The driving force of development is innovation, which pushes civilization forward and shapes the future. Innovation SL is an entrepreneurship support organization that believes in fostering entrepreneurship and innovation. Freetown Innovation Week is a three-day event from May 16–18, 2023, that is dedicated to celebrating and promoting transformative ideas.
For the first time in Sierra Leone, Innovation SL hosted a week that brought together experts, innovators, and entrepreneurs from several industries. The event, which took place at the City Hall auditorium and the Empower Africa business center (4th and 10th floors of the new Freetown City Council building), was filled with engaging panel discussions, expert presentations, 3D printing workshops, robotics competitions, and pitch nights in which the winner received USD 5000 in seed capital.
Innovation SL believes in creating sustainable solutions by bridging differences and forming new partnerships across sectors, and communities, pushing Sierra Leone forward through collaborations.
The first day of Freetown Innovation Week featured a range of activities, including the opening ceremony, scale-up presentations, discussions on digital public goods (DPGs), business diagnostics, and business model canvas workshops all geared towards scaling up business growth, which was the theme of the grand opening day. Experts from different fields in the entrepreneurial ecosystem shared their experiences and insights on these topics, providing the audience with valuable knowledge and perspectives.
Entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors, leading entrepreneurs, investors, and problem solvers gathered as Freetown Innovation Week kicked off for the first time in Sierra Leone to share their knowledge, stories, inspiration, and the journey that led to their breakthrough ideas.
The host, Ms. Lamarana Bah, gave a breakdown of the significance and focus of Freetown Innovation Week.
The Freetown Innovation Week was officially launched by the CEO/MD, Mr. Francis Stevens George, along with the organizing team (Julliet Josiah,Francess Beresford-Renner, Pamela Harouna, Lamrahna Bah,Lucynda Kabia, and Ngevao Sesay), led by Ms. Hassanatu Jalloh, as he made known his gratitude and appreciation, not forgetting to mention how proud he is of the team as they were able to mount the challenge and aced the delivery. He echoed the focus and story behind Freetown Innovation Week, which is to bring together a diverse group of problem solvers.
According to the MD of Innovation SL, in order to tackle the country’s inequitable growth, we need fresh ideas, open ideas, exponential ideas, and disruptive ideas, which is why an event like this is necessary. They are proud to make history, which is why Innovation SL is putting together the first-ever Freetown Innovation Week in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Francis Stevens George also asked the audience to ‘practice what they preach,” since he has been an example of the phrase by having 95% of his team be female and also creating women-led opportunities by employing female leaders and senior managers.
Madam Michalla Mackay, the Director and Chief Operating Officer of DSTI, a recognized business expert and Digital Public Goods (DPGs) expert, served as the keynote speaker of the Freetown Innovation Week as she provided an inspiring speech on the significance of innovation and collaboration in business. In her statement, she mentioned that in order for your business to be considered a DPG, you should have clear ownership, an independent platform, documentation that is important, a strategic plan, a mechanism that includes the team, and adhere to privacy laws. Most importantly, you should not design to do harm.
Day 1 Panel Discussion: Scaling a Company’s Growth
Another highlight of the Freetown Innovation Week was a panel discussion on scaling up business growth, which highlighted great businesses that have altered their respective industries through bold ideas and unwavering persistence. The panel included Madam Margret Kadi, CEO and Founder of Pangea SL; Madam Margret Mansaray, CEO and Founder of Women in Energy Organization; Mr. John of Krafty Bee; and Madam Shanice George of Easy Solar, all of whom are successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and business coaches who shared their insights and experiences on how they manage to scale their businesses.
The first session of the FIW, however, was adjourned, and the second session began.
The second session, which was interactive and educational, included a Business Model Canvas/ Business Model Diagnostics session conducted by Mr. Francis Stevens George and Mr. Idrissa, as well as continuing 3D session training led by Mr. Babasile.
Business Model Canvas/Business Diagnostics
The business diagnostics and business model canvas sessions were created to assist businesses in identifying their strengths and weaknesses as well as developing a clear grasp of their business model. Mr. Francis Stevens George, MD/CEO of Innovation SL, and Mr. Idriss Bashiru, both experienced business coaches, led the sessions, which offered attendees a variety of tools and frameworks to help them examine their businesses and build a clear plan for growth.
