Adepoju: Africa’s Budding Technology Kid

There is motivation in remaining relevant at a relatively younger age than staying green and bubbly and not knowing how to even get your dream off to a bright start.

All year round, most of Africa’s young heads continue to run their own affairs – defying the numerous odds that come their way, and creating very attractive success paths. Some start very well but for very obvious reasons including lack of support and encouragement, they back out, leaving behind very memorable traits of what could have been a wonderful breakthrough.

The problem usually, as it has become known with time isn’t that the continent lacks skilled force or is heavy on confused youth whose fortunes are misdirected or not shaped; it is more of a failed wider system, deep-rooted in corruption and built on a foundation fraught with misplaced priorities, rendering most of the continent’s young and vibrant souls, miserable.

Saheed Adepoju, 29, is a young man who simply can’t stop dreaming. In his native Nigeria, he is touted as the next big thing in technology. At his age, he presides over a brilliant idea – one that has the potential of blossoming into something huge over the next half decade. The idea is called “Inye”– an indigenous tablet PC made for the African market.

In what originally started as an experiment, Inye is gradually growing into something huge, and getting Adepoju recognition at home and abroad. This year marks the Encipher Group’s fourth year in business – a company he co-founded in 2008. Nothing seems to have shot up the company’s profile and ratings during the past four years of doing business than what “Inye” is currently bringing them.

“The Inye is a mobile internet device. It gives you access to the internet; it allows you to play media files and watch movies. What we have is an 8-inch device, a device that is half-way between a laptop and a mobile phone,” he said in a recent interview with the British state broadcaster BBC.

At the last count, the device was the biggest thing to have happened to Nigeria, technologically, and this is just a tiny fraction of the many accolades it continues to receive globally.

Most Nigerians find what his company is doing mind-blowing. For a country that has suffered too much bad press in the past, it can always find succor in young entrepreneurs like Adepoju.

Adepoju’s simple but stimulating business model of offering Inye almost for a song, has caught on well, and gotten it the needed mileage. In its early days of trade, it sold over 100 pieces, a not-too-bad attempt for a start up. For just $350 (£225) as against $700 for an iPad, Inye is currently the talk of town in urban Nigeria.

While targeting almost everybody who has money to spend, the audience is more tilted towards the youth-friendly basket that includes young business executives and students.

For young African entrepreneurs like Adepoju, winning seems to be the only word they have come to appreciate and identify with. But behind that winning smile is a relentless drive that can unnerve competitors.

Set up originally in the United Kingdom, the real inspiration for Encipher’s Inye according to Adepoju is “the Apple iPad”.

“With the nature of the operating system the iPad had and its portability, we felt we had an entry point within the Nigerian market with a tablet. I had been having a look at the Android OS [operating system] since its launch in 2008 and I felt that a tablet PC running on Android OS with its open nature provided us an opportunity to get Nigerian developers building applications for it and also provided an alternative product for indigenous consumers,” he told Forbes in an interview.

Projections put Adepoju’s device, which runs on the Android operating system, in the bigger leagues of similar gadgets in the near future, and there are even suggestions that point to it becoming the preferred choice of the average Nigerian who falls within their target audience.

But there are real technological challenges he may have to counter before Inye claims the number one spot in the tablet market in Africa.

The confusion usually has to do with “the standard software applications that come pre-installed and then you have the ones that we are working with various local developers to bundle on”.

Adepoju, a Sun-certified Java programmer, and Microsoft certified Business solution specialist, with a background in software development, is hopeful that Inye, released two years ago, would survive and not fold up. Although the future looks promising, selling the device in large quantities has almost become a headache due to funding.

“Here,” referring to the market in Nigeria, “venture capital is still in its infancy and most VC firms wound want to invest in tried and trusted companies that have gained some form of traction. We face the challenge of getting people to listen to the various propositions. We’ve been to a number of private investors and also to the government,” he told the BBC in a recent interview.

Another plan is to “try and raise capital from whatever sources we can get – locally, internationally or privately – and to try and still to push the brand forward as much as we can”.

Adepoju’s story is one, most young, African entrepreneurs easily identify with. He’s come a long way.

With a degree in Maths and computer science from the Federal University of Technology, Minna, Nigeria (2005), and an Advanced Computing certificate from the Bournemouth University, UK, he worked briefly for a consulting firm and almost immediately returned to Nigeria to start the Encipher Group with Anibe Agamah, his partner and Web Development professional with expertise in building applications using tools such as HTML5, JavaScript, Magento & Escenic; working in the eCommerce and digital publishing industries for over six years.

With a loan of USD 60,000 collectively from his parents, family and friends, Adepoju started Encipher. And with the backing of social media, word of mouth and peer to peer marketing, Inye instantly became a household name in Nigeria.

“The first 100 units of the device were built in China and, after receiving feedback from its users, a second version was launched in May 2011”.

There are doubts over the sustainability of Inye but Adepoju and his charges at Encipher are resolute and believe they have what it takes to scale through even in the face of unfair competition from more established brands.

“We believe our culture is our identity and would like to express this identity via technology. We believe this technology should be open and affordable. We believe all companies including startups deserve a chance to have powerful computing infrastructure. Our computing infrastructure offerings takes care of all your scalable computing needs so you don’t have to. We believe developers ought to earn from their ideas and creativity. We believe the customer ought to have the best technology to use and at an affordable price”.

So what inspired Adepoju’s passion for technology?

“My love affair started back when I was a mere 13 year-old in high school. I was fascinated by computer games. During my school days I met Anibe Agamah, who would later on become my co-founder at Encipher,” he told Forbes.

That beautiful union has led to the success story of Inye – Africa’s most promising tablet PC.



Leave the first comment