Judith Okonkwo is the Founder of Ímísí 3D, a Virtual Reality (VR) creation lab dedicated to growing a community of VR developers in Nigeria, creating solutions using VR, and providing educational and engagement experiences with VR. Judith is a Tech evangelist, Business Psychologist and Organisation Development practitioner who has worked in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Over the last 15 years, her career has taken her through a range of sectors including financial services, defense, education, aviation, and management consulting.
In the UK, she is an Associate at the University of Westminster’s flagship Business Psychology Centre where she has worked with the team consulting for public and private sector clients and teaches post-graduate students. In Nigeria, she is a frequent guest lecturer at Lagos Business School.
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Juan: 00:48 Hello and welcome to another episode of the VR AR Pioneers podcast. Today I am with Judith Okonkwo and Judith, what are you working on? What’s your project?
Judith: 01:01 So I run a startup lab in Lagos, Nigeria called Ímísí 3D. I also run a community called AR VR Africa connecting AR VR practitioners across the African continent.
Juan: 01:13 That’s amazing. Can you give us a little bit of context about your background and kind of how you got here?
Judith: 01:18 Sure. I am a psychologist, which is not quite the norm, but um, up until 2014 I lived in the UK and then I headed back to Lagos for a number of reasons, but one of the first things I did when I got there was to get started with a startup called Andela working in the tech startup community. And after spending time helping them set up there, I decided to start up the VR lab just because it was 2016, it was the year of VR and there was so much potential in terms of like the raw talent available and this technology that was emerging that we can start to get involved with.
Juan: 01:54 Yes. And it’s so cool. I actually met Judith, she was a speaker in one of the rooms at the F8 conference, the Facebook conference here in Silicon Valley. And she spoke about the community that she’s grown in, Legos, Nigeria. And tell us a little bit about the community itself. I know you’ve done several events and you have hundreds of attendees by now, right?
Judith: 02:14 Yeah. So it started out really small. I mean, our first meetup we had about probably about 15 people show up. Now in Lagos, we have meetups where we’ve got over 70 people show up in these happen every two months, but then across the wider community because we exist both online and offline, online in our Facebook group we are over 900 members we’re members from over 20 African countries and we just recently had an event where we had a hackathon simultaneously in seven African countries and we had a few hundred people take part.
Juan: 02:50 That’s amazing. That’s amazing and so the reason I liked your story so much, Judith, is a lot of us that aren’t in these tech hubs. We’re not in New York or London or Silicon Valley. It’s easy to just think that these pioneering technologies that are breaking the, that are pushing the possibilities and the boundaries that they can only happen in these little bubbles, but you’re perfect reflection of, well, Lagos is not. It’s not recognized as being a VR AR like Mecca and you’re still putting something together. That’s really, really awesome and I would love it if you could share with us a little bit about the actual tactical, either tools or mindset that you’ve used to actually generate a community around this pioneering technology.
Judith: 03:32 Sure. So I think the first thing is kind of like if you believe because you gotta be like super passionate about it and a little bit crazy as well. So if you believe then you just start, right? Um, and you start with whatever you have. So if it’s just one VR already computer that you can get that, you know, a couple of headsets you do that. And then I think the real thing is just trying to get people involved. You know, I tell people when I’m in Lagos, I always have a VR headset in my bag, always, because if you haven’t tried it before, you’ve got to try with that. Um, so that’s the first thing. And then the second thing is, you know, you’ll come across people who are intrigued who are curious. I think one thing we’ve certainly learned from is being able to get them every opportunity we can for them to access and engage with the technology and then around that you can start to build events or build gatherings where people will come together to find out more.
Juan: 04:22 So basically the workflow that you’re saying is find something that you’re really passionate about. In this case it’s VR, AR, equip yourself with at least one piece of hardware opportunity for you to champion the technology with the community around you. And then what’s next do you? Do you start working with politicians or coworking spaces or how do you actually start getting traction? Or is it a Facebook group? Is it a meetup?
Judith: 04:44 In our case right? You start working with whoever will actually get involved. Certainly, we started looking at the actual kind of like innovation hubs in Lagos because they would give us space for these activities to happen and it’s really any partner. I mean the very first meetup we had, we had it in the Google Nigeria office because they were the people who were available and willing to support. So I think that’s it, like find as many friends or as partners as you can who will support in one way or the other. It might just be the snacks at the event, you know, it might be location, it might be, you know, other resources like Wifi, Internet, that sort of thing. Um, and then I think the other thing is kind of like, be really conscious of what the opportunities are for the audience you’re trying to attract.
Judith: 05:27 So we know that, you know, where we are will only be able to engage with people who are in Lagos, the commercial capital, but that, you know, across the rest of Nigeria there’ll be people who are involved and that’s why we have both offline and online options. The Facebook group is also integral to that because while the in-person meetings are every two months, we still want to stay connected. We still want to share information and we still want to be in some way constantly providing value for people who are curious about AR and VR. So those would be things that I would say are really important to find avenues to keep providing value to the community and to also be able to cater to both an offline and online audience.
Juan: 06:07 In your case, how did you build up enough noise, enough attention to get people to realize that you were going to do this with or without them would do? Were you just attending events or building a personal brand? How did you do it?
Judith: 06:19 Um, so, so, so, so we just get stuck. But the thing is, what was interesting was, you know, there wasn’t really anybody in the space per se, trying to do what we would do, which is kind of like go to space in the ecosystem for this. So we put a lot of effort into evangelizing, you know, if there’s a tech event happening. We’d go there, we’d like get people to try out VR you know, that sort of thing. We just went everywhere that we could and people would be like, oh, VR. Yeah, come over and kind of thing. So we’ve definitely put the word out in that way. We also position ourselves well. So where we initially set up was the leading innovation hub in Lagos and that’s kind of like a place that the tech community naturally gravitate to for events and different things. So when they come for something else, you can be like, Hey, have you tried out VR, you know, and just kinda like get them engaged too.
