Irewole Akande is Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of City Health Tech. Through user centered design, first class technology, and community engagement, City Health Tech is committed to promoting disease prevention in cities around the world. Their device, OPAL, is their first step to standardize community health education, promote healthy handwashing habits, and collect data to provide valuable insights to help communities live healthier.
Mr. Akande’s Story:
Three years ago, I was attending an IoT conference as an IoT Electronics engineer. Midway through, a young sophomore from Northwestern walked up to me to discuss my expertise in IoT products. After our conversation, he said to me: “95% of people do not wash their hands properly, the correct amount of time to was hands for is 20 seconds with soap, water and the right technique. However, most people only wash for 5 – 7 seconds which means 95% of people are vectors of diseases into their communities.” I thought it was a fascinating problem, so I went home and timed my handwashing. As a Nigerian, handwashing is a huge part of our culture but even with that, I washed for only 12 seconds. With that, I chose to collaborate and dove into the problem, we read a myriad of journals, articles, studies on the impact of handwashing on community health and safety. Our research showed that there are over 1 billion cases of the common cold a year, 48 million food borne illnesses and over 1 million cases of healthcare acquired infections a year. So we set out to do two things: “How might we get people to wash their hands properly?” “How might we show the impact of handwashing on the spread of diseases.” After over a year of designing, iterating and testing, I invented Opal, a connected device that sits beside a faucet, detects a user and then engages them with content for the duration of their handwashing. Subsequently, the device collects duration data and sends it to a cloud server for hygiene analytics insight.
Describe the most significant influence that led you to your line of work
Curiosity. I am genuinely curious about how technology can be used to solve existing problems in ways that have never been envisioned before. I don’t believe that the world we are in is the best it can be, and for that reason, I want to use technology to make it better. Building the future of disease prevention technology is the first step in that journey.
What do your family, friends and colleagues say about your accomplishments?: My family, friends and colleagues are immensely proud and motivated by my achievements. Growing up in Nigeria, it was easy for one write off the impact someone like me would have on the world. But my persistence, drive and excellence has served to show all that know me that it is possible to live far beyond your wildest dreams.
Tell us about something that made you grow the most as a leader: Failure. There is no better teacher than failure. Failure is the immediate feedback loop that evaluates the capacity to achieve one’s goals. In my own case, I was called to lead at a young age and even though I achieved success, I discovered that one who thinks he’s leading but has no one following is merely taking a walk. Failure at leading taught me the importance of galvanizing people’s individual goals to achieve a collective goal.
Share your ideas for mentoring the professional development of young entrepreneurs. The most important way to mentor young entrepreneurs is by giving them the ability to think differently about problems. The question “WHY?” is too often answered with the words: “That’s just the way it is.” That answer is unacceptable. It breeds mediocrity, stifles imagination and tampers with the very commitment to making our world a better place. I believe the correct response should be, “You have an opportunity to discover, go for it!” By thinking about problems differently, more young entrepreneurs are motivated to discover and solve problems rather than embolden the status quo.