Knowing and understanding your customers, key to building viable local Startups

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Tech startup, Georgina Campbell-Flatter,
Georgina Campbell-Flatter, Executive Director, Legatum Centre For Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT, USA

 

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, has been ranked as the top University in the world for the third year running. This can be attributed to a number of factors. Areas where the institution is obviously very strong are in the areas of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

A team of MIT officials recently arrived in Nigeria, for Open Mic Africa. They also visited a number of Startups they found interesting. A member of that delegation was Georgina Campbell-Flatter, Executive Director, Legatum Centre For Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT, USA, with whom I had a very interesting discussion on her thoughts on the Nigerian Startups ecosystem and how to build viable ones.

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On what her experience has been, so far, in Lagos, Georgina stated that it has been awesome and great. “The energy in the city is amazing. The people are great. I’m having a beautiful time and our hosts are incredible”, she stated.

Shedding light on some of the Startups that her team had visited, Georgina mentioned some Startups, but was, particularly, excited about Wecyclers, run by Bilkis, whose Startup is all about offering an innovative model for recycling waste, thus, helping to clean up the city of Lagos. She stated that waste are collected, processed and sold for a profit.

Georgina also spoke glowingly about Max , a delivery service that makes it easier for Lagosians to send and receive packages in under 3 hours, because of the adoption of the innovation of the Motorcycle delivery model, thus, beating the usual Lagos traffic. Georgina stated that, this is instructive, as Max has been able to create as much as 4,500 jobs that did not exist five years ago in the city.

On how local Startups can benefit from the MIT ecosystem, Georgina stated that it is a matter of the mindset. “When we support entrepreneurs, we encourage them to think about two things. It’s the mindset in spirit and its’ scale.” She stated that spirit is natural, as there are people who are excited and eager to provide value to their ecosystem. She stated, however, that matching them with the needed skills to build and scale their business is what MIT does to help the Startups. Georgina stated that there is a Professor at MIT, who has written a book, with a disciplined approach on 24 steps to working through your business. “The key point behind everything that he teaches and everything that we teach at MIT is that, you have to understand your customer. You have to know who you are serving”, she pointed out.

Georgina stated that, embedded in the MIT approach to teaching, is the idea of mind and hand, and she thinks that Nigerian Universities too can take queue from there. “Everything we teach, has a theory component and also a practical component”, she reiterated. She emphasized that it is not all about standing out there with some power point, talking out to entrepreneurs, because, they want to be involved. They want to engage. They want to GSD, which means ‘Get Stuff Done’. You can’t really teach that”, she pointed out. She stated that the approach is to teach in Class a little bit and, then, carry out some project work by getting the students out to the field. “One of the assignments we have, is you have a decent technology idea, go and speak to 50 potential users of that technology and come back and tell us what they thought of it”, she stated. She went on to say that, students also have to develop other business skills, such as, how to pitch, how to story-tell, marketing, finance, which leads to building a good business.

Georgina is of the opinion tgat, support structures are key to the growth of an entrepreneur. “You really do see results when students come into our program, they might have a great idea, but not a good sense how to approach that customer, how ti build up that product to meet the needs of the customer and by walking them through simple steps”, she reiterated.

On how important the fusion of technology and entrepreneurship is, to the growth of the ecosystem, Georgina stated that technology alone is not helpful, but when you match technology with coomercialisation, (entrepreneurship), one can really see the impact that brings to the society.

Georgina concluded by saying that she is eager to have as many entrepreneurs as possible from Lagos, to come over to MIT for training.

You can view the full interview here and here

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