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Founder who turned down Microsoft job to grow startup, now expanding to third country

chris-Kwek

By Daniel Mpala

For most software developers getting a job offer from a company like Microsoft is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity that one would literally be crazy to turn down.

But this is exactly what 26-year-old Nigerian Chris Kwekowe (pictured above), the CEO and co-founder of Slatecube, did.

In 2015, after completing a year of study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Kwekowe says someone in senior management at Microsoft’s Boston office approached him with a job offer.

“It was one of those casual conversations but one with serious consequences,” he says.

He turned it down, opting instead to focus on his startup, a software-as-a-service based talent accelerator which helps train junior staff in areas like software engineering and animation — before placing them in jobs with corporate firms.

Slatecube co-founder and CEO Chris Kwekowe won the 2015 Anzisha Prize at the age of 22

For Kwekowe job offers, such as the one he received from Microsoft, are a regular occurrence.

“I’ve been approached bytech companies and companies from other industries as well. Many of them in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), or by smaller startups on the continent

“And you keep asking yourself you’re going to get close to thirsty, and you’ll lose significance as you get older, but then again the fact that these companies are coming to you means that there is value that you have,” he says.

Slatecube, which Kwekowe started in Nigeria with his brother Emerald Kwekowe in 2014 at the age of 21, recently expanded to South Africa.

Kwekowe says the startup, which currently employs 20 full-time staff, is looking to expand to Kenya early next year.

Slatecube, he says, is attempting to tackle youth unemployment on the continent through tech.

He says while there are millions of job openings each year in Africa’s two largest markets, South Africa and Nigeria, many of these openings remain unfilled because many graduates lack the skills companies are looking for — in what he calls, a skills mismatch.

“So, what we are doing now is we built two services that leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to help procure talent that companies care about.

“Then, we also help companies to create this job pipeline that reflects the company culture, skillsets that they want and personality types that they want from talent that they can hire — it’s a blend of edtech and recruitech,” he says.

He points out that the startup mostly works with companies that have a graduate recruitment programme. Some of Slatecube’s clients include SA law firm Webber Wentzel.

He claims that in South Africa and Nigeria the startup has an 80% job placement rate for those that utilise the Slatecube platform.

“We are actually going to be doing very close to 90% now, because it’s an end-to-end system. We have to complement the demand on the student or talent part and the demand on the company part. So, we need to get more companies to get more talent that we get on our platform,” says Kwekowe.

Raised initial capital from software development

Kwekowe is a self-taught software engineer who once helped his brother to learn software development.

He said he did this to focus on business development while his brother, who is the startup’s CTO, focused on the core software development part of the business.

The duo ploughed in about $10 000 of their own capital that they built up by offering software development services to companies like MTN.

The startup has so far raised $90 000 in external investment.

This includes $10 000 from friends and family, $25 000 in 2015 when Kwekowe won first place at the Anzisha Prize (then aged 22) and $5000 from the Tony Elumelu Foundation.

Last year the startup was accepted into Cape Town edtech incubator Injini’s second cohort where it was the recipient of a $50 000 equity investment (see this story).

‘Happy to work with Microsoft’

Kwekowe says when he finally met Bill Gates — in 2016 — he told him that Microsoft had tried to hire him.

“Bill just smiled and went on to say how support should be accorded to young African entrepreneurs who are solving some of the continent’s biggest problems,” said Kwekowe of the encounter.

He adds that Slatecube is “close” with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is looking to collaborate with the organisation.ac

He also says the startup is happy to work with Microsoft. Adds Kwekowe: “They are very keen”.

Featured image: Slatecube co-founder and CEO Chris Kwekowe

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