The first phase of this session was handled by the MD/CEO of Innovation SL Mr. Francis Stevens George, who covered several areas that are critical for developing a successful business model. These areas include:
1. Value Proposition– He emphasized the importance of a unique value proposition that addresses the needs of the target market and provided examples of successful companies that have created value propositions that have resonated with their customers. Value propositions are the unique benefits that a business offers to its customers.
2. Customer Segments– He then covered the need for understanding the target market and determining the precise client categories that the company will service, as well as the value of conducting market research to get insights into customer demands, preferences, and behavior. A business’s client segments are the precise groupings of customers it serves.
3. Channels – Mr. Francis Stevens George discussed the various channels that businesses can use to reach their customers, including online channels, social media, and traditional marketing and advertising methods, emphasizing the importance of selecting the most effective channels for the target market and continuously evaluating the effectiveness of the channels used. Channels are the different methods through which a company connects with its clients.
4. Revenue Streams – Product sales, subscription fees, and advertising money are some of the numerous revenue streams that enterprises can create. He underlined the importance of identifying multiple revenue streams as well as evaluating and optimizing revenue production tactics on a regular basis. Revenue streams are the various methods by which a company produces income, whereas essential resources are the assets that a company requires to function.
5. Key Activities – He emphasized the key actions that organizations need to execute to achieve their value proposition, such as product creation, marketing, and customer service. He underlined the necessity to focus on activities that give the most value to the client and to regularly assess and optimize business processes. Key activities are the precise tasks that a business needs to undertake in order to offer its value proposition.
6. Key Resources -The key resources that organizations need to operate are technology, physical assets, and human resources. He underlined the necessity to identify and acquire the essential resources to support the business model and to regularly analyze and optimize resource allocation. Key partnerships refer to the relationships that a business has with other businesses or entities.
7. Partnerships -The value of partnerships in enabling corporate growth and expansion He underlined the necessity to discover suitable partners and to build mutually beneficial connections that support the business strategy.
8.Customer Relationship-Customer relationships are the various forms of relationships that a company has with its customers.
9.Cost Structure– The cost structure refers to the costs associated with operating a business.
During the business diagnostics session, Mr. Idiss Bashir presented insights into typical company difficulties and how to diagnose and address them. He mentioned challenges such as diminishing revenue, low client retention rates, and inefficient marketing techniques. He also presented practical advice and tools for assessing these difficulties and establishing concrete remedies.
Finally, the Freetown Innovation Week Business Model Canvas and Business Diagnostics workshop gave significant information for entrepreneurs and business owners aiming to establish effective business models. The presenters discussed essential topics such as value proposition, customer segmentation, channels, revenue streams, key activities, key resources, and partnerships. They also gave useful tips and tools for diagnosing and resolving typical business issues. Overall, the seminar was informative and interesting, and attendees gained excellent insights into building successful businesses.
The session was extremely participatory, and attendees were able to ask practical questions and receive guidance on how to use the tools and frameworks in their own enterprises.
3D printing session
During the BMC session, there was an ongoing 3D session at the same time which was moderated by Mr. Babasile Daniel Oladole and Mr. John.
The moderators, Mr. Babasile Daniel Oladole Emmanuel and Mr. John, began the session with an introduction. They illustrated how 3D printing has revolutionized the industry throughout the years in their presentation. Starting with 1D printing and progressing to 2D printing, which is the office printer, and finally to the current dispensation of 3D printing. The 2D printing machine has two-dimensional components (X and Y axis), whereas the 3D printing machine is a graph plotting machine with three-dimensional components (X, Y, and Z axis) and graded coordinates. The concept of 3D graph plotting is based on addictive and subtractive manufacturing. According to Mr. Oladole, a 3D printer is significant since it can save resources. Material extrusion is a feature of 3D printing technology. Fused-deposition modeling and adopted plastic modeling are two distinct sections. The fused-deposition modeling acts as a filament that has already processed the given design and is easily repairable. There are several types of filament, including high-temperature PLA, flexible, and ABS filament, each with its own melting point. There are other monochrome versions; carbon fiber filament is utilized to create robust objects. The fused-deposition model prints from the bottom to the top, whereas the vert-photo model prints from the top to the bottom. There are four different kinds of 3D printers:Delter, Scara, Ventilinia and Polar.
