building events and community-creating experiences;

  2. A Start-up Studio which is a hybrid of an incubator/accelerator for tech-driven enterprises;

  3. A Seed Fund which is soon to commence to provide financing to founders in our community;

  4. A Digital Agency called Qeola that provides software solutions, branding, digital marketing and market activation services; and

  5. A Non-Profit called Children that Change the World which is focused on improving the cognitive and digital skills of high school students in our community.

Q5: Starting a business is not easy. What struggles did you experience in the infant years of your company and how did you overcome it?

Our main challenges over the years have been centred mainly around cash-flow, culture and workforce. Keeping one's doors open especially when doing business in an underserved terrain is a really demanding experience.

The purchasing power of our target audience wouldn't have been able to cover our expenses and that was why we had to establish the digital agency which is cash-flow positive. The revenues from the agency which are gotten from clients both within and outside Africa has helped us to keep driving our vision for the community.

Culture is very important for such an organisation as ours. We had to commit the first three years to building a pervading culture of excellence, creative empathy, camaraderie and visionariness and this has helped us to embrace growth without fear of losing our culture in the process.

When you work in an underserved community, it is sometimes difficult to get people to relocate to work with you. However, from the get-go, we knew we had to walk the talk of our mission which is to identify and resource the best tech and entrepreneurial talents in our community.

This made it imperative that we had to build out our team from a crop of homegrown talents we had identified. While it took some time for us to hit our stride, the moment we did, we came to realise this was the only way we could have gone with our vision.

Q6: What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started?:

I wish I had known how to combine altruism and profitability as seamlessly as I now know. It would have saved us some years of pressure.

Also, I wish I was laser-focused on some goals far earlier than I got to be; expending energy on too many projects at the same time could be a big blow for a team's morale. However, all things have worked together for our good with the benefit of hindsight.

Q7: What are your 3 priorities right now:

Our biggest priorities right now include:

  1. Getting start-ups in our ecosystem funded for rapid market penetration.

  2. Expanding our digital agency's footprint to 3 more continents from the present 3 we serve.

  3. Ramping up the development of tech talents with niche but high-paying skills.

Q8: What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?:

Within the next one year, we would have perfected our playbook for the establishing of innovation hubs in underserved university communities and replicated the same in the 6 geo-political zones of Nigeria and 2 West African countries within the next 5 years.

Q9: Advice to other entrepreneurs or to your younger self?:

Solve real problems. Building a business to solve real problems may not get you the accolades quickly or return profits as fast but in the long run, you will be glad you did. Much more, the world will be a better place because you did.

Understand the power of relationships and refuse to be exploitative. Market forces and a push for success will consistently tempt you to violate the golden rule but do not give in to such. Treat your team, clients, suppliers and host community the way you would love to be treated.

Pay it forward. Ensure you are helping other people to stand on your shoulders so they can do their best work as well. Do not be miserly with your knowledge and insights. Be liberal. A rich man among poor people is still poor. Grow the best corn and share the seeds with others so they can do the same. Pollen does not respect boundaries. What you give is what you get.

Amana Alkali: Tech Journalist, Writer, Editor & Public Speaker

Employing homegrown talents and establishing a digital agency to change the cashflow narrative stand firmly as reflections of what Ennovate Lab as an innovation hub is able to achieve.

One striking quality Adesegun-David and the lab have displayed, especially in the area of working with underserved communities in the education sector, is that of resilience and commitment – more so, in ensuring that the lab only works with the best available talent to achieve its goal.

Interestingly, in their efforts: one is able to observe a blend of corporate social responsibility with actual work – a practice other organisations or companies should imbibe to serve the communities where they are domiciled. It is also encouraging to see the commitment to provide opportunities to individuals in schools or institutions across borders.

While exploring possible partnership options, it can only get better as Ennovate Lab surmounts the challenges it faces and expands its digital footprints as envisioned.

Shadrack Kubyane: Co-Founder & CEO of Coronet Blockchain and eFama App

What is striking as one observes the journey of Ennovate Lab from its inception to date: is how the founder Adesegun-David demonstrates the mastery of kindness as a super-power. His persistent generosity knows no boundaries, and yet over the years, he has come to harness his focus and centre his efforts quite strategically. Remaining kind, generous and ever so present to serving these marginalised markets, whilst at the same time keeping a firm grip on cashflow.

The chasm between Africa's urban centres, rural and peri-urban landscapes is at times like night and day. Rightly put through his keynote deliveries: this chasm presents a missed opportunity. I am particularly referring to his notable reference "pollen knows no boundaries", then why do we as the human populace tend to set up artificial segregation mechanisms between us? Why do we formulate stigma and hype around what it means to "live in the big city" when our big cities are super reliant on small towns and villages, particularly when it comes to food security?

I have lost count how many times I have come across someone who shrinks a bit when they mention where they come from, if that place of origin is not some popular town. On a macro level: when you meet someone in London, a black African for that matter, there's a tendency by some not to say it proudly that "I hail from Africa and I am proud of it". We can blame the scotching heat of lies and propaganda from our colonial past, whatever it is, it must stop.

Seeing Adesegun-David commandeer this bridge building effort to close the development gaps in these second tier towns and rural spaces is incredible. We wish him more wins as he shapes, quite boldly , the Africa we want, where none is considered "2nd place" due to their place of birth, and no town is left behind, when powering the continent's economic machinery

Nicole Petyt CEO - Africa Women Enterprises

Ennovate Lab’s business concept is exceptional in that it focuses specifically in geographical areas that entrepreneurs traditionally shy away from – less densely populated areas and underserved areas. This is where jobs are desperately needed in order to stimulate economies and keep family units together instead of some family members moving away to large cities for work. In this way, taxes can be collected from the employed population and infrastructure can be developed. There are so many positive knock-on effects from creating jobs in under-served communities.

The timing is perfect, post-pandemic, as so many larger, urban businesses have not survived the pandemic and undergraduates who have attended incubators and accelerators are ready to start their own businesses.

The current average age (according to the World Economic Forum) is 18, as at 2018. There is a huge need for those Africans who are university educated and who have the acumen to become entrepreneurs to do so. Jobs are scarce, continent-wide, and self-employment is going to be the future of Africans in a Pan-African context. In the incubator and accelerator space, potential entrepreneurs will be prepared to be investor-ready, which is the ultimate objective of these vital services.

Africa needs entrepreneurs like JD in the thousands, so that we can create a macrocosm of entrepreneurs across the continent, and in this way, jobs are created. If one million entrepreneurs create 5 jobs each across any sector across the continent, that is 5 million jobs, instantly. This becomes exponential as those employed are bitten by the entrepreneurial “bug” and open their own businesses. The future of Africa is Entrepreneurship.

I wish JD the very best for his extremely bright future, and I know that he will have a Pan-African, Global business in the timeframe he has set himself!

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