“Success” is a word that has countless meanings and exerts an individualized emotive. More often than not, success in the business world is part of the machismo culture. However, when a woman steps into that world, she defies expectation, overcomes obstacles, and shatters the patriarchy.
For a woman, the struggles of creating her own business may seem amplified and tiresome, inducing a sense of hopelessness. ink.mdc created this blog series, “Diary of a Startup Goddess”, because just one story can uplift any woman from such disillusionment. We’ve invited businesswomen, who have broken the glass ceiling who have redefined entrepreneurship, to tell their story because we want to encourage other women to pursue their passions. Join us each month for one of these incredible stories!
Adeola Shasanya, co-founder of Afro-Tech Girls, shares her passion for preparing girls and young women for STEM.
Jess Paull (JP): How did you and co-founders Morenike Adewale-Sadik and Yvonne Allanah meet?
Adeola Shasanya (AS): Morenike and Yvonne are my close friends. I met Morenike in nursery school, and we stayed in touch and became closer during our postgraduate degrees in Manchester in 2012.
Yvonne and I met in university during our undergraduate degrees in 2007; we both studied engineering and had mutual friends. We clicked and maintained our friendship since.
JP: How did your interest in STEM, particularly engineering, start?
AS: Math and science came naturally to me in primary school. It was also evident in the cartoons I watched, such as Dexter’s Laboratory and The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius. I could always be found tinkering with old telephones, attempting to fix them.
In secondary school, I was also good in physics and applied electricity. I had a chat with an older family friend who had just completed an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, and I was inspired that someone like myself could study something that you would originally assume was for males.
JP: Where did the idea for Afro-Tech Girls come from?
AS: During my master’s program in Manchester, I volunteered at a non-profit called Robogals where we would teach visiting secondary school girls about robotics through practical sessions. I was inspired to create a similar community back home; I did not know of any similar local organizations.
After I conceived the idea, I spoke to Morenike and Yvonne, who had both studied engineering and experienced being a minority in their field. We all agreed that it was important to give back in some way to our community. Yvonne had just completed a community project refurbishing a local school library, and Morenike was looking to run a science competition in some underserved community. It was a match made in heaven. The rest, as they say, is history.
JP: How did you take the leap to be an entrepreneur?
AS: I saw a problem that I was hoping to solve, and I was surrounded by people who shared a similar vision and interest. It was pretty encouraging to begin with. I did not think it would turn out to be as big or successful as it has been.
JP: What do you think holds people back from taking the leap?
AS: If people do not feel encouraged or don’t have a community that supports what they are doing, it would be difficult to start. Also, I always hear about imposter syndrome, and my motto is to “do it anyway, do it scared.” Just give it a try, and then you never have to wonder about the what ifs.
JP: Can you tell me about the first three years of Afro-Tech Girls?
AS: When we started, there weren’t a lot of organizations who do what we do, especially with STEM education for girls. We would get comments asking about boys. Not a lot of people believed in what we were doing, but we continued and found people who could relate and support us. We all had our parents and family behind us. Friends would volunteer and donate toward our cause. Some would even provide professional services pro bono. We started with a lot of volunteers, which was helpful in moving forward. We also had older mentors who believed in us and supported us (and still do), even financially.
One thing we did well was to make use of the internet. We had an Instagram and a Facebook page so we could tell our stories easily and engage with our immediate community.
JP: Did you have a mentor?
AS: I have a mentor who studied engineering as well. I had read about her on LinkedIn back in 2012 at the beginning of my master’s in England, and she had just won the award for female engineer of the year in the United Kingdom. She was a huge inspiration, and there was a lot I could learn from her. We had an initial conversation over the phone where we bonded and have been close ever since. She has not only supported me career-wise with advice, but she has also contributed to some of the work we do at Afro-Tech Girls by sponsoring some programs and sharing opportunities with us.
As a group, we leveraged our immediate community from family to senior colleagues and even strangers who shared a similar vision and also have experience running successful businesses and serving in senior management roles.
JP: What do you wish you knew when you first started?
AS: I wish I knew how hard it would be to connect directly with our target audience. Not all secondary school students are online. Most students who actually need this extra support do not have access to learning opportunities. It has been a learning curve but also fulfilling.
JP: What advice would you give yourself?
AS: Make bolder, more daring decisions. Take on bigger challenges; it only provides more opportunities to grow. Keep learning and keep asking for support. Develop core skills to run a sustainable business as well.
JP: How can our society create an environment where entrepreneurs are more likely to take that leap?
AS: Always think about creating opportunities for everyone; leave no stone unturned. The key is always being open minded. The world is evolving daily, and it’s important to be on par with the revolution that is happening. It’s also important to be in the know, especially on trends in society to remain relevant and resourceful in today's economy.
JP: How can parents and teachers encourage their daughters’ interest in STEM?
AS: They can harness the skills and interests their daughters may have. They can bring them to attend our training boot camps and mentorship programs. It’s important that they introduce them to women they know who had similar experiences studying or working in STEM.
JP: What are the biggest obstacles facing women and girls interested in pursuing STEM?
AS: Doubt and not having the right support system are the biggest obstacles. I have spoken to mothers who have expressed concern because they do not feel that there will be opportunities for their daughters because companies do not hire women to do “men’s jobs.” This is a big misconception, and it makes it even more relevant for female representation in STEM.
JP: How has COVID-19 influenced Afro-Tech Girls’ upcoming plans?
AS: It has dented a lot of our plans because we would typically have physical training events. We have had to adapt, albeit on a smaller scale, to run virtual sessions for our community. There are some gaps because our target audience is not always the girls who are connected with WiFi at home or have laptops to enable them to learn virtually.
JP: What is in Afro-Tech Girls’ future? How can ink. help promote it?
AS: We would like to do more, grow more, and become more sustainable. We are seeking longer-term partnerships where we would be able to run longer-term programs as we continue to grow. We can work with ink. to create awareness about our programs, highlight our success stories, and leverage ink.’s community and women to give back to the girls in STEM.
Adeola Shasanya is an electrical and electronics engineer by training with a master’s degree in renewable energy and clean technology. She is a sustainable engineering and technology enthusiast. Adeola is also passionate about empowering young African girls through science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. With Afro-Tech Girls, she is working with her awesome co-founders and amazing team to create a world with more female inclusion in the STEM field. (Bio courtesy of Tech Women Lagos)
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Dr. Jessica Paull is a doctor, but cannot help with that rash--please see your regular medical provider. Her degree is in sociology, with a focus on inequality, which she uses to analyze pop culture or anything within a 10-foot radius. Jessica’s happy place is filled with coffee, puppies, and vintage dresses. She hopes to leave the world slightly better than she found it.