Tech & Innovation October 05, 2021 at 02:03 pm

He failed at four startups, now his ultra-cheap digital microscope is supporting STEM learning in Africa

Abu Mubarik October 05, 2021 at 02:03 pm

October 05, 2021 at 02:03 pm | Tech & Innovation

Obasegun Ayodele, co-founder of Vilsquare. Image via YouTube

For many entrepreneurs, failing is inevitable but handling it and making progress is key. And to fail on four different occasions and still manage to come out successful is truly the mark of resilience. Such was the case of Obasegun Ayodele, who failed at four startups and is now making hardware accessible to Africans.

The Nigerian first got introduced to hardware in secondary school at LAUTECH International College in the South-Western part of Nigeria. His school had a relationship with the Electrical and Electronics Engineering department of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), regarded as one of the best technical universities in Nigeria.

Ayodele went on to study Electronics and Electrical Engineering at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), famed for producing successful entrepreneurs.

His first venture was Alcacia Systems, a hardware consulting firm that assisted companies to build hardware solutions such as billboards and screen displays, according to Techpoint Africa. Unfortunately, the startup collapsed. Driven by purpose and his love for hardware solutions, Ayodele started Pragmatic Embedded, a machine-to-machine solution for home automation. When the startup also failed, he founded PubCulture, which was similar to Canva. The platform allowed users to create social media graphics, presentations, posters, documents and other visual content. It also had templates for users to use.

For his fourth startup, Ayodele ventured into the fintech space with AirMoney. The platform basically tried to resolve the challenge of trust in online payments. According to Techpoint Africa, AirMoney allowed users to convert airtime to cash to make online payments. Just like his previous three startups, AirMoney failed to take off.

Ayodele built his failed startups while still studying at Obafemi Awolowo University and when he graduated, he joined iQube, a tech company building solutions for businesses in Lagos.

“At iQube, I was not doing anything hardware. I was in sales and marketing because one of the biggest lessons from Humane was that we knew nothing about sales, marketing, or business development. They’re not taught in any engineering school, even though there are entrepreneurship courses. Everybody is just focused on building without thinking of how to sell these skills,” he told Techpoint Africa.

While at iQube, he started Vilsquare as a side hustle. He subsequently met his co-founder Obialunanma Nnaobi when he led a project with another company. Initially, his co-founder did not buy into the idea of quitting her job to start Vilsquare.

“She had come from banking to public policy and governance, and I felt it was necessary to bring someone with her skillset. I had the technical skills and some experience with sales and business development, but none in policy or corporate governance, and I believed these were important skills to have,” he said.

Ayodele started the company from his savings but his co-founder, Nnaobi, would join him a year later. Without any venture funding, the two entrepreneurs relied heavily on their savings to keep the business going.

When COVID-19 struck, Ayodele and his team at Vilsquare developed VoltMicroscope – a handheld digital microscope over ten times cheaper than existing alternatives. Vilsquare sold more than 20 pieces at an exposition hosted by Nigeria’s Ministry of Science and Technology. Since then, they have sold 40,000 pieces of the VoltMicroscope, which is being used in 27 universities in Nigeria, including Nile University, Baze University, University of Abuja, according to Techpoint Africa.

Other universities using the VoltMicroscope include Prototype Development Agency in Enugu, Afe Babalola University, Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Lagos, and Yaba College of Technology. Ayodele has reportedly shipped some 1000 pieces of VoltMicroscope and other products to the United Kingdom, Kenya, and South Africa.

Ayodele has also built the Volt School, an eLearning platform that provides learning resources for secondary/high school students. “The platform was launched towards the end of June 2020, and by September 2020, there were over 1,000 students from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Gambia, and Nigeria.”

The platform now boasts 13,000 students in 11 African countries. Through a partnership with the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ayodele and his team integrated an online platform that enabled students to run simple experiments in a gamified environment, according to Techpoint Africa.

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