Olufunbi Falayi is the co-founder of Passion Incubator– an early stage technology incubator that supports and invests in start-ups and also the CEO at Leadspace, talks about his drive in this interview with KEMI LANRE-AREMU
What schools did you attend?
I studied Computer Science and Economics at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Subsequently, I took a course in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Stanford University, USA, to hone my skills in my field of expertise.
What spurred your interest in Information Technology?
I grew up playing lots of video games and gradually developed interest in technology. I also remember skipping several classes in secondary school to play games all day. Additionally, my parents kept advising us to study professional courses. Computer Science was an easy choice for me from the other options like Accounting, Law and Medicine.
What is your work history?
While awaiting admission to the university I started my first job as teaching assistant in a primary school owned by my dad. While at the university, I took computer repair and networking classes at Computer Village, Ikeja. I also did an internship with NNPC-NAPIMS in the procurement department during my fourth year in the university. Upon graduation, I got a job as a product analyst with an IT firm and subsequently co-founded Project 4: a project focused on empowering secondary school students in IT, entrepreneurship and other soft skills.
I earned a full scholarship to attend a social entrepreneurship incubator in India. While in India, I worked as a research analyst and conducted research on methods the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) of India utilised to reduce youth unemployment rate – by supporting vocational skills and entrepreneurship initiatives through NGOs, skill centres, incubators and technology hubs.
My experience in India inspired me to jointly establish Passion Incubator, an early-stage technology incubator that invests and supports start-ups in Nigeria. I also managed iDEA NIGERIA (Lagos), a technology incubator and accelerator that supports over 40 entrepreneurs/start-ups yearly.
I am currently the West African consultant for HiiL Innovating Justice Accelerator, based in The Netherlands. I also work as the CEO of Leadspace, a shared facility that provides flexible, affordable and world-class workspace for entrepreneurs, start-ups, professionals, freelancers and content creators.
Why and when did you establish Passion Incubator?
The idea was birthed during my time in India in 2013. I was admitted into a social entrepreneurship incubator and by association, I spent time in other technology incubators. I saw passionate young people developed solutions to problems and saw the kind of support they were given in those incubators/hubs. This support made a huge difference to the entrepreneurs as it gave them a shot at success despite the challenges that are associated with launching a start-up. I got inspired by this and I believed that if we had these kinds of opportunities in Nigeria, more talented people would be motivated to start their business.
At that time, youth unemployment rate in Nigeria was about 24 per cent, which in my point of view, was high. I was eager to help people build business and wanted to play a role in creating change. As such, I reached out to my very close friend, Taiwo Ajetunmobi, who at the time was a manager at Hewlett Packard in Dallas, Texas. We decided to team up and start an incubator for young start-ups who were still very early in their development process and were passionate about technology as we were.
We have invested financially in seven start-ups who currently have 43 employees and supported over 200 start-ups/entrepreneurs.
You were also the Centre Manager at the Nigerian government-funded incubator IDEA NIGERIA (Information Technology Developers Entrepreneurship Accelerator). Tell us about IDEA and your responsibilities during your time as Centre Manager?
IDEA supports and invests in technology start-ups. I was the Manager at the Lagos Centre and my core work entailed recruiting and screening quality candidates for incubation at the centre; interfacing with the advisory board on selection and maintaining a healthy pipeline of candidates. I also assisted the start-ups in drafting business plans/pitch decks for funding, kept track of the incubation process, and tracked key metrics.
Having helped to start a privately owned and managed entrepreneurship training institution, Southern Business Academy Lagos, how you have surmounted the challenges of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship has several challenges and the unfavourable conditions in the country make it even harder. However, the ability to offer value, the will to pull through, having the right mentor, a great team, and identifying productive partnerships will give every entrepreneur a slightly better chance at success.
What trainings and certifications have you undergone to further your career?
I take a lot of online courses based on my interests. I try as much as I can to learn new things and this is very important because I am exposed to a lot of young entrepreneurs who believe they have a lot to learn from me.
Aside from that, I have taken training on entrepreneurship and innovation with focus technology business development and growth. More importantly, the best training any entrepreneur can get is during execution.
In what other ways have you honed your skills?
I read a lot and I try to learn from those that have failed and succeeded. I try as much as possible to offer my experience to other entrepreneurs and I learn in the process. I also learn from other entrepreneurs in other parts of the world to understand how they attack problems and their execution process.
What would you say has helped you to become successful at a young age?
I am not certain how to respond to this question. But I think success is attained at different levels and stages of one’s life. For me, there is no height or pinnacle of success and I like to believe I am on a journey to success. My joy comes from seeing entrepreneurs grow successful businesses, which then help make life easier for people. That for me is success.
What things have you had to give up to become successful?
There are several necessary distractions we deal with as individuals. However, because of the nature of my job, I sometimes have meeting that span hours till early morning. I have given up hanging out with friends and family as much as I used to and love to. Hopefully, during the holidays, I can make up for lost time.
What are your other interests?
I travel a lot, majorly work-related. However, I make sure I create a day in each trip to see the city. I recently developed an interest in photography, so I take a lot of pictures for fun.
I love football; I am an Arsenal fan to be precise. I love to watch Crime and Investigation channels.
What are your future plans and projections?
Passion Incubator recently launched a new business unit called Leadspace;. The goal is to create work facilities and infrastructure across the country. We are inaugurating new facilities in Yaba, Ilorin and Ikeja in the next few months. My goal is to grow LeadSpace into a sustainable business and make it possible and easy for our customers to book workspaces and schedule meeting rooms seamlessly via our technology.
Additionally, I am on the verge of joining a prominent VC fund in Africa focused on investing in technology solutions in Africa. My focus will be investment in West Africa.
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