Name: Chizaram Ucheaga
Name Of Company: Mavis Computel
Mavis Computel Limited started operations in 2007 and currently has about 16 investors/shareholders. The company’s primary product is the Talking Books™, which began to be developed in 2011.
The Talking Books™ are interactive, audio-visual tools that make both teaching and learning very simple, motivational and engaging by making quality content prepared by experts easily available to learners.
This is a product that I’ve been personally excited about, as I’m big believer in the benefits of educational technology in Nigeria and Africa.
During this exclusive interview we catch up Mavis Computel’s Educational Technology Expert, Chizaram Ucheaga to discuss learning and the Innovation of Educational Technology in Nigeria.
Using Innovation to Progress Educational Technology in Nigeria
Joseph: How would you introduce Mavis Computel Ltd, the idea and concept as if I knew nothing about the company and its markets?
CHIZARAM: Mavis Computel is an educational technology company that develops products that makes teaching and learning engaging and impactful.
We are based in Abuja, Nigeria. Our main product is the Talking Books™ – which we developed (and own copyrights and trademarks to). The Talking Books™ are interactive, audio-visual tools that make both teaching and learning very simple, motivational and engaging by making quality content prepared by experts easily available to learners. To use the Talking Books, the user simply turns on the Mavis Pen™ and taps on the pages (texts or images) of the specially printed digital paper books to enter an exciting new world of interactive audio on paper. An illiterate or any other learner can use The Talking Books™.
The versions of the Talking Books currently available (in the Language Learning Series) include: French, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. Many more books will be added in quick successions in the Language Series (Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, etc.) and in other subjects such as Mathematics, Sciences, etc. More details of the products are available on our website www.maviseducation.com
Joseph: You are described as the home of innovative technologies, what African problems are your innovative technologies solving?
CHIZARAM: Nigeria has about 520 local languages. According to a 2014 UNESCO Report, over 400 of these languages are almost extinct – including some of the major languages. Our goal is to help preserve the various local languages using educational technology in Nigeria.
We also aim to use our solutions to solve the problem of the decline in educational standards in Nigeria – especially in core subjects like Mathematics, English and Basic Science. We will be releasing specialised versions of the Talking Books for these subjects in the coming months. Later, we will be setting up high quality schools, with very low tuition costs (less than $10/pupil/month) to provide a top grade learning experience created by experts for access by children in poor communities.
Joseph: What motivated Talking Books and what has been the impact so far?
CHIZARAM: We realised that a number of Nigerian languages are dying. Parents and grandparents who want to teach their children the local language do not know where to start and also hardly have time to teach the children. This led us to develop the Talking Books™ to solve this problem.
We also realised that there aren’t enough qualified teachers in Nigeria (especially in public schools). We are developing the Subject Series of the Talking Books™ and Talking Posters™ (up to A3 paper size) to replicate the knowledge of expert teachers using technology. These will be rolled out in the coming months.
Joseph: Your contribution to the Health sector is enormous, do you mind sharing some of the strides you have accomplished?
CHIZARAM: We were recently selected as one of the Top 42 Healthcare Innovators to take part in the Health Innovation Challenge 2015 that was held at Epe Resort, from 24th – 29th August 2015. The event was run by the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria.
Our goal is to create customized versions of our Talking Book™ and Talking Poster™ to be used as preventive intervention in rural areas. These products will provide essential healthcare information to help save lives. The solution provides an offline repository for passing healthcare information – be it on antenatal and postnatal care, polio, hygiene, etc.
Joseph: You have also helped introduce amazing innovative products from abroad into the Nigerian market; can you tell us more about this?
CHIZARAM: We initially introduced products like the Smartpen (a digital pen that takes notes and links it to what you write or draw and sounds out the audio by simply tapping the pen on the paper), portable battery powered projectors, portable battery powered speakers, and the likes. However, over time, we realised the need to make our own products that have a high growth potential – rather than competing on regular products.
Joseph: How do you keep your company as competitive whilst focusing on various sectors?
CHIZARAM: We always listen to our customers to know what they want and the price point that they are considering. Listening to clients is key to staying competitive. Because, ultimately, they are the ones that pay for the products and keep us in business.
Joseph: What were the challenges launching such a diverse company and how did you raise the startup capital?
CHIZARAM: Starting a tech company in Nigeria has been challenging. Issues of raising funds, sourcing experienced talent, etc.
We were able to tackle these challenges over time. We raised funds from savings we had and from family and friends as well when we were starting the company. That helped us to get the push we needed. There are challenges you face and you must overcome them to survive and become successful.
Joseph: What are some of your innovative products we should be looking out for?
CHIZARAM: We will be introducing the English-learning-Arabic Talking Book soon. We will also be introducing the Book 2 for French, and the other languages. Soon after, we will introduce Story Books and novels that work with our Mavis Pen™.
Joseph: You are due to lunch your products at DEMO Africa, how would you rate the impact of such startup support activities?
CHIZARAM: We see DEMO Africa as a great launch pad for companies to introduce their innovative products and services. We look forward to launching our new Mavis Pen™ and Talking Books™ at the event and attracting buyers, investors and key partners, and further highlighting the innovations taking place in educational technology in Nigeria.
Joseph: What lucrative business areas do you think young Africans can also venture into with little capital?
CHIZARAM: There is really no single best area. The first thing young Africans should do is to look around them and spot the major problems. That is usually a good place to start. Sectors like education, healthcare, agriculture and energy are a good place to start – because they are numerous challenges in these areas across Africa. The next thing to do is to spend time (even if takes months) to figure out what unique solution they can offer to these problems and build a product or service to meet those needs. The challenge is getting the unique idea and finding the funding to support and launch this idea.
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