He walked up the six flights of stairs of the Co-Creation Hub headquarters in Yaba, big smile on his face despite the nervousness in his heart. He was determined that no one else would go through what his father had several months prior. His name is Bem Asen and he is one of the 25 Fellows in Microsoft's #Insiders4Good first ever Fellowship Program.
Two months ago, we the Windows Insiders team at Microsoft partnered with Co-Creation Hub (CCHub) in Lagos, Nigeria to announce our very first #Insiders4Good Fellowship. For this inaugural program, we selected from more than 5,000 applicants a cohort of 25 entrepreneurs with amazing ideas to make Nigeria an even better place. Over the next six months, we will work side-by-side with these Fellows to launch 25 viable businesses. We loved that everyone we met in Nigeria shared our mission of empowering EVERY person on the planet to achieve more and we knew that this amazing country was the place to do the "alpha" of our Fellowship program.
We sought out applications for the Fellowship cohort from all over Nigeria. Each applicant was asked to think deeply about the issues confronting his or her community, the solutions that could address these issues, and the opportunities for the solution to thrive in the market and become a viable business. Within days, over 5,000 people applied, all of whom personified the Windows Insiders mission.
We were thrilled. Together with CCHub, we narrowed these amazing applications to 25 finalists that really stood out in terms of impact, originality and feasibility. It was an incredibly difficult decision given how passionate and creative Nigerians are about making their country a better place!
This past week, we were back to launch the Fellowship with a week-long boot-camp to kick start the 25 ideas, as well as start the process of providing ongoing tech and strategic mentorship for a period of six months and of course access to our global network of Microsoft employees, customers, partners and of course the other Windows Insiders.
On the morning of November 14th, 25 strangers walked into CCHub HQ, each with a story, an idea, and pure enthusiasm to learn and build their business. Among them was Muhammad, a farmer for the rural north with an idea to turn his neighbors' trash into something useful for them, Idowu, a woman from Ogun who wanted to support small local businesses, and of course Bem, who wanted to make sure that the elderly people like his father who found themselves suddenly unemployed, were able to find work again.
The framework for the week was introduced by Femi Longe, co-founder of CCHub along with Jeremiah Marble and Dona Sarkar, the leaders of the Windows Insider Program. The introductions of each of the Fellows and the Microsoft mentor squad (Thomas Trombley, Raji Rajagopalan, Guillermo Rueda, Fernando Sanchez Gonzalez, Dara Oke, and LaSean Smith) all done in the format of "two truths and a lie" broke the ice and dissolved the initial nervousness everyone was feeling and soon everyone was laughing at Jeremiah's claim that he had really good jokes.
Femi then asked the hard questions, "What do you want to get out of the week?" followed by "What do you want to get out of the next six months" and finally "What are you willing to do?" Each Fellow was asked to think honestly about these answers. Once goals were stated, the entire room made a social contract to each other. We promised to hold each other accountable and be partners from that moment onward, on the good days and the dark days.
This was one of those pivotal moments when we all realized the power of what we were doing. If we were successful in this project, in six months, there would be 25 new businesses run by 25 friends who would also emerge as leaders in their communities. Nigeria would be a better place because we did this together. We at Microsoft would be able to build even better products for the next generation of entrepreneurs because of what we would learn during this time.
Over the course of the day, the discussion turned to the human. Who was the user of each of the ideas? "Forget about the person being a customer, who are they as a 'human' first. Remove your tech from their story. What is their life right now?" Once each of the Fellows were able to identify their users, they each created a value-proposition for their users.
The Fellows were able to show off their progress on Tuesday evening where we all attended a dinner in their honor. Microsoft Vice President Michael Fortin, Director of Engineering (and fellow Nigerian!) Bambo Sofola and Femi Longe introduced the evening with gratitude and commitment. "We believe in the power of the people of Nigeria to transform this country with technology--and we are here to help however we can."
Each of the 25 Fellows then took the stage to do a thirty second pitch of their idea along with details of their background and what their next six months looked like.
The middle of the bootcamp week focused on understanding the lean startup model, agile and continuous development and the importance of user data, with sessions lead by Femi and the Microsoft mentors. There were several surprises such as live Microsoft HoloLens demos as well as handing out the Surface devices we had brought.
There was excitement in the air on Day 4 as the hackathon to actually build prototypes kicked off. We had additional mentors from Switch join in to help turn the ideas into code for the Fellows who did not have a development background. Despite rolling blackouts and overworked wi-fi, it was all-hands on deck to get the prototypes ready for the final presentations on Friday afternoon.
The final presentation of each of the prototypes at the end of the day on Friday was an emotional one for all. Each of the Fellows showcased what they had created that week…and what they were going to do next. It was incredible to see one-line ideas turn into realistic business plans in such a short time. We concluded the event in our customary Windows Insiders way -- with the whole room doing the #NinjaCat.
This week has been mind-blowing. We are humbled by the passion and creativity Nigerians show to make their country even more wonderful. Their endless optimism and positivity even as they tackle some of the hardest business model and technical challenges has been amazing to see.
After this week, the engagement with the Fellows will continue through a bi-weekly in-person/Skype sessions with both CCHub and our team at Microsoft. The Slack channel the Fellows created has been buzzing with activity at all hours of the night. One thing we've asked the Fellows to keep in mind is that they are not alone. They have the Microsoft team, the global Windows Insiders, their cohort of 25, CCHub's local network and of course, our global Microsoft network that they can tap into.
45 days ago, we fell in love with ideas on paper. This week we fell in love with the humans who are in the process of transforming them into viable businesses. These Fellows are now part of a global community of people who use technology to make a lasting impact in the world. They had joined the community of millions who represent the billions - the Windows Insiders Program.
We can’t wait to follow along on their journeys.