E4impact

From the blog

Cecil Nutakor: technology for learning in Africa

Cecil Senna Nutakor is an entrepreneur from Ghana and he is the Founder & CEO of eCampus LLC,  a Software as a Service (SaaS) Education Technology (EdTech) solution, established in 2015, which helps organizations and academia by making the learning process adaptive, personalised and informally accessible to all.

The platform generates behaviour data when users interact (read, listen, watch, practice, discuss and test) with the content and uses these figures to feed the Artificial Intelligence Software of the company called Nilee, which will process data and help identify one’s strengths and weaknesses at topic and sub-topic levels, predicting whether a learner will pass or fail any standard test.

ECampus helps students learn smarter and assists teachers and employers to better understand the learning needs of their students or employees. The software also supports governments and authorities’ intelligence to make effective data-driven decisions in the Education sector. ECampus has over 20,000 users across Africa, including students from high school, nursing and midwifery, universities and corporate organizations. With over 300 subject areas, the needs of every type of learner are being addressed.

“I decided to enrol in the MBA because I was convinced that it would have helped me turn eCampus into a global brand.” Cecil explained after attending the first Ghanaian edition of the MBA at the University of Professional Studies in Accra. “I must admit that it is exactly working out along these lines.” He added.

Despite a scientific-studies educational background, Cecil has always been keen on technology. This passion brought him to develop his actual business, which allowed him to get a scholarship to study Computer Science in university back in the days. In order to better run eCampus, he then decided to attend an Entrepreneurship and SMEs Management course and later enrol in the E4Impact MBA. Furthermore, Cecil holds a post-graduate diploma in Exponential Technologies which helped him validate the IT behind his software.

“eCampus has over 20,000 users across Africa. With over 300 subject areas, the needs of every type of learner are being addressed.”

Let’s find out more about Cecil’s business.

1.How was your Business Idea born?
The idea was born out of the frustration I had after failing my senior high school certificate exams for the third time. It was 2003 and I had given up on taking the exams for the fourth time. However, the social pressure from family and friends became enormously embarrassing, so I decided to try again. There was one personal condition I set to myself: I didn’t want to embarrass myself another time. I wanted to find a way that could predict my readiness for the exams (namely, whether I will pass or fail) before I would register for them. That was my eureka moment. At the time there was no solution or tool that could help identify my strengths and weaknesses and probably predict my exams readiness. Hence, I had to build one using Microsoft Access and Floppy Disks. That became the beginning of the eCampus journey!

2.How can your business improve the life of the beneficiaries of your activities?
ECampus is impacting education stakeholders (students, teachers, parents, school authorities, employers, and government) to better understand the learning needs of students and facilitators at topic and sub-topic levels. You should see it as a smart report card.

Let’s make an example. Today a Maths report card that a student brings home says: classwork – 40%, examination – 30%, total – 70%. As you all can see, this method provides limited insights. Compared to the smart report card taken as example, eCampus will provide instead a report that would say: classwork – 40% (vectors – 9%, sets – 11%, surds – 5%, probability – 8%, etc), examination – 30% (vectors – 6%, sets – 13%, surds – 9%, probability – 14%, etc), total – 70% (vectors – 15%, sets – 24%, surds – 14%, probability – 22%, etc).

With this level of details, it becomes easier to analyse data, identify trends, predict examination pass rates and reward performing teachers or train the struggling ones. Through this, teachers can divide students into groups based on their strengths and weaknesses and they can furthermore explain more than one topic during a single class session.

3.What has been the main challenge you had to overcome in your entrepreneurial experience?
Founder’s syndrome, also known as founderitis, was my biggest challenge so far. When I started my first company Equinox Intercom Limited in 2006, I was worried about the possibility of being or becoming a problem that would have made the business fail rather than succeed. I must admit I was lucky to have discovered this syndrome pretty early in my entrepreneurial journey.

This helped me take gradual steps towards implementing proper corporate governance structures to address the challenge. I remember when, exactly a year later, we managed to get internal and external auditors, and then succeeded in getting our audited accounts of the past three years and filled our annual returns. With great help from my grandfather, who was a lawyer, we formed a Board of seven executives and had our first board meeting in 2008 with my grandfather as Chairman. I was 25 years old. Seven years later, eCampus was established and it benefited heavily from the situation: we had already learnt the lesson and we were sure we wouldn’t have made the same mistakes!

The other challenge, that does not seem to be going away anytime soon, is the cost of implementing corporate governance, especially to start-ups scaling up. I believe it is too expensive.

4.In your opinion, what are the main qualities an entrepreneur should have?
Resilience, consistency, passion, transparency and execution (just do it!).

5.Is there a person you are inspired by, i.e. an entrepreneur or a particular mentor?
I got inspiration from different people at different stages during my entrepreneurial journey. In my early techie days Bill Gates meant everything to me. Then, when I became obsessed with the concept of open source and free software, Linus Torvalds was my inspirational leader. When it was time to switch from being a techie to building and running a business, Steve Jobs and Sir Richard Branson had a remarkable influence on me and the brand we have built today in eCampus. In recent times I’ve been fascinated and inspired by Elon Musk for his out-of-place optimism and his appetite for making become possible what seems to be impossible. Also, Aliko Dangote plays an important role in my life: I’m attracted to his passion and unwavering desire to make Africa work and I believe he is the greatest African of our time and I’d love to become better than him one day.

6.What would you suggest to a new-born entrepreneur?
Not all enterprising people are entrepreneurs, but all entrepreneurs are enterprising. But let’s leave this topic apart for a moment. Entrepreneurship is hard, and in Africa is even harder. That’s why you need to get used to rejections and disappointments as quickly as possible. However, you should never take a “no” as final answer: if you manage to make it difficult for people to say “no” to you, then you’ll be fine.

7.Could you tell us a particular satisfactory moment you had in your entrepreneurial activity?
In 2015 one of the largest education players in Africa, approached us with an offer to buy a 3M$ valued eCampus at 10M$. These brought some serious disagreements among the shareholders. Most of them wanted us to sell the company but I did not think eCampus was ready for sale, and so I declined the offer. I stood my ground as major shareholder, Founder and Chief Executive of eCampus.

For months things were no longer the same because I had hurt the feelings and expectations of our shareholders and the Advisory Board members, including the Board Chair. In that moment I felt like Steve Jobs at my own company (the only difference was that nobody fired me). Eventually, tempers calmed down and everyone started reconnecting naturally again.

In 2018, just three years later, eCampus was valued at the London Stock Exchange at 10.9M$: our company had gained almost 400% in value! You should have seen the excitement and satisfaction on my face when wondering what would have happened if we had sold the company three years earlier.

8.Could you tell us how E4Impact MBA has helped you and your business?
The eCampus product and pitch deck that the MBA Scholarship Award got me, weren’t the same which I graduated with. Everything was completely transformed. It was my first time working with the business model canvas and I admit I loved it in its whole. I also believe that the practicality and the hands-on approach employed by the MBA make it unique and directly relevant to one’s business.

Learn more on eCampus LLC 

www.ecampus.com.gh

Facebook page: @eCampusLLC

 Twitter account: @eCampusLLC



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