Immanuel: Technology, Key for Boosting Innovation, Entrepreneurship

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The Chief Executive Officer, Semicolon, Sam Immanuel, in this
interview, highlights the importance of technology to businesses. Hamid Ayodeji provides the excerpts:

What has been your major motivation to be a technology entrepreneur?

I have always been in the technology space as I am also a software
engineer; and part of what we are doing is based on the fact that we
realise the country has a large youth population. A large number of
this youth population are unemployed. However, there are still so many
companies that are in search of man power with technical skills so as
to upscale their work force and productivity. As software engineers, we
feel it is a good initiative in terms of tackling the issue of
unemployment in our environment by training more software engineers.

From your view, what makes up a successful and sustainable entrepreneur?

A successful entrepreneur should always be able to understand the
problem they are trying to solve, or the issue they are trying to
address is. He or she must be able to find and build a good team that
would be able to help towards building the solution to that problem
that has been identified. A successful entrepreneur should also be able to figure out the product his or her market fits, so that whatever endeavor the individual decides
to go into becomes successful and profitable.

What role does access to capital play in entrepreneurship?

To some extent it is true. This issue goes beyond Nigeria. Raising
capital is never easy as the people managing funds on behalf of
investors have a duty to ensure that they are investing in profitable
ideas and companies. But one of the ways to address this, as entrepreneurs, first of all we need to ensure that we find bankable opportunities. Having this makes the journey towards fund raising becomes somewhat easier.
Other ways to address the challenges around fund raising is that when
we see more companies succeeding it helps potential investors
gain more confidence in the capabilities of the entrepreneurs in
delivering whatever vision that is being sold.

What sort of work philosophy is semicolon built on, and how were you able to discover and put together the right team to upscale the
brand up until this point?

Building the right team essentially, working through a network to identify people of like minds that share the passion for trying to
address the problem around youth unemployment; more importantly, people
that share the passion for innovation and disruption. By doing this, you develop a culture that encourages people to be themselves, and then
highlighting the fun side of the work that we do and the people we do
it with so that the team becomes as a family working together to
achieve a common goal.

So, how are you taking advantage of technology?

We are going into the digital age, knowing for a fact that there is a
high correlation between technology and economic growth. Thus, we need to start looking for ways to automate as many initiatives as possible.
Technology enables a lot of the things we are currently working on. If
we discover a manual solution, we see the need to upscale it to a
technology-driven solution whereby making it more efficient as a
larger yield is achieved.
Another way to approach it is, how we can start encouraging more of
our people to get familiar with technology; particularly in our
curriculum in the educational system, we should embed enough
technology so that the students can generate interest
as well as curiosity to learn more, which can develop into innovation
and economic solutions.

How has Semicolon been able to give back to the society?

Semicolon is a social enterprise with a double bottom line that is
focused on tackling the problem of youth unemployment. Hence, for us,
we are giving back to society by mentoring youths and training, after
which we seek employment for them. With this, we have impacted families
and communities as we now have 123 students with us, and we are about to take in our next cohort in January, which
makes the conveyor belt in terms of training and people development
set well underway. Witnessing the development in each individual going
through our programme, giving back to society is self-evident.

How receptive has the Nigerian business environment been towards your solutions?

Everywhere around the world the challenge is the same. How can we
ensure profitable and inclusive growth? In order to achieve that you
need a skilled workforce that is healthy and effective. In terms of
Nigeria, the support and feedback has been very encouraging. Over 10,000 people have applied to the programme already. Referrals have
also been another indication of positive feedback. But more
importantly, more companies have discovered us and are more eager to
work with us. For the people we have trained, they have been getting
job offers. So, I am delighted to say that in terms of acceptance and
support, Nigeria has been accommodating and more responsive because there are people here who are genuinely passionate about moving the
country forward and are ready to do all it takes to move the country
forward.

What initiative is Semicolon doing to expand the
capacity of your operations?

We need to start working towards incorporating the large number of our
trainees into the organisation. We are also working towards partnership with different universities which would help us scale and
grow our operations. We are also looking at how we work with
organisations that want to re-scale their employees. We are currently
working on a new initiative called Semicolon Women-in-Technology
(SWIT) because we have realised that we do not see so many women in
the technology space as founders. So, we are making deliberate efforts
on how we can encourage more women to go into technology. Even though we are focused on trying to solve the problem of youth
unemployment we are also looking at ways to get young innovators on
board to programmes like this.