The ventilinia is the one in which all of the axes move independently, but in the delta, all of the axes act in the same way by rotating, resulting in the Scara interplay of axes. When you want to create, you employ digital design; in a traditional technique, you need paper, a pen, and a ruler. Finally, as the session curtains were brought back, a key lock concept was displayed to the participants.
Following the 3D session, there was a sensational atmosphere that led to the start of the pitch night. The event started with the host introducing herself by the name of Ms. Francess Beresford-Renner. The host then invited the CEO/MD of Innovation SL, Mr. Francis Steven-George, to give a welcome note. In his welcoming note, he thanked the audience for being part of Freetown Innovation Week and gave a background synopsis on the importance of the event. On stage, Mr. Francis Stevens George welcomed the MD of Mercury International, Mr. Martin Micheal, who reiterated that, since 2007, Mercury International has been involved in a wide variety of corporate social responsibilities by awarding scholarships to approximately 2000 students, providing treatment abroad for people with severe ailments, and building two schools. On the flip side, they were never introduced to such a platform where they could have the opportunity to sponsor pitchers of business ideas. He also mentioned that they have succeeded in giving out $5000 to a female winner of the Fempreneur pitch night, held at the Limkokwing University Gallery. He firmly believed that the winner would help alleviate poverty by creating jobs and paying tax, as that is what they are looking forward to.
The judges, namely, Madam Margret Mansaray, CEO and founder of women in energy; Madam Mabinty Mansaray, lecturer at Limkokwing University; Mr. Aiah James; and Mr. Akinyemi Scott-Boyle, experts, briefly introduced themselves as the event went on.
The pitch was processed shortly after the judges introduced themselves, and the pitchers were informed of the pitch guidelines, which included five minutes for presentation and two minutes to answer any questions from the judges.
The first pitcher, Mr. John F. Koroma, pitched on behalf of Francis Agibu Kargbo, the lead initiator of the EcoKlin-SL.
EcoKlin-SL is a company that prides itself not just on cleaning and organizing clients’ office spaces but also on catering to clients’ health through the use of eco-friendly cleaning products and techniques. They provide professional cleaning services for tenants as well as post-construction cleaning. This could help mitigate the issue of stress and anxiety potential customers may have as they provide effective and efficient service delivery. To create a sense of their service, they would adopt a marketing strategy by increasing the quality of their products and creating brand awareness through the use of social media platforms, fliers, promotions, and word of mouth. One of the judges voiced concern about the mobile app platform and technologies that will be used, as well as how they will be managed.
In response, Mr. Koroma stated, “We are currently working on having an online web-based application and offline technology, similar to a manual mobile phone.”
One of the judges also asked about the essence of the Orange Money app. In response to the query, Mr. Koroma stated that it is critical since it will make his potential clients’ lives easier.
The second pitcher, Emmanuel Sahr Joe from Savic, has a deep passion for innovation and technology; he has gained valuable experience in product development, stakeholder engagement, and project management. Savic is a platform that has the ability to connect users with reliable, qualified, and vetted service providers that could satisfy their needs. They are aiming at solving the problem of skilled workers who are unemployed by creating a nexus between workers and customers. Their unique proposition has been having access to quality services in an effective and efficient way.
The third pitcher, Adama Gbondo from Jamdezel Investment, is a young entrepreneur who has grown a love for the automobile industry since she was a child. Over the years, she has gained valuable experience in managing operations, overseeing maintenance, and repairs. JAMDEZEL INVESTMENT is a company that provides safe and convenient transport modes for customers in a reliable fashion at an affordable price. The service would be mainly accessible in the Western Urban area (Lumley to Circular Road) for a start. The ultimate focus would be on schools within that route and working closely with them to synchronize the aviation service with respect to their school schedules.
The fourth pitcher is Abdulai Barrie, CEO and co-founder of Salone Agro Market. The Salon Agro Market is a one-stop-shop for all agriculture products across Sierra Leone and comprises six members.
