When 23-year-old Nigerian college graduate Chris Kwekowe met Bill Gates, he didn’t press the founder of Microsoft Inc. for business advice or a possible job offer. The meeting took place at a forum for Africa’s brightest young entrepreneurs. Chris was able to proudly tell Gates that he had already turn down a job offer from Microsoft to be a software engineer. When he told Gates his story, Chris said “[Gates] was really intrigued, and he smiled.” Once the gathering was over, Chris says “…all the directors were like, ‘Dude, you mean you actually turned down a job at Microsoft and had the guts to tell Bill Gates?”
The young entrepreneur was extremely confident in his abilities and had a great reason to decline the job offer. Chris was creating his own startup company, Slatecube, which helps other young Nigerians who graduated college find jobs. A survey of 90,000 young Nigerians which was done in January 2016, discovered that 45% of college graduates didn’t have jobs. The key reason such a large number of young people in Nigeria were unemployed was because employers rejected graduates who lacked professional skills such as: critical thinking, entrepreneurship, and decision-making. Slatecube seeks to solve that problem by nurturing the graduates through digital internships.
Chris Kwekowe graduated from college in Lagos, Nigeria with a degree in computer science. Along with his brother Emerald, 20, they started Slatecube in October 2014. The brothers financed their fledgling company by freelancing as web designers and operating a software solutions firm.
The Kwekowes’ company operates on a three-tiered system. In the first part of the process, users complete a course (most are free) in their chosen field. Some of the available courses range from corporate finance to anger management. Once the course is complete, Slatecube assigns the students virtual internships. This allows them to work remotely for companies such as IT giant, Cisco and accounting firm Grant Thornton. If the student has a successful virtual internship, the company they worked for is free to hire the Slatecube graduates.
So far, Slatecube has an 80% employment rate for its users. Companies that have used the platform, have saved over $100,000 in 2015 by hiring skilled, ready to work employees. The interns that have used Slatecube so far, say it gives prospective employers a more realistic understanding of the Nigerian labor force. Uchechi Udemgba, 22, a final-year computer science student who recently completed a virtual internship said, “There are a million and one jobs in Nigeria, but employers are looking for people with experience. We don’t have the chance to get experience. So I think the idea behind Slatecube is great.”
Chris recently won the 2015 Anzisha Prize, a Pan-African award given to the continent’s best young entrepreneur. The prize came with a $25,000 check. He is currently spending almost four-months per year seeking investors and potential employers to use Slatecube in America. He is now in talks with Google and Microsoft in regards to using his platform. The company is expecting to open offices in Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa in 2017. Chris says he’s in talks with a major Nigerian venture capital firm about the possibility of “a significant investment.”
When asked where his tenacious spirit to compete in the business world comes from, Chris said, “If you can do business in Lagos, you can do business anywhere in the world. The struggle is real here.”