Meet Tolu Agunbiade – Championing Female Entrepreneurship and Paving the Way for more Women in Tech
If you read through most of the tech news and developments from all over the world, one thing that stands out conspicuously, is just how XY-heavy the tech scene is. Despite there being a lot of rhetoric in promoting more women into the tech, this largely remains as just lip service address. Talk is talk, and talk is cheap until someone walks the talk.
In our today’s interview, we feature one Nigerian lady, who walks the talk, and endeavours to pave the way for women like herself to thrive in the technology and entrepreneurship field. Without much further talk, let’s delve right into our discussion with her:
My name is Tolu Agunbiade and I’m currently a Business Fellow at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology. In my role, I work with two companies in our incubator and teach basic business skills to our Entrepreneurs-in-Training.
Prior to MEST, I worked at Co-creation Hub Nigeria where I was first a Business Analyst for the Preincubation and Incubation unit, then the Community Manager. I also run the content, communication and operations of cofoundHER, an initiative founded in December 2014 to inspire, inform and promote female entrepreneurs.
What prompted you to start cofoundHer?
When I got out of university, I wasn’t sure what to do next. I think this is a common issue for a lot of people, and not just students. Employees think, ‘what’s next in my career?’ Entrepreneurs think, ‘what’s next in my business/company?’
I’ve always loved technology so I figured something in that line would work just fine. Problem is, technology is so broad and I didn’t know many people in the industry then. I think if I knew someone or heard of people doing things I wanted to do, it would have helped a lot. People aspire to greater things when they see others with similar background stories doing great things.
Over the past few years, my passion for connecting people to their ‘what next’, especially in technology and entrepreneurship, and with particular focus on women, has increased. That’s where cofoundHER came from. The plan is to make it the go to collaborative community/resource/portal where aspiring and existing female entrepreneurs will get showcased, find information about opportunities for entrepreneurs, resources on how to grow a successful business, and inspiration from successful female entrepreneurs.
Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
In March last year, while I was working at Co-creation Hub Nigeria, we were selected as one of the 40 communities worldwide to be part of the Google #40Forward Initiative. The objective of this initiative is to close the gender gap in entrepreneurship by coming up with programs in our communities to support female entrepreneurs. I was in charge of this project, and for eight weeks, we trained seven ladies with little or no knowledge on technology and entrepreneurship with basic programming and business skills. At the end of the program, each participant had a working prototype of her product/service and actionable next steps to take it to the next level.
This is the first program I had run from start to finish and it came with a lot of learnings — how to rely on my team, how to ask for help, what my shortcomings were (and they are plenty), and how to communicate better among other things. I think it was actually more of a learning experience for me than it was for the participants.
There was a time in 2012 when I was effectively jobless. I spent days wondering how I went from having a promising job to being this person who depended on her parents even for basic things like bathing soap. It was definitely a low point for me. In that period, I learned to lean on my support system — God for letting me stay sane, my family and friends, Rakia Ahmed Ndanusa especially, who were immensely supportive and let me free load off them till I got back on my feet.
In your global travels, what do you think is severely lacking within the Tech Communities
I haven’t travelled that much but I do think our tech communities (and I only speak for Africa, Nigeria in particular) could do with more collaboration and less competition. We could also use loads of high touch capacity development and skill building. I think there are more organizations addressing these issues and in the nearest future, we will see the results.
What is your career advice to college students entering the Technology Industry?
Learn as much as you can from as many sources as you can. And ask questions . But don’t get too hung up on learning alone. Apply your learning to your work and transfer all that knowledge to others.