Inspired to act by the effects of COVID in Nigeria, three Nigerian alumni have established a new company in order to produce and sell vital PPE, with the support of the Academy's Project CARE.
We spoke to Dele Sanni about the new company he has formed with Femi Odeleye and Obi Igbokwe and he shared with us the successes and challenges of collaborating under the current challenging climate.
Can you briefly describe your original innovation – what is it, what inspired you to create it and what problem does it solve?
SanDel’s original innovation is the design and manufacture of the 3D3P rotary dryer for rapid drying of agricultural materials, like grains. The inspiration was that in sub-Saharan Africa, and Nigeria particularly, over 40% of harvested crops are lost due to the lack of appropriate drying technologies.
Why did you decide to pivtot towards producing PPE?
The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted our business due to travel restrictions caused by lockdown all over Nigeria.
We were one of 26 African entrepreneurs selected by the Academy for the first pilot of Project CARE (COVID Rapid African Entrepreneurs). The aim was to support entrepreneurs to pivot their businesses towards the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) - 3D masks and visors - when their core activities were badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Each company received two 3D printers, materials for producing PPE and a series of training workshops on 3D printing.
We have had success in sales of face shields, I originally adapted the design to the market. I sewed soft leather around the naked foam headband, improving its visual appeal and making the shield reusable and more comfortable. I also modified the headband with a new semi-circular plastic-metallic frame; this makes it possible to eat or drink by tilting the shield upwards, and reduces the chances of contaminating the shield itself.
We also produced smaller shields for children with cartoon images on them. These design improvements made our shields very attractive to customers.
How has setting up a new business with your fellow Nigerian entrepreneurs helped you overcome the challenges of COVID-19?
Myself, Femi Odeleye and Obi Igbokwe, fellow Nigerian Africa Prize alumni all supported by Project CARE, have come together as BSW Technologies (created from the first letters of our individual companies, Bespoke, SanDel and WellNewMe). This partnership was a strategic move to combine our resources and share liabilities. As one bigger and stronger entity, we have used a new marketing strategy to reach organisations at the top of the ladder.
We have organised webinars and spoken to some State Commissioners of Health in Nigeria about the advantages of our CARE 3D PPE products. We have sent free items of PPE to two States and made a pledge to send them 2,000 visors as a donation. None of our competitors have done this before, so these marketing strategies have helped us enter a saturated market.
Unfortunately, demand for PPE in Nigeria has dwindled in the last few months and most Nigerians behave as if there is no more Covid-19. The lack of capacity of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control to carry out mass testing among the population is likely the main reason for the relatively low infection rate in Nigeria.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt from this collaboration?
The formation of BSW Technologies has helped bring us together as friends and business partners, and given me a greater sense of commitment. We share ideas, learnings and experiences on a daily basis. We understand each other’s core businesses more, so we have agreed to introduce potential customers to each other.
We have pooled our resources to meet future demand for PPE, as we still expect a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases in Nigeria. The greatest lesson from this partnership is teamwork. It is much easier sharing responsibilities and liabilities than when we worked alone.
What stage are you at now and do you have any immediate plans for the future?
SanDel’s core business of manufacturing agro-processing machines is picking up and we have experienced a spike in sales in the last few months. This is largely caused by financial support given to farmers in Nigeria to boost agricultural production.
The production of PPE from our 3D mask and face shield laboratory will continue to provide support for my business. Pivoting towards PPE production has opened our eyes to other business opportunities which may become crucial to SanDel’s existence in years to come.
What tips for success would you give your fellow innovators?
As innovators, we will continue to be relevant in the business world. Innovation knows no boundaries and as we continue to devise better ways of doing things, we continue to serve humanity. Innovation can be challenging in an African environment like ours and sometimes we pay great prices for innovating, but we must NOT give up. There is so much hope that the ’Africa of our dreams’ will materialise sooner or later.