My name is Ifedayo Oladapo, founder of GRIT Systems. We make a multi-source web-enabled energy monitoring system designed to help consumers cut costs in mixed power supply systems. I am one of the 30 finalists of the 2016 edition of the Aso Villa Demo Day.
Earlier this year, I applied to the Aso Villa Demo Day. Notice was a bit short but I was invited to pitch. On the 23rd of June, I put on my signature Abeti Aja cap and went to pitch. In the minutes leading up to the pitch, I quickly rehearsed with Mrs. Tele Ogundipe of Egusi Soupe who was also pitching and I had just met. There were three chairs to the right of the stage, on my right was a familiar face Tolu Adeyanju, co-founder of Red Bank who I’ve fondly nicknamed “Blood Money.” I recognized her from the local 1776 challenge cup.
Some weeks after the event, I ran into someone in church who had been a judge at the Lagos event. She took an avid interest in my business, arranged for me to meet with prospective clients, and invited me to a lecture in Unilag at which the Vice President spoke. At this point, I was already grateful for the outcome of the event; grateful to the @genenterpriser team for affording me the opportunity and for the help.
On the 4th of August, another contestant Damilola Quadry, cofounder of Shuttlers aka “One Chance,” was the bearer of good news. She told me she read in the press that I had been selected to go to Abuja and pitch to the President. Leading up to the departure date on the 30th of August, I bought a Hula cap and washed my finest Jalabia – I wanted to look like Baba Presido.
Abuja, here I come
The AVDD team organized a twitter interview which went well. They asked about my expectations and I told them I was expecting a free T-shirt and small chops. They thought I was joking, but I try to expect as little as possible from others because it’s the most sensible way to avoid disappointment.
My graphics designer did some excellent last minute work and delivered a roll-up banner to me at the airport just before my 7 am flight. The hardware team calibrated and prepped 3 devices and a demo kit in a few hours. After boarding the flight, I was called off into the security screening room to explain what was in my suitcase. I took the opportunity to pitch our solution to the guys at Airport security.
I got to Abuja early on Tuesday morning and caught up with everyone else at the Transcorp Hilton later in the day.
Day 1 preparation
On Wednesday the 31st , we all got on the bus and headed to Ventures Platform where we met Kola Aina, the founder. OO Nwoye was one of the speakers who addressed us before we did our 30 second pitch video.
After, we split up into groups to rehearse for the real pitch. At rehearsals, one interesting young man – Akinola Solomon Oluwasegun, founder of Africa On The Horizon – stood out to me. He has fantastic ideas about harnessing resonant energy from acoustic and radio waves for charging inverters, and already has a viable business building possibly some of the best and cheapest inverter systems available in the country. He reminded me of a younger me; he had the technical skillset but his pitch needed some work so we worked on it together.
Day 2 the Pitch
On Thursday at Ventures Platform, I was determined to show the roll-up banner that I went to so much trouble to get. There was no space inside, so I put it up outside in the most visible place possible nearly blocking the pathway. After all the #AVDD team asked us to bring flyers, cards and banners.
One of the judges, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, co-founder of Flutterwave and Andela, gave us a very insightful lesson on how to pitch. Tonye Cole of the Sahara Group canceled an important event to participate as a judge. Also on the panel were Lanre Osibona of the Office of the Vice President, Judith Okonkwo of Imsi3D who is doing fascinating stuff with virtual reality, Jola Aderemi-Makinde of Google, and Bunmi Ekundare of Intel Nigeria.
I had the pleasure of sitting with Tosan Mogbeyiteran, co-founder of Black Swan aka “Juvenile Delinquent” whose company provides counseling to secondary school students. He was to pitch immediately after me.
The pressure was on.
When it became my turn I gave it my best. I laid my strategy of initially focusing on estates instead of utility companies bare, in retrospect perhaps not the best move but in my defense I did not know Sahara Energy owned a utility company, I had assumed it was mostly oil and gas. Pumped with adrenaline and testosterone after my pitch I went to out to go and flirt with the pretty ladies on the ventures platform team. When got outside I saw my banner had been taken down so I put it back up.
I bumped into Chika Oduah a charming Journalist from Aljazeera. She interviewed a few of the finalists.
The last person to pitch was Peter Agada of Tiller Cyrus aka “Command and Control” who makes a strategic communication platform for the armed forces. Later that day, the winners were announced – Dami, Dami & Busola, founding team of Shuttlers, Emmanuel Okena, Founder of Tracology, and Alison Mazi Ukonu, Founder of Recycle Points.
I realized the judges had made a mistake and did not realize that I was in fact the real winner, but I quickly forgave them, overcame my disappointment and graciously congratulated the deserving winners. At the fireside chat with Iyinoluwa, Kola and Richard, a representative from Facebook deliberated about what policy changes were necessary to provide a better business environment. Back at the hotel over dinner, I chatted with the guys from Microscale Embedded Charles, Ahmed Sadiq and Khalil. it turned out that my company had previously purchased components from Microscale on-line.
Aso Villa Ghen Ghen
On Friday I wore my Hula and Jalabia, last minute at breakfast, there were suggestions that we should wear our AVDD tee shirts but no way we were going to wear a T-shirt to meet our Oga at the top after ironing our Sunday best. Not to even mention the AVDD finalist ladies. Mehn, I didn’t know if we were going for modeling show or pitch competition again.
We headed off to Aso Rock where the DSS apparently caught me on camera urinating in the car park. When I got back on the bus, the other finalists scolded me severely for behaving like a Lagos agbero in the Federal Capital Territory. Guys no vex I was pressed, I won’t do it again.
After waiting a while, we got to take pictures and shake hands with the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. When it was my turn, I looked him straight in the eye and incoherently mumbled, “An honor to meet you, your Excellency”.
At the reception hall, we were to prepare a 30-second pitch. While getting ready to take a group picture, in strolled Mark Zuckerberg along with a few 9-foot tall guys on a no-nonsense security detail. This was not a leisurely stroll through Yaba. Mark was fortunate enough to shake my hand and hear my 30-second pitch. In my excitement, I somehow completely overlooked the Vice President who was standing next to Mark. Your Excellency, abeg no vex.
Mark’s security detail seemed in hurry to shuffle him and his excellency along so I immediately reported Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile because I’m a trouble maker like that. It was later brought to my attention that Mark had specifically requested the names and details of all 30 startups participating in the finals.
We the finalists agreed to meet with the organizers at 7am the Saturday after the event. The aim of the meeting was to get feedback from us and debrief us on the next steps that would follow the event. All of the concerns raised were noted. Finalists were also informed that some plans were underway but specifics could not be revealed till they had crystallized. They were informed that a group would formed on the Slack app to inform everyone about the next steps.
Since airplane tickets had been purchased for most out-of-towners, cash was given to the few who came by road.
In the days that followed in Abuja, I met with people from NERC, MicroScale and Abuja Technology Village.
Was it perfect ? No
Was it disorganized? There is room for improvement
How do I feel about the experience? I enjoyed myself thoroughly.
What do I think about the event? The significance of the will and intent of the Federal Government and the Startup Community coming together under this forum is not to be underplayed. We have been shown a great deal of good will. The importance of our businesses in building the future of the Nation has been acknowledged. Whatever differences we may have it is imperative that we see beyond our pride and our ego and we work together for the greater good. Our future depends on it.
I for one am deeply honored to have been a part of this and grateful to all the organizers, to all the finalists, to all the visitors and all the judges.
Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on GRIT Systems blog.