Exclusive Interview: Chris Kwekowe – Co-founder of Slatecube

Chris Kwekowe, founder of Slatecube.
Chris Kwekowe, founder of Slatecube.
Chris Kwekowe, founder of Slatecube.

The 2015 MITx Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp is set to be held between 23 & 28 August 2015. The bootcamp will be held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, and will host 5 startups hailing from Nigeria.

According to MITx, 50 candidates were selected from 24 countries at an acceptance rate of 0.08 per cent. Amongst the 5 is Chris Kwekowe’s startup, Slatecube.

IT News Africa caught up with Kwekowe to find out who he is and gain some insight into his startup.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
My name is Chris Kwekowe. I’m a Nigerian and I hail from Umuahia South Local Government of Abia State. I’m the first child in a family of 5 very exceptional children (all boys). I co-founded my first startup, Microbold – an innovation and research driven ICT solutions provider for Startups and SMEs, at the age of 19 with one of my younger brothers, Ebube.

Currently, I’m a 400 level student of Computer Science at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. In summary, I’m a passionate young tech-enthusiast and entrepreneur that believes that the average African youth is the driving force for global impact and sees ICT as the propellant on which this goal is dependent on.

2. Tell us about Slatecube
After extensive research, which started in July 2014, we launched an open beta release for Slatecube on the second day of October 2014.

Basically, Slatecube leverages knowledge with skill acquisition to promote employability and social
development by enabling users to learn, collaborate with world class professionals and develop industry relevant skills that make it possible to work anywhere.

Essentially, what we do at Slatecube is really simple but very important. We help individuals develop new knowledge or build on already existing knowledge and then expose them to industry-relevant skills with hands-on training from real organisations in order to make them more employable and improve their social and economic relevance.

For instance, Anita who is a student at a University, and studying computer science is exposed to various core fields from which she selects her preference, say Web Development. She would go on to complete an online training course on Slatecube on Web development after which she is tasked with developing a Web solution as a project.

Her project is then exposed to partner organisations who review it and decide if they are interested in placing her on a Virtual Internship Program (VIP). She can also request an organisation to see her work. Usually, Anita (as with all our users) have an 80% guarantee that their submission will be granted. Virtual Internships are more like conventional internships just that they are done via the platform and require periodic submission of report which may be hourly, daily or weekly.

The duration is purely at the discretion of the organisation. During her internship, Anita would work on real projects with the rest of the staff at that organisation, specifically those concerned with Web Development. She would be exposed to common workplace factors like collaboration and deadlines and would go on to develop even more skills. At the end of her VIP, if possible she would be invited for an onsite evaluation.

At this point, the organisation is sure of her strengths and weaknesses and can make an informed decision on whether she would be a good fit for a job at the organisation. On the other hand, Anita has developed industry-relevant skills for her chosen field and can state her work experience on her CV. If offered a job, she may choose to return after school or anticipate even bigger offerings in the future.

Slatecube also provides aesthetically designed e-Learning environment for High Schools (Secondary schools) and Colleges (Tertiary institutions), and offers Virtual Training Modules for organisations to train their staff on professional training programs offered by leading institutes from around the world, without these staff members having to leave their current location, and their job duties thus cutting down on costs.

3. Where did the idea for Slatecube come from?
In 2014, twelve 300 level students – mostly my classmates interned at Microbold, my first startup. 2 months into the 6 months that the internship was meant to last, another of my classmates who had just arrived Lagos approached me saying he’d love to take part in the internship but due to distance he wouldn’t be able to make it. At that time, we had played around the eLearning phenomenon at the office, but on a very fundamental level.

It had most of the traditional e-Learning functionality – nothing new. Also, I have always had an issue with conventional education and how stereotypical I think it has been. I believe Education and Learning should be about developing skills that help tackle real-life challenges. It should be engaging, collaborative, industry-relevant, practice driven, and directed towards providing solutions to our everyday problems. I started thinking about a way forward. A way around the problem. That’s when an idea struck me. What if we could revolutionise education to reduce the amount of people who lacked jobs by leveraging online courses and virtual internship programs as tools to properly balance knowledge with skill acquisition, in order to promote a society that has individuals with skills to tackle its challenges, and eventually create value for them for doing so?

So I discussed the prospects with my younger brother, we came up with a blueprint, and we assembled some of our staff, interns and freelancers to work on researching deeper into the concept of Blended and Distributed learning – and other forms of eLearning. That’s how I started Slatecube – which has now been used in all continents of the world, and has offered course training to more than 2000 users (virtually and onsite). Hundreds of those trained have interned or have been attached with real organisations, and 80% have high test, project and implementation scores (“A”s).

4. Where do you see your startup in 10 years’ time?
We are poised to achieve some very significant milestones in the next decade.
This would include expanding our courses and skills development program’s by investing heavily into the quality of all our course offerings. This would be achieved by:

Bringing in more top-notch industry experts from as many industries as possible (including Agriculture, Fashion Design, Real Estate, Healthcare).