Juan: 07:06 So was it after you found partners that were willing to come, come on board and help you out with your vision that you actually started molding? What is today the, the community or did you, did you already have the specific vision in mind and then people just aligned to help you reach that vision? Which happened first? Was it finding the partners or was it declaring exactly where you wanted to go?
Judith: 07:26 Um, I think they both kind of like, you know, it happened in tandem. And the reason I say that is because, you know, we’ve had partners joined us along the way who’ve enabled, um, you know, the opportunities. By the time we started the lab, you know, I hadn’t really started talking to Google yet, which is where we had our first meetup, but we knew that we wanted to do this. And when you that for the technologies to take root and the way that we thought possible, we needed to have a community of content creators. So that was always something that was in our line of sight from the very beginning, but it was just kind of like going along to make it happen.
Juan: 08:00 So that’s awesome. So this whole time you’ve known that you wanted a community of content creators in VR and AR and that’s pretty much all you knew and you had a headset or in a VR enabled computer and then you start going to all of these events and you’re declaring, we’re going to make this happen. We’re gonna make this happen. We’re going to make this happen in people say, hey, why don’t you use my space? Why don’t you use my Wifi? Why don’t you use my resources? Did you know about this other opportunity? And little by little it just starts taking shape as it matures and you start bringing more of these kinds of imperfect allies and also you start getting bigger and bigger opportunities because people now see that this is going to happen. Whether or not they’re on board, so they might as well be on board and help you and now you’ve been able to grow into what it is today. I think that’s such a great testimony of the persistence and focus and having a big enough vision for, for it to be compelling even for people to come on board. A little kind of rapid fire. Walk us through your toolkit. What are the exact kind of tools that you use to grow this community and stay in touch with them? Is it an email list? I think you mentioned it’s a Facebook group.
Judith: 09:01 Yeah. So there’s definitely a Facebook group, um, where, you know, members engage and that’s a, a wider groups and not just kind of like Lagos in Nigeria but across the whole African continent. And then we also have in Lagos in-person meetings that happen as well. And we have a mailing list. Local mailing list link kind of like in Lagos, in Nigeria that we use for that. We are also fairly active on Twitter as well, so it just kind of like keep people informed. So we tend to say, you know, follow us on Twitter if you want to know what’s happening. Um, and then, of course, we have a page on Facebook outside of the Facebook group for the startup specifically in Ímísí 3D.
Juan: 09:41 Okay. So there’s all of this traction building up, there’s all these people coming on board with the Facebook, Twitter. Do you have a business model for this project specifically or are you actually monetizing in some other way? And this is more of a passion project, the community.
Judith: 09:53 Um, so, so, so they all feed into each other because the bigger picture is that when we achieve critical mass in terms of the number of content creators, then we can be self-sustaining in the sense that we will be able to take on major projects and you know, derive revenue that way. So it’s actually leading up to where it’s at the moment in terms of funding, it’s a self-funded startup, so, you know, yeah, I’m pretty much supporting it, but we do get support for events and things. For example, we recently ran a hackathon across seven African countries simultaneously and for that we had support from Facebook.
Juan: 10:29 Wow, that’s perfect. And so you’re actually, your main business is, are you doing development? You have like a development firm for AR VR?
Judith: 10:38 We do some developments, yes.
Juan: 10:42 Are you driving any business from the community into the development firm or not yet?
Judith: 10:48 Um, a little bit, a little bit. I mean, the, what we see happening in the future is that, um, as we kind of like grow in terms of numbers and what we’re able to do, then we believe that the community, the local community will be available to work globally. Um, you know, and pursue opportunities across the world.
Juan: 11:10 Okay. VR AR pioneers. Do not forget to get your free resources for this episode. It’s very simple. You just subscribe to the show on iTunes and then once you’ve done that, message the word “done” to Admix.in/giveaway. Subscribe on iTunes and then message “done” to Admix. A D M I X dot letter I letter N slash giveaway to get your XR growth resources. See you on the next one.
Juan: 11:38 Judith, you’re doing a lot of amazing things in Nigeria across the world. Now, speaking at the Facebook conference, I know I think you’re even taking this call at Google IO, you’re just all over the place doing a lot of big, big things. I think it’s super inspiring for any of us in smaller startup ecosystems that see all of the cool things that are happening in some other hubs and just feel left out. You’re a great testimony that of course, you can do it. You literally just have to want to declare it and then find enough perfect imperfect allies to help you get to to the end. So what is the best way for people to stay in touch with you and what you’re up to?
Judith: 12:16 So if you are excited about AR or VR on the African continent and you’re on Facebook, then please join the facebook group, AR VR Africa. If you just kinda like want to know what’s happening with Ímísí 3D, you know the startup and Nigeria, then you can follow us on Twitter at Ímísí3D. and if you’ve got a question for me then my email address is email@example.com. And Ímísí 3D is I M I S I number 3 and the letter d dot com.
Juan: 12:46 Perfect. Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us.
Judith: 12:49 My pleasure.
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/judith-okonkwo-5240b71/
- Website: http://imisi3d.com/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/judithoko
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1090243094392331/
- Website: http://arvrafrica.com/
- To grow your organization, find something that you’re really passionate about. In this case it’s VR, AR. Equip yourself with at least one piece of hardware and champion the technology with the community around you.
- Get involved! Find as many friends or as partners as you can who will support in one way or the other. It might just be the snacks at the event,it might be location, it might be other resources like Wifi or Internet.
- Lastly is be really conscious of what the opportunities are for the audience you’re trying to attract. Understanding them is the key to helping them.
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