Jean Paul Sartre put it that man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. This assertion has been proven accurate by young Blessing Phiri, a 24 year old entrepreneur and Mechatronics undergraduate student at Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT). Blessing’s background is far from perfect. He lost his mother at 3 and was raised by a quadriplegic father in Mbare; one of the least privileged communities in Zimbabwe. Many young people succumb to drugs and illegal dealings in such environments but Blessing stands as a beacon that proves that where a person originates from does not determine where they are headed in life or the level of success they will reach.
His entrepreneurial journey began in 2015 when he estab lished a scandal and gossip blog paharare.com which offered sensational news to the general public. The blog ran for a year after which he ceased operations to establish a men’s formal wear clothing line Don Minteiro in 2016. He noticed that most men due to different body types struggle to find ready-made suits that fit their bodies perfectly. The clothing business is online based and currently has a team of 8 people running the operations and production. Like most online businesses in Zimbabwe, the major challenge the business faces is convincing the local market to fully embrace online shopping. “Our customers prefer physical shopping for clothes, where they can touch a suit, feel the quality and even try it on before purchasing it,” he said.
The platform uses a neural network, it has the ability to mimic the human brain and respond to requests
The third venture, Fundie Technologies is what catapulted Blessing into the limelight in 2018. He created an education artificial intelligence system that assists students get textbooks and past exam papers in their Whatsapp inboxes. The platform uses a neural network which implies that it has the ability to mimic the human brain and respond to requests; it adapts and customises the user experience based on previous data. Fundie as Blessing describes it is a virtual robot that gives students an access to reading material without having to purchase content bundles.
I asked myself if it were possible to tunnel a Whatsapp data bundle to access Google?
The motivation to establish Fundie Technologies arose when Blessing found himself stranded in need of reading material to complete a written assignment a night before the submission date. They had lost Wi-Fi connectivity on campus due to a power-cut and he only had a Whatsapp bundle in his mobile phone which cannot access online reading material. This prompted him to find a solution knowing that there were a lot other students who faced similar situations needing of books but lacking data bundles. “I asked myself if it were possible to tunnel a Whatsapp data bundle to access Google? I knew that if I could solve this problem for myself, there were many other students who would benefit from the solution,” he said. Blessing set out on his mission to solve the problem, working tirelessly each night until he finally broke through after 3 months of trials and errors.
“It was a challenging task because I was borrowing technology from the first world. I had nowhere to make reference from because it was a novel idea locally,” he stated. He reveals getting frustrated countless time with the innovation failing to perform in a way he desired it to. What kept the young man focused is his unyielding spirit that was cultivated by his father who continuously encouraged him not to quit from a young age. Fundie now on its third version has a team of software and business developers who continuously innovate to improve the user experience. Currently the platform has over 11 000 subscribers and an exponential growth is anticipated with education now tilted towards becoming online based. The business generates income from partners and other businesses that advertise on the platform. Blessing has received accolades such as the National winner for the Start-up Competition in 2018 and he emerged the Provincial champion in 2019 earning the business funding from institutions such as UNICEF and UNDP.
When my father’s disability worsened, he began making use of my hands
His desire was to study robotics however the programme is not being offered in Zimbabwe thus he opted for the next best choice Mechatronics. His passion for computers and robotics can be traced back to primary school through exposure from his father a computer technician. Blessing recalls his father losing the ability to use his hands when he was in grade 4 due to complications of a spinal problem. “When my father’s disability worsened, he began making use of my hands. He would instruct me on how to fix computer and it fascinated me,” he stated. His father shaped his passion for robotics by reassuring him that he had potential to become a robotics engineer. In University Blessing continued to excel participating as a community advocate and student leader. This earned him recognition from the American Embassy which facilitated his training in Robotics and Machine Vision at the Western Kentucky University for a year in 2019.
Artificial intelligence is applicable to various sectors of the economy
In the next few years he envisions Fundie to be the best and official Edu-Tech platform in Zimbabwe. He is motivated by ZimSwitch which started off as a private company but has become the official Zimbabwe financial transaction platform. He also believes that the artificial intelligence used for Fundie is applicable to various sectors of the economy and he would want the business to diversify to other sectors such as financial services. Blessing is inspired by many entrepreneurs notably Vusi Thembekwayo for his realistic advice and the way he treats his clients also Elon Musk for his wild imagination and creativity. Closer home, Blessing looks up to the CEO of Steelmate, Clive Chisenye, who grew up in Mbare but is now a multi-millionaire. In addition to this, he receives business guidance and mentorship from Boost, UNICEF and his cousin and entrepreneur George Hove. He states that entrepreneurs ought to find problems, carve solutions and never look back!
This article was originally published on Vimbiso Chacha’s website, Young & Enterprising.