According to Mr. Barrie, 70% of Sierra Leoneans are engaged in agriculture activities in Sierra Leone. These farmers are seen as a driving force of Sierra Leone’s GDP; however, they are having difficulties gaining market access for their products, while buyers are challenged with reliable sources to access these agricultural products as a result of a fragmented and inefficient food supply chain. This has caused an increase of about 81% of Sierra Leonean households to experience an inadequacy of high-quality agricultural products. Therefore, Salone Agro Market has created a secured meeting point where farmers can easily have access to secure machines, seeds, and fertilizers, and buyers and suppliers can trade efficiently and effectively.
He further stated that the agricultural sector is a critical sector of Sierra Leone’s economy and has employed two-thirds of the labor force, with a GDP of 60%. According to a Statista report, in 2021, approximately $ 201.67 million worth of agricultural products were exported from Sierra Leone. Unlike their competitors, they offer comprehensive, sustainable, and fair pricing for their products.
The fifth pitcher was Franklyn Momoh, the CEO of BeenFrantk Ltd., who is passionate about creating unique clothing from old, oversized thrift garments. The desire to make unique and sustainable clothing made him start BeenFrank. BeenFrank is a company that has been offering Sierra Leoneans distinctive and sustainable clothing options that resonate with their values and help mitigate climate issues. They would be able to address the negative impact of the fashion industry on the environment by recycling used cloth and hybridizing it into new shirts, pants, and bags. This has had a positive impact on the environment and economy as it has helped reduce textile waste, create a low carbon footprint, and create job opportunities.
Irrespective of their competitors, their brand is committed to creating awareness about climate change as its unique selling proposition. They have been using an online platform that has leveraged and expanded the distribution of their products.
The sixth pitcher, Isaac C.E. Johnson, is a mobile application developer, software engineer, and web developer from the company SchoolAll. SchoolAll is a company that prides itself on transitioning the academic field from analogy to digitalization, where a school management system (SMS) and a learning management system (LMS) can be fully digitalized and automated workflows will be at the heart of Sierra Leone’s educational sector. The lack of digital technology in our educational sector has warranted SchoolAll to bring forth such an initiative that would help curb the problem of buying school accessories, paying fees, and using digital libraries in our educational sector, especially for private schools. This would boost the accessibility of better data that would improve productivity at a minimal cost.
The seventh pitcher, Ishaka Kargbo, stated that their company is made up of students from IPAM University of Sierra Leone who are experienced in technology, entrepreneurship, and financial management; they are students that major in information systems, technology, and business administration, respectively.
Ideal Technology is a company that offers quality, customized, locally made school backpacks of different sizes for local communities with international standards of school and house color. The backpack generated electricity through its solar panel and a battery pack to provide light. There is also a charging slot and an alarm system that alerts pupils to study. It has benefited the country economically, environmentally, and socially by improving the quality of education, reducing unemployment, mitigating fire risk, and helping parents save more money.
The final pitcher for the night was Alfred Micah Bendu from ‘Hey! I’m going.’ Alfred Micah Bendu is a student at Limkokwing University who has constantly been challenged with the issue of transportation to and from college. That has sparked the dire need to solve transportation issues across Sierra Leone.
Hey! is an automobile hiring company that is geared towards providing one-tap online booking and optimal vehicle service at affordable prices with certified drivers. This would alleviate the overcrowding and lack of information about bus schedules and minimize the risk of being affected by communicable diseases from passengers who did contact them. They would be offering products and services such as web and mobile platforms, GPS tracking, and a loyalty program. Customers would have the opportunity to select a sitting position of their choice after they have paid.
At the final phase of the event, the judges were presented gifts on behalf of Innovation SL before declaring the winner. Certificates were presented to the pitchers, respectively, starting from the rear. The judges unanimously declared Franklyn Momoh, CEO of BeenFrantk Ltd., and Ishaka Kargbo as the winners of the first semi-final that will be competing against four other pitchers at the finals.
The first day of Freetown Innovation Week was a highly successful event that provided attendees with a range of valuable insights and practical advice on how to grow and scale their businesses. The event was well organized and well attended, and the speakers, panelists, and coaches were all highly knowledgeable and engaging. The event was a great opportunity for businesses and individuals to network and connect with other like-minded individuals, and it provided a valuable platform for innovation and collaboration.