A Reflection on the Rhodes Ventures Forum
One author posits, ‘clarity of passion is clarity of mind.’ I find that statement intriguing because I had no sense of what my life vision would be until I started my undergraduate journey at Morehouse College in 2012. Being selected as part of the 10 inaugural Andrew Young International Scholars to study in the USA when I had never left my home country was overwhelming, but turned out to be rewarding - as it bred a new passion in me that I would have never imagined 10 years ago. When I got to Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, I was faced with one major question, ‘What do you want to major in?’ One would think that such a question should be easy to answer. Well, for me, it was not and here is why: Both my parents did not attend any higher education institution. That reality resulted in them not being able to offer me any intuitive direction in regards to what I would focus on in college. Inspired by my mostly self-guided journey through life, I reflected on the many students in Africa who had to make life decisions like the one I was faced with, but lack access to the advice, tools and resources that will set them up for a fulfilling life as they would define it. At that time, I gained tremendous inspiration to start a venture, Emergination Africa (www.emerginationafrica.org), which has operated for the past 3 years, helping young Africans create opportunities for themselves and for others through educational mentorship and skills transfers.
Since staring my venture, I have always taken advantage of any opportunity to learn from experienced individuals when it comes to being successfully entrepreneurial. I would have hated myself for the most part of eternity if I had missed it. Over two days, I got the opportunity to not only learn about diverse topics relating to starting successful ventures, businesses and social enterprises, but I also got the chance to obtain mentorship and pitch my organisation to a panel of judges who gave me insightful feedback. The calibre of panelists, and presenters at the conference was unparalleled. Seeing fellow Rhodes scholars, current and past who have walked the path I see myself walking in life was not only enlightening, but was also exhilarating. Every moment of the event seemed to be value-adding and precisely effective. The sessions on The Landscape of Innovation, Working for Start-ups, Dissecting the Start-up, Individual Journeys in Entrepreneurship, Voices from the Rhodes Entrepreneur Community were entirely engaging. Moreover, the Investor town hall and the fireside chats reinforced my knowledge of running a venture and confirmed many assumptions I had around pitching to investors, building a good team, legal considerations for start-ups and how to tell a captivating story about my venture. I would be completely ungrateful if I do not comment on my experience pitching and receiving feedback from a group of experienced panellists which was composed of Lily Bussman, Principal, Oxford Science Innovation; Vishal Gulati, Venture Partner, Draper Esprit; Glenn Leighton, Managing Director, Lloyds Banking Group and Alexander Straub, Founder and CEO, Straub Ventures. The constructive feedback I received after pitching made me realise the key components of any effective pitch and affirmed to me that pitching was indeed an art which any entrepreneur needs to have mastered.
I feel that the time I spent at the Rhodes Ventures Forum was worthwhile and gave me insights which I have started applying to my current venture, Emergination Africa. My key take aways from the forum are:
- In any innovations one makes, it is imperative to add tangible value through delivering quality services or products
- The simplest way to think about innovation is seeing it as ‘good change’
- Organisation, hard work, grind, determination are necessary for innovation
- Effective execution is more important than just having a promising idea
- In the start-up life, one needs to have the ability to face many rejections from potential investors
- To run a venture successfully, one needs to be able to make tough decisions, be adaptable and flexible
- Honesty and straightforwardness fundamentally affects organisational growth, hence the need to constantly get frank and constructive feedback from one’s peers
- One needs to have the ability to balance humility and leadership while constantly making things incrementally better in any organisation
- It is important to learn the ways of being credible and being good at what you do
- Always ask the fundamental questions; What are you attempting to do or build? How are you going about bringing that to fruition? Why are you trying to address the issues you are addressing?
- Leverage innovative technologies to scale and solve a real problem
- One of the best ways to build conviction about your venture is learning about yourself, your business and being turned down
- One should always have a clearly defined brand
- Always have a sense of obligation to do good.
The insights above, the networking, the mentoring and the atmosphere at the Rhodes Ventures Forum, created an experience which I would not trade for anything when it comes to learning and getting motivation for starting and running successful ventures. I can confidently say that an experience like this should not be missed by any Rhodes Scholar who has an interest in building a start-up, enterprise, venture and or a business or working for one.
Prince Abudu (Zimbabwe & Balliol 2016) is an unabashed optimist and highly motivated youth leader who has an amazing commitment to excellence, along with firm determination to serve for a greater good. Prince graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and as the highest ranking scholar in the Department of Computer Science at Morehouse College, in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Prince is currently working on a DPhil in Computer Science within the Sensor Networks and Indoor Positioning Group. Prince’s research focuses on optimising Machine Learning algorithms i.e. Recurrent Neural Networks for IoT applications. Prince is also Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer for Emergination Africa (www.emerginationafrica.org), an intercontinental youth-driven mentorship program operating in Zimbabwe. In 2014, owing to his social venture’s success, Prince was selected to be a Resolution Project Fellow at the Clinton Global Initiative University in Arizona, USA. This year, Prince joined the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance as an associate, being selected to represent less than 2% of young African entrepreneurs who applied to the alliance.