Brokering partnerships with more leading organisations from around the world to groom and adopt qualified users, where applicable.

Initialising and sponsoring 50 additional Bootcamps and Educational excursions each year to promote collaboration and other relevant social skills.

Replicating our courses and skills program in 17 local languages across Africa.

This would help us create a breed of over 50,000 sound and experienced individuals who are either running their companies, gainfully employed or ready to be adopted into the workforce.

To achieve a feat as important as this, within 10 years, there are some very peculiar challenges we
would need to tackle – a significant one being access to good Internet facilities. A major challenge with eLearning in Africa, and many rural communities across the globe, is poor internet facilities or none at all.

I intend to establish internet hubs in strategic places across cities in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda known as Slatecafé to facilitate easier access to Slatecube. The Slatecafé would distribute high-speed internet signals for users to access course contents on Slatecube. We are currently in very positive talks with Avanti Plc. (a Satellite Broadband and data communications company based in London) to provide internet facility for Slatecafé. With this, internet access will be mostly free or heavily subsidised for every learning activity across the platform.

5. How can people benefit from your startup?
It depends on who is involved. Slatecube is designed to be beneficial to people through the following means:

Helping students/users develop industry-relevant skills.

Helps users obtain work experience.

Our self-paced and aesthetically designed eLearning environment improves the level of impact courses can have on students to a great extent. Schools record better academic success in their students with Slatecube.

Approved freelance instructors can teach socially and economically beneficial courses on any topic of interest to a global audience and get paid.

Organisations can improve their employment decision process and invariably, their work force by first virtually attaching a prospective employee, then analysing their performance before eventually employing them or otherwise.

– Organisations can also deploy the Virtual Training Modules to enroll their staff on professional training programs offered by leading institutes from around the world without having to spend on transportation and accommodation cost.

– Deserving students/users can easily get employed wherever they want after successfully completing a virtual internship program.

6. How can investors contact you regarding your startup?
For investment enquiries you can send an email to info@slatecube.com. It is good to note that while we are very happy to partner with as many individuals, organisations and corporate firms as possible, we always look out for relationships targeted at fostering our goal of promoting self reliance, and social relevance for our customers.

7. What do you hope to achieve at MITx Boot Camp?
First, MIT is an amazing citadel for both academics and entrepreneurship. The results speaks volume. I’m ecstatic about the Bootcamp and all that I would be taught. While I have been involved with some notable Entrepreneurial programs such as the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program (TEEP 2015) and University of Maryland’s online course on Entrepreneurship, MIT’s proven record of entrepreneurial success and its direct involvement with our startups would be priceless.

What I hope to achieve most would be to create a network of highly innovative minds, coupled with the prospects of interacting with fantastic ideas from different parts of the world. Also, I’d get a perspective of everyone’s opinion about Slatecube. This would help me shape it into an amazing platform – suitable for the world.

8. Have you faced any challenges when beginning your startup?
Oh yes! A lot. First my age. Secondly, my physic could easily pass for a minor making it difficult for most people to listen to my proposition. In school, I have to sacrifice most of my school hours just to think and brainstorm about the idea – even during exams. Trying to get course content developers with little or no payments (I literarily had to come up with ingenious ways of paying them off in the end).

Organising Slatecube Bootcamps with personal cash and very lean cash allowances. Convincing Organisations to try out the platform and partner with us. Painstakingly reviewing the platform’s over 1 million lines of code in order to fix bugs and optimise its delivery algorithm. I never really had a perfect condition to build the platform. Additionally, my parent’s were concerned about our education – at some point they demanded I leave my younger brother so he could face his studies if I was no longer serious with mine. Of course most of these challenges are gone now – and my family is undoubtedly our biggest supporter.

9. Have you won any awards for your current startup or previous startup?
Yes. We’ve had our fair share of recognition. One very prominent one is being short-listed for the Anzisha Prize for Entrepreneurship – a prize by the African Leadership Academy that celebrates young Africans with remarkable entrepreneurial success, holding in South Africa.

I was also invited to the African Union Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia during the 2015 eLearning Africa Conference to present the concept around the Slatecube platform. I’m slated to make similar presentations in Berlin at the Online Educa Conference in December 2015, and at the Innovation Arabia Conference early next year in Dubai. Another well-treasured achievement for Slatecube occurred when 2 Slatecube users, both females, went on to present their projects at a National event and emerged Second overall.

Microbold, the company from which Slatecube was birthed has been very successful on the other hand. It was declared one of the best startups helping local businesses in 2014 by Signl. This year, Web Summit – the biggest technology gathering in the world also selected and listed Microbold as one of Africa’s most promising startup, while selecting startups from around the world slated for a chance to demo at its conference in Dublin.

10. If there is anything else you want us to know?
Slatecube is positioning itself as a leading focal point for excellence in education for both teachers and students alike. It is also exposing bright minds to top league companies and organisations. We believe therefore that this is indeed a priceless opportunity for everyone to grab with both hands.

Darryl Linington


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