By Heldana Michael
Solve IT 2019 is coming to its end, and the Grand Finale is approaching. The Solve IT 2019 team along with its partners– the U.S. Embassy and JICA– is super busy with last-minute preparations for the August 17, 2019 closing. Everyone is looking forward to the finale, yet everyone is shunning it anxiously.
The team pulls its courage, courage to see through the grand finale, via nostalgia. Members of the Solve IT 2019 team often do reminisce on the past year. The obstacles they faced the memories and the lessons learned. Consequently, as the final days of the finale approaches, they think back to the fruits of Solve IT 2018.
Besides the organizing team, there is one more group that burns on nostalgia— the Solve IT 2018 finalists!
Solve lT 2018 was a-10-month-long nationwide innovation competition, encouraging innovations which at their core address the prominent problems of the society while at the same time expect business-oriented approaches so that young entrepreneurs can utilize emerging technologies in poverty reduction. The competition had involved over 900 young Ethiopians between the ages of 16 and 25 in total from seven regional state’s capital along with Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa.
Before discussing where these finalists are, what they are doing, and their success, or in some cases the lack thereof, let’s refresh on Solve IT 2018. The latter took place in Addis Ababa, the capital city. The 2018 finale took place over the course of a week where the competitors arrived on one fine rainy Sunday and left the following fine sunny Sunday. Over the course of this week, the competitors enjoyed their boot camp, which had offered sightseeing and intensive training. In the end, the 2018 finale showcased a total of 34 teams and 54 contestants.
For iCog and the Solve IT team, all of these are winners, yet the finale was ended with the top three young innovators dubbed us the winners of Solve IT 2018.
Where are they today?
It might be overambitious to expect all the finalists could take their projects a step further than where it was. Ethiopia is not yet the land of opportunities, especially for tech entrepreneurs. However, some projects nailed it. Even among those who failed, a dozen continue innovating via new projects.
Sadly, nearly a quarter of the 2018 finalist quit the tech business or stopped acting upon their calling. It goes without saying that all the contestants that participated in the grand finale were exceptional and had projects that truly solved problems within their own scopes.
Let us begin with the ones that don’t make it.
Meet Ammanuel Meseret, one of the 2018 Solve IT finalists who traveled to Addis Ababa as a third-place regional winner from Jimma. Ammanuel wanted to champion life as a founder of an Ethiopian tech startup. His project, Smart Hotel Management System, failed due to lack of funding. Ammanuel thinks this is only secondary to the bigger problem. His project required the partnership of hotels. Unfortunately, not all the hotels he contacted were willing to do so.
“My worst enemy is my age, in their eyes [Hotel owners and managers he contacted] I am a simple wishful kid”. According to Ammanuel, none of them believed that he is a serious tech entrepreneur who has the guts and the skills to actualize his innovative project. Thus, hotels in Ethiopia were more than reluctant to partner with him as they were skeptical and found it to be untrustworthy.
Another finalist who seems to forget the word quit is Muhammed Amin. Mohammed was a contestant from Jigjiga, he won the first place regional contest, and joined the 2018 finalists list with a broad smile. His project is called Taiwan, an online retail store. Mohammed’s answer to the lack of lift-off is simple. “I honestly don’t know why it didn’t work. I have tried everything, but nothing worked”. He is now trying to launch another tech business focusing on nanorobotics.
Okay, who made it then?
We have Elleni Dereje who was the winner of the Addis Ababa hub and one of the 57 finalists in the 2018 finale. Her startup, 12 Springs Innovation Hub, got funding, a very good funding indeed, which is 5 million USD. The rest is history.
Alazar Zewdu and Mikiyas Alemu are another success story. They were among the Solve IT 2018 finalists, and their startup called Pharmaloc is now flourishing. Of course, it is still at a toddler’s pace. Ethio Coders is their second startup which was launched by these two in collaboration with their former partner Robel Mesfin, another Solve IT 2018 finalist. Today, they are planning an expansion in Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya.
Samson Nigussie and Wendafrash Bizuayehu have successfully founded Utopia Technologies. For Samson, actualizing Utopia Technologies was against all odds. He almost gave up on his dream before that fateful day. “It was something that still baffles me. I received a call from another Solve IT finalist”. The caller was none other than Robel Mesfin! Robel managed to pull some resource and then the two of them brought another partner, Wendafrash who was also a finalist among the 54 contestants. The former three contestants are now a team, and from the looks of it, they are on the right yet the thorny path to glory.
The thing to take home is simple; collaboration is the key. Brilliant young innovators who used to be foes founded Ethio Coders and Utopia Technologies. ‘Foe’ might be a strong word, but indeed their 2018 competition was brutally innovative (if there is such an expression).
The Chapter is closed, but the book is still open. Solve IT 2019 is coming to town and what its ending brings is a question only time can answer.
Even though they say Que Sera, Sera, young Ethiopians can shape their destiny. Gatluak Bang from Gambella has not stopped innovating, and he says, “I will not let the fates decide what I can do and do not. No, I will decide my fate”.
-From the eitors of icog-labs.com
Heldana Michaeil will return with another article!