Onyinyechi Nmecha is a 300-level Computer Science undergraduate of Nnamdi Azikiwe University (Unizik), Awka Anambra State; who has demonstrated contagious-electrifying technological sagacity.
She told TechEconomy.ng that her greatest accomplishments so far were, first, realising the dream of running Extraclass.ng startup while still in school.
The Company she started at the age of 19. Onyinyechi did that despite some challenges like being a female founder, combining running a startup with her academics, limited funds and lack of needed skillset, location and age. Currently, Extraclass.ng is making great impacts and has won several awards.
Secondly, as a software developer Onyinyechi should be very proud for the fact she has mentored so many young girls and women to become successful and trained them to develop some digital skills as well as starting a girl in tech community in Nigeria called “SheTechEast”- for digital inclusion and girl-child empowerment in the south-eastern part of Nigeria..
Apart from that, the 300-level Computer Science student of Unizik, Awka has both in the past and present volunteered to coach young people in programs like the Djangogirls program, Codecamps, catch them young etc.
Currently, she is the South-East (Female) Coordinator of the Nigeria Association of Computer Science Student – NACOSS, the Co-organizer GDG (Goggle Developers Group) Awka and the Campus Director for Hult Prize (New York) Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka Chapter, where they raise student social entrepreneurs that will compete for the $I million prize in New York.
In this interview with TechEconomy.ng Onyinyechi explained how she was able to achieve these and more.
At 19 you were already a startup founder…
…I am happy doing all these because even as a young girl, lots of girls are looking up to me as a source of motivation. I am also extremely happy because I am contributing to the cause that will make my generation greater because I believe in a better future.
Tell us about Extraclass.ng
ExtraClass is the first project (startup) I started working on as a Student. ExtraClass is an Ed-Tech Startup; online platform where learners can access tutors ranging from academic courses-primary schools to tertiary levels; professional courses such as ICAN and others. We included digital skills and other extra-skills like photography, programming, digital marketing and others. These form the first part of ExtraClass.
We have a prep-test engine where the learners after interacting with the tutors can as well have practical skills; that is prompt testing. We also have an online bookstore (Though still in the kitchen) where we can outsource the educational content. Extraclass offers the learners opportunity to participate and learn outside the direct tutorial under the professionals.
We also have school directory that offer parents access to schools as well as present them with the necessary details needed to make decisions where to enrol their wards. The directory enables you compare schools and find the best withi your area as well as the one that matches your budget.
Our concept at ExtraClass is to provide access to people; where you can access learning materials and resources persons with ease. It is a place where kids and adults can access learning even at internet disadvantaged locations. Same time, we are reducing unemployment.
How do verify tutors on your platform?
We use digital identifications such as BVN, NIMC, etc. we also work with the security agencies as well as data registration agencies.
…Are the tutors aware that you conduct such verification?
Yes, it is one of the indicators you see while filling the forms. We also at intervals pop it for you on your dashboard.
Apart from that, we conduct virtual interview with them.
There are a lot of platforms that offer similar services; what sets ExtraClass.ng apart?
The ‘extra’ services and the ‘extra’ learning we offer make the difference. We have a whole lot of services wrapped up in Extraclass platform. We have methods of learning and stages; we don’t just send a tutor to you. We have an Extraclass learning model; there are processes so that anyone who has passed through this platform will have that ‘extra’ benefit. Some other platforms offer just the link between you and the tutor, but we usually engage with you after the classes to pass through the tests.
What has been the experience for you guys since launch in August 2017?
The market is viable, the customers are giving feedbacks so as to enable us improve the quality and type of services. Surviving as a female startup founder hasn’t been easy. Then, being in the kitchen cooking codes trying to satisfy your users is the biggest of them all but in all, it is funfair.
We have a lot of internet-disadvantaged areas, how possible can they access the platform?
It is already being solved in the Beta version yet to be released soon. We now use USSD and offline accessibility to solve that. Just watch out.
Extraclass.ng as a startup based in South East Nigeria, how do you feel about it?
Honestly, it has not been easy in terms of exposure of the people and funding. Also, combining it with my studies has been tough. In like manner, accessing some entrepreneurship mentorship in the region has been far-fetched. My saving grace has been the #StartupAnambra, because through them I could get access to mentors and learn about entrepreneurship.
Before now, I have been coming to Lagos to meet people to guide me. There is no gainsaying that Lagos and Abuja and even Port Harcourt are the startup havens. Even when you meet venture capitalists or mentorship in the field and you mention South East they say there is no market there. They don’t really understand the market, but we down here do know there is market in the South East. Even when we went for our market validation, we found this is actually the pain-point to people here (in the East) and they are subscribing to the services.
I will say, it takes passion and resilience to thrive in the region.
The idea of ExtraClass came while in your bed at the hostel, how true was that?
Yeah (smiles). Actually, I have been a tutor for some years now; teaching mathematics and physics. During one of the days I managed a tutorial centre I found out how difficult it was for people to get good private tutors, educational contents etc. And how they desperately wish there is a better to solution to it and i started thinking of how to make it easier and better for people. Also, through some personal experiences and encounter with people who come to me or I came across with, I knew something has to be done. One day, as I was brainstorming on my hostel bed the idea of Extraclass came to mind. From that point I started putting the idea on paper and subsequently started the development.
Where was the idea incubated?
First, I was incubating it in my hostel room. I have to be sincere; that was where I first incubated it. It was later I started visiting DevAmplify Hub in Awka. It is an awesome hub that is assisting startups in Anambra.
Also, #StartupAnambra; I can’t tell my story without mentioning them. The community is doing a lot of things. It was through them that I got entrance to DevAmplify hub.
How were you able to raise the seed capital?
I had about N5,000 as a personal savings together with the savings from my tutorial classes. What happened to me that period was very interesting. I had to forgo some pressing personal needs; I was really ‘managing’, it was really hard on me but keep on pushing it. From then, I started seeking for mentors and eventually met the CEO of BigCode, Mr. Pascal Okeke.
If I am to buy Extraclass today, what is the monetary value you will place on it?
No! I am not thinking of selling, so I have not evaluated it in that light. Extraclass is such a platform that will liberate some people from mediocrity, because knowledge they say is power.
Pushing women interest in technology in South East Nigeria, how are you carrying on with this agenda?
I started with a Community called SheTechEast because I found out that community is very necessary to drive such interest needing collaboration, trust and capacity building. The community was meant for us to organise meetups, trainings, coaching and mentorships. there are many opportunities for women with digital skills, just that lack of awareness is a major challenge here. We do not only wish to train the young girls, but we make them to innovate with the aim that they become digital entrepreneurs.
What are the most pressing challenges faced by startups in the South East Nigeria?
The most critical is entrepreneurship education- or simply put- awareness. Forget about the funding, if you know how to build a business or what entrepreneurship is all about; some development models you can use, I think funding is something that will come later. Because when you build a scalable business and have customers, funding will follow.
People don’t really understand what it means to run business, because when you come to the South Eastern part of Nigeria the business model is still locked in ancient mentality- ‘Okeke and Sons Limited’. So, the digital way of doing business is still drawing things back; we need to come out of that mentality. An average Igbo man doesn’t believe investing in startup. So, we need reorientation so that people’s mind-set can be ready for this kind of business model to come in. At that point we can look at the issue of funding and other challenges.
Where should this awareness start?
I think it should start from the schools and government should get more serious by assisting those who have already embraced this type of business model.