Addis Abeba- For most of the youths in Ethiopia, connecting to the vibrant economy has never been easy, because financial services are inaccessible for the startups from the lower segment of the economy. Startups also face difficulties in finding production places, developing an acceptable business plan, and conducting clear feasibility studies. Bureaucratic hustles also worsen for newly emerging business models, because there has been no past trend in regulating and issuance of licenses. Even though there are a few government and NGO supported startup business generation and incubation schemes in the country, equitability remains an issue when it comes to providing opportunities to those truly needs them.
Now, with the Birr’s purchasing power depreciating alarmingly and economic inflation posing a serious challenge to the society as a whole, starting business has become a critical test for entrepreneurs, to the point where it discourages theme to leave the business and look for other options, such as dangerous cross-border migration for work opportunities.
Some people, on the other hand, are still trying to figure out how to crack the code for successful business start-up, incubation, and long-term viability. For some entrepreneurs, it takes some times, and for others ti takes even longer, until they are able to have it stand on its own and form a heavy business cycle. What they all agree on is that putting in consistent work in creative ways is crucial to getting a startup business off the ground.
“Two reasons prompted me to start my innovation job: the first was poverty in our home, which prevented my family from providing what I needed in school, and the second was the robbery at my mom’s cafe. “Eziden Kamil
Ezedin Kamil, the founder of product providing company Icon Africa is successful startup business entrepreneur and inventive youth. Ezedin’s company focuses on technological products that especially came to life in response to the corona virus epidemic, which necessitated the development of protective systems.
Addis Standard’s Etenesh Abera sat down with Ezedin to talk about his business and his experiences.
Addis Standard: Tell us about yourself. Who is Ezedin Kamil?
Eziden Kamil: I am a 20-year-old first-year technology faculty student at Addis Abeba University. My part-time job allows me to do a variety of creative projects. I began my innovation work in fourth grade in my hometown Wolikte. During my early years, unlike other youngster in my neighborhood, I didn’t spend much of my time playing football and different games with kids. Rather I spent most of my time playing with used electronic materials. For me to work on maintenance of electronics was part of playing. Wolkite was where I completed both my primary and secondary education.
AS: How did you get into the innovation world beyond repairing used electronics?
Ezedin: Two reasons prompted me to start my innovation job: the first was poverty in our home, which prevented my family from providing what I needed in school, and the second was the robbery at my mom’s cafe. The second reason prompted me to create a theft alarm that sends a signal from the cafe to my father’s phone. I haven’t stopped innovating new materials since then.
AS: What are the sources of your inspiration for creating something new?
Ezedin: My resources are the used electronics I have had for years. My inspirations are usually sparked by problems that I encounter. My desire to solve problems using electronics related technology is one of my greatest passions.
AS: What are the difficulties inventors face in our country?
Ezedin: Of course, there are problems both during and after the innovation process. We have a large number of problems that should be tackled through innovations, but due to challenges, we unable to do so. One of the many problems is lack of basic utilities such as fast internet connectivity, which is very critical to work in advanced robotics technology. Lack of stable electric power supply, which causes power fluctuation, frequently results in burning electronic materials and power outage discourage inventors.
AS: Do you think business incubators are helpful, especially in addressing the challenges the innovators face? If you have access to such facilities, share your experience with us.
Ezedin: Their roles are critical, and as a result, I was given the opportunity to join the X-Hub Addis incubation center, where I won approximately 3000 USD. They trained us on crucial business topics such as corporate branding, financial management, and how to expand the company. Because our innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem is still developing, many inventors are unaware of incubation facilities, which is the major problem. The incubation centers also lack effective ways to discriminate information about themselves to those who need it or to the general public.
AS: I heard that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, you devised a number of inventive solutions for prevention of the spread of the virus. Would you clarify this to our readers?
Ezedin: Challenges and problems are opportunities for me as an innovator. Because of the school closing due to COVID-19, I had plenty of time to come up with new ideas. This time, I invented four products. The first was developed in partnership with the Ministry of Education to create a hand bracelet, which senses and reminds you while you try to touch your face. The other was a mechanical ventilator that was developed in partnership with Wolkite University that came up with mobile phone application that allows doctors to remotely monitor and help patients. The third invention, developed in collaboration with Wolkite Polytechnic College, is the foot press hand washing machine. The fourth invention is anutomatic soap and sanitizer dispenser which functions with a sensor. I meant to turn the above materials into actual sources of income after I invented them, so they wouldn’t end up on the shelves like my other 37 innovations. I presented my proposal to eight investors, but none of them were interested. Now I have opened my company Icon Africa with the 8000 dollars grant which I got from USAID for developing a bicycle that can run on both solar and electric power. Later, I received finical support from South Africa Muslim Community and then I was able to start production with four employees.
During the material production, we encountered unexpected taxation while importing raw materials. I believe the government should create a section for innovators and entrepreneurs to import prototype raw materials which help the development of new products.
We are currently working on a new fire sensor alarm named X fire, which is recognized by Solve it, JICKA and Icog labs. It detects smoke from a fire and immediately prompts a hazard alert to at least five family members as well as shares the location with emergency and fire departments.
AS: You were one of the ten finalists in British Council’s Destination Zero Climate innovation challenge, which awarded a prize of 5000 pound. Tell us about your ideas and how you describe the experience.
Ezedin: It was a great challenge. I designed a three-wheeler vehicle, which runs on solar or electric power. It was a fantastic experience and now we have mentors for our future projects.
AS: Why did you choose the name Icon Africa for your company?
Ezedin: It is because I want to change the way people think about African. Internationally, Africa is portrayed as a land of famine, problems, and war torn continent in the media, people’s minds and in other places; we want to change that narrative for better with the help of our invention. By the way, we have already begun our voyage. After I signed with a Thai company, I am giving online basic electronics and programming training. I am also collaborating with a firm called Africa 118, which has a wider partnership with Google to provide training on digital skill and entrepreneurship. We are also receiving other overseas funds as direct result of our effort. In addition, I am a brand ambassador for Ethiopia innovation in the international innovation week.
Icon Africa is currently working on three projects. The first is transforming innovation into manufacturing; the second is a project focused on problem solving innovations for companies; and finally, we are working on a nonprofit training program for fellow innovators and entrepreneurs.
AS: Where can we find Ezedin and his company Icon Africa after five years?
Ezidin: I intend to work as an electro mechanical engineer, and hope that my company will be well known both locally and internationally. I would also like to develop an eco-friendly vehicle for the local market. We had already completed a circuit simulation test, which we named Weredewet.
AS: Which award, out of all the grants, recognitions, and awards you have received, stands out to you the most, and why?
Ezedin: The reward I received from Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, because it was an eye opener for my innovative journey.
AS: And your final message?
Ezedin: It is for the youth: Let us become problem solvers, not problem creators.