As I heard our plane tyres touch down on the runway, exhaustion from the almost 26-hour trip hit me. Having been on a plane for that long (with bursts of 8 hours and a 10-hour layover in Doha, Qatar), I had finally arrived at the Helsinki- Vantaa Airport.

(layover in Doha, Qatar)
(layover in Doha, Qatar)

It was the early hours of November 26, 2018, and this black man from Southern Nigerian had arrived at one of the most renowned European countries — Helsinki, Finland.

I had been warned it would be freezing out there, but the blast of cold breeze that welcomed me while coming out of the airport was proof enough that I clearly underestimated what cold could do to a man.

Adjusting to the cold, I began to feel the excitement of why I was in Finland. As someone asked during our stay — what would bring a man to Finland during its coldest season? He may not understand but as a startup founder, I would go to the ends of the earth to ensure we succeed.

Now, how and why did I come here?

My name is Ebi Ofrey, Cofounder and CEO at GeroCare, a cloud-based hospital providing the entire spectrum of primary health care to the elderly across Nigeria in the comfort of their homes.

We make it extremely easy for Nigerians to provide regular Doctor home visits for their parents anywhere in Nigeria from where ever they are in the world using the Gerocare mobile application. I work with two co-founders (Ajibola Meraiyebu and Bruce Lucas) and a team across Nigeria whose efforts have made GeroCare excel and benefit from pitch competitions and many other startup programmes from which we often emerge finalists.

We’ve also participated in international programmes first selected as one of the top 50 business innovators in Africa showcased in the Africa Innovation Summit (AIS) Rwanda in June 2018 and more recently the Slush, GIA which culminated in my journey to the northernmost parts of Europe – Finland. So what is Slush GIA?

Slush Global Impact Accelerator (GIA) is a program that supports impact startups and showcases the exciting business opportunities in emerging markets in collaboration with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and other multiple partners globally.

Last year, GeroCare came across the programme (could have been via smepeaks, I can’t really recall), applied to the local bootcamp in Nigeria, and won one of the three slots that would be travelling to Helsinki to pitch on the global forum.

Of the top 3 startups from the local slush boot camp in Owerri to represent Nigeria in Finland, I was the only one that was finally able to go to Helsinki which is the Capital of Finland.

Kolapo heartland Incubation Hub Owerri Manager - smepeaks
Kolapo heartland Incubation Hub Owerri Manager – organisers of local Slush Bootcamp

This brings me back to my arrival at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.

Stepping out of the airport, I was greeted by a volunteer who has been assigned as my Guide during my period of stay. I recall taking my first picture in the train from the Airport to Central Helsinki. A selfie with Justina.

Dr Ebi Ofrey + Justina - Slush GIA

The Slush GIA programme didn’t fail on its promise to bring startups from across the world to one venue. It was clear to me that the startup journey, no matter where you are in the world, is basically similar as we traded war stories about the high times — in which you think you are the greatest — and the low periods in which you start wondering what on earth you’ve gotten yourself into. It sort of made me feel better knowing that my experiences were not unique to me and that they would surely be surmounted.

It also provided the opportunity to forge partnerships and discuss ways of leveraging this new network to expand our business outside the shores of Nigeria.

I had opportunities to mingle with people from countries ranging from South America to South Africa and everything in between and was encouraged to immortalise the memories in pictures some of which are below.

Ebi Ofrey, GeroCare Founder/CEO at Slush GIA Finland
Something about engraving moments in pictures…

Ebi Ofrey of GeroCare at Slush GIA Finland

And of course a selfie of my humble self

Ebi Ofrey of GeroCare at Slush GIA Finland

We spent the next few days attending rigorous sessions; learning how to hone our pitches, understanding the fundamentals of impact businesses, how to tell our stories and run a successful startup. Most notable was our meeting at the smartly.io’s office, Advertising Partners to Facebook, Google, Uber etc, where we all listened to a session on Team building by one of the co-founders that transformed the way I saw leadership and company culture.

One of the Cofounders of Smartly.io giving a session on Team Building

We also had the opportunity to practice our pitch clips.

All these events culminated in the semifinals pitch contest in which all startups from over 20 countries came together with the various Hub Managers. In anticipation of the pitching event, you could see startup founders radiating nervous energy and Hub Managers providing moral support to the startups from their hubs.

SLUSH GIA Dr Ebi Offrey GeroCare

We all had 3 minutes each to deliver our pitches. Then a 2-minute Q/A session with the judges follow. After which 10 startups would be selected to pitch at the Slush event grand finale in the presences of over 1000 investors. GeroCare was the 10th company to pitch from the selection of 20 startups.

You can imagine my excitement when GeroCare was selected amongst the 10 finalists. It was international validation that we were actually making a change in the world and solving a real problem. I wasn’t the only one beaming with excitement. Faces of the other top 9 startups were also lit up as we smiled for a group picture, knowing within us that we were a step closer to being crowned the winner of the SLUSH GIA Finland Pitch contest.

2018 Global Finalists, Slush GIA Finland
2018 Global Finalists, Slush GIA Finland

Finally, the D-Day arrived and I got to the venue of Slush 2018 in the company of Kolapo Ogunbile the Manager of the Heartland Incubation Hub Owerri.

Ebi Ofrey + Manager of Heartland Incubator, Owerri

So this Nigerian had the opportunity to showcase GeroCare on a global stage again with the same format as he did in the semi-finals; 3 minute pitch and 2 minute Q&A from the judges made up of a seasoned entrepreneur, seasoned investor, senior management of Bayer Pharmaceuticals and Price Water Cooper — both of which were sponsors of the event.

Full GeroCare Final Pitch

I got my opportunity to pitch as the second startup for the day, ending on a high note and distilling the essence of Gerocare into a summary on our last slide.

Before facing the judges in a questions and answers barter.

Although GeroCare didn’t take home the prize money, it was more than worth it. And, I would not trade the experience of the friendships forged especially with the second place winner from Zambia ( Muzalema Mwanza – Safe Motherhood Alliance) for anything.

Dr Ebo Ofrey at Slush GIA, Finland

In the end, I realised that more of these competitions and exposure is really needed for African startups to take their place among global contemporaries. I’d also be sharing the lessons and insight from the Accelerator soon on smepeaks.


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