“Believe in God but work on yourself.” This was the first of several quotes that riddled my conversation with Liberty Oyugboh, winner of the Technovation challenge 2019.
He looked like a pretty regular guy with a regular shirt, regular glasses and the regular smile he was always quick to reach for. The first sign that he was not your average guy (at least for me) was his greenish backpack placed rather puzzlingly at the foot of the table, not on the empty table and not on any of the several empty seats surrounding him.
Then there was the obvious sign after we had said our greetings and settled into the discussion: his hands couldn’t stay still. He gesticulated and clasped them for much of the time and then without warning, would grab anything in sight. First was when he grabbed my pen and kept tossing and rolling it in his hands. Then after a spell-binding rendition which I listened to with rapt attention, I discovered that my note had left my side of the table and found its way into his clutches. I was almost sure that had he not been aware that my phone was also my recording device, he probably would have sampled it as well. His hands were itching to get busy. That told me very quickly that this wasn’t a man to remain idle for long.
“Growing up I was a kind of person that was very curious,” Liberty says of himself. “I like to know about things around me, the world around me and how things work.”
It is no doubt that this inquisitiveness brought him to where he is now and would likely take him where he wants to be in the future.
Liberty grew up in the little village of Emun in Edo state. For a better part of his early years, he did not know what televisions or videos or mobile phones really were. His only source of information was his father’s transistor radio and his inquisitiveness once led him to ask his father if the people speaking on the radio were actually inside the box equipment.
“Growing up was very tough for me,” he says. “Some people say they grew up with a golden or diamond spoon but I didn’t actually get any spoon except the spiritual spoon,” he says with a laughter I’d come to realise was also a signature of sorts.
Liberty lost his father in 2005 and it signalled several changes in his life including going to live with an aunt. But in 2009, he made his way from that small village in Edo State to the big city of Lagos where he would eventually discover tech.
Falling in love with tech
Coming to Lagos was an eye-opener for Liberty as Lagos did to him what it does to every first-timer: it piqued his interest and heightening his curiosity. Lagos was where he had his first access to the internet.
“We had internet at the church I was attending so during the break period I would go to the office and I’ll start playing with the computer and internet and grew more fascinated,” he says with a glow in his bespectacled eyes which betrays how fondly he holds that memory.
In 2014, Liberty was part of the team that won the first edition of Innovate Lagos and this ushered him fully into the tech space. This was when he realised he could actually develop solutions to problems affecting society and he could be recognised for it. But one thing which remained topmost in his mind is the desire to be a problem solver rather than just a tech guy.
“Number one thing in my life is not just about tech. It is about problem solving. If you know about tech and you can’t solve problems with it, then I don’t think it’s useful. You just knowing about something doesn’t bring change,” he explains.
Liberty clearly believes in innovation and problem solving. It isn’t a surprise then that his biggest solution yet, the Natrics Power Manager, is defining him now more than anything else.
The idea behind Natrics Power Manager
After winning the Innovate Lagos competition and realising he could actually develop solutions to some of the myriad of problems affecting society, Liberty started considering things deeply and analysing any setting more intensely. He started noticing the inherent problems in particular systems, and this realisation was usually accompanied by deep thought geared towards creating solutions and making them right.
But it wasn’t until 2016 that the stroke of genius which would birth the Natrics Power Manager hit him.
“One day I had to go and switch off my generator and changeover after PHCN restored power. I was like, what if we could actually do something about this and you don’t have to go and change over and all that?”
He started working on that idea, investing time and scarce resource into trying different ways to make it work. But the lack of resources and the need to fend for himself in his desperate economic situation meant he couldn’t make any headway.
But things began to change in 2018 when Liberty began to source for resources. He also found inspiration in the teachings of a lecturer at Lagos State Polytechnic who taught electromagnetics to build a changeover switch that automatically switches off a generator and changes over to PHCN.
“After that I was like, okay, we’ve done something. But what if you can use your mobile phone to control that? I thought of generators that use switches and that was when I moved into the IoT space and fell in love with it.”
Liberty really fell deeply in love with IoT because he would spend most of his free time henceforth researching, watching YoTube videos and generally exposing himself to any information that would help transform his abstract love for IoT into something as concrete as the Natrics Power Manager.
“I started putting installations together in January 2019. I got some stuffs from Jumia to put together and I started working. By March I was able to pull it off and it was working. When the Technovation challenge came up, I just applied for it with what I had.”
And what he had worked well enough to earn him the big W at the competition.
How Natrics Power Manager works
Living and hustling in Nigeria is mightily stressful enough and many Nigerians would rather not be bothered about lesser sources of stress like having to turn off the generator, switching back to PHCN or needing to switch off all the electrical appliances around the house before sleeping at night or leaving for work in the morning.
The alleviation of such annoying activities which though seem like nothing could spell great danger, is what Natrics Power Manager does essentially.
“Natrics Power Manager puts all these switches, all these stress in your mobile phone,” Liberty explains. “So you don’t have to leave your bed to put off your electrical appliances. It is a simple system, part of which you install in your house and the other part, the interface which interacts with the whole system is installed in your mobile phone.”
In a nutshell, Natrics Power Manager allows you control your home appliances from anywhere in the world through your mobile phone.
At the moment, Liberty and his team are still working on the lightening and are putting both the software and hardware in place. There are also plans to incorporate features like scheduled switching, voice control, fault detection and damage control, all lacking in the prototype.
Winning TechPoint’s Technovation Challenge
Winning Tech Point’s Technovation Challenge has been a life-changing episode for Liberty who confesses that his eyes have been opened to a lot of new things. It has also exposed him to a lot of goodwill and recognition from people as much as it has exposed his solution to a lot of potential investors and validated his dream and efforts as he looks forward to perfecting the Natrics Power Manager.
“I’ve been doing these things for like five years and nobody knows about it. But when I won the competition it brought out a lot of things. I started getting interviews from people and so many other things. It has really exposed me to the world and changed my mindset.”
Liberty has his eyes set on the scholarship offered him by the University of Sussex as part of his prize for winning the Technovation Challenge and would take full advantage whenever he’s ready for it.
Scaling the Natrics Power Manager
Everything Liberty has done so far is on zero incentive as he has had no financiers and no investors. But considering how far he has come with the Natrics Power Manager, he’s putting himself out there and is ready for sponsorships and investments.
“Whether you like it or not, in the next five years you’re not going to be using that switch in your house. You’d rather want to use your phone because everyone will be doing the same. So this is the future and we are currently looking for investors to join us. This will be a big market, not just for Nigeria, but Africa as a whole.”
Liberty and his Natrics Power Manager aren’t currently in incubation and he would gladly welcome such an opportunity.
Liberty has been facing and surmounting challenges all his young life, from people telling him how much of his time he was wasting to having some of the scrap he brought home to work with being thrown away. But that never stopped him from ‘wasting’ more of his time or bringing home more ‘scrap’, all as vital investments to actualising the dreams he believes in.
Coming to Lagos, he began dealing with the challenge of working to make money to fend for himself, especially his education at the Lagos State Polytechnic. He remains dogged in his belief that if he keeps pushing and keeps willing himself on, no challenge would be too enormous to conquered.
“I can’t afford to fail because a lot of people are looking up to me,” he says. “If I fail, all those people fail too.”
It is no doubt that Liberty Oyugboh has an idea capable of causing a serious paradigm shift on his hands. Harnessing and developing this idea into its full potential is what a lot of people, myself included, are hoping for. It takes time, dedication and resources to fully develop such an idea and if Liberty could figure out the first two himself, I am without doubt that the last will come in due course.
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