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'Nigeria's Mark Zuckerberg' puts tech into higher learning

By Teo Kermeliotis and Jessica Ellis, CNN
April 7, 2014 -- Updated 0900 GMT (1700 HKT)
In late 2012, Nigerian Gossy Ukanwoke launched <a href='http://bau.edu.ng/' target='_blank'>Beni American University</a>, the West African country's first private online university. In late 2012, Nigerian Gossy Ukanwoke launched Beni American University, the West African country's first private online university.
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Nigerian entrepreneur Gossy Ukanwoke
Education is key
Big goals
Digital learning
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gossy Ukanwoke has created Nigeria's first private online university
  • Called Beni American University, the institution has some 200 students
  • Courses offered include global marketing and leadership and management

Every week, African Start-Up follows entrepreneurs in various countries across the continent to see how they are working to make their business dreams become reality.

(CNN) -- At 23, many people around the world are still at university -- at that age, Gossy Ukanwoke had already started one.

The young entrepreneur is the founder of Beni American University (BAU), Nigeria's first private online university. Launched in late 2012, the school allows students to access their classes at any time of the day with any internet-enabled device.

"We are providing executive programs for graduates who are looking for employment and want to build up their resumes, or managers who want to climb up the hierarchy of their companies," says Ukanwoke, now 25.

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"We also have courses targeted at people who want to start their own business."

'Nigeria's Mark Zuckerberg'

Ukanwoke's idea to start BAU came from his previous online venture called Students Circle, an educational social networking site he'd launched while in university that allows learners to interact and access free resources from leading schools.

"When I created Students Circle in 2010," explains Ukanwoke, "I found out that ... many were looking for certificates, hoping that they could get something they could use to maybe find employment or get a promotion in the workplace.

"There was a need for a new institution to be created in Nigeria," adds Ukanwoke, who was once described by Forbes as "Nigeria's Mark Zuckerberg."

Now, some 18 months into his new business endeavor, Ukanwoke has hired 10 instructors and has about 200 students, with an average age of 26.

But the startup's journey so far has not been without challenges -- Nigerian laws require universities to have a physical campus so last year Ukanwoke went and bought land in the country's Benue State with the goal to build a private campus that could accommodate some 10,000 students.

Education is about teaching people how to make a living and teaching people how to live.
Gossy Ukanwoke, Beni American University

The project is expected to launch next year, but in the meantime the web courses are up and running -- a 12 week online program can cost between $100 and $300. Among the courses offered are corporate diplomacy, global marketing, leadership and management, digital journalism, project management and entrepreneurship and innovation, which is the university's most popular class.

"It's good because I have four kids," says Chinenye Madukwe, one of BAU's students. "I have opportunity to work at the same time, because I have a small interior design outfit."

Oo Nwoye, another BAU student, says he enrolled "for the knowledge."

"It is just helpful for my business and that is the most important thing to me," he explains.

Education is key

A son of two teachers, Ukanwoke says he is driven by his passion to use technology to solve social problems.

"I grew up within the framework where education was put at a very high level of importance, and entrepreneurship is something that I always wanted to do," he says.

"Without education I don't think we can do any progress," he adds. "It's not just about getting a certificate -- education is about teaching people how to make a living and teaching people how to live; how to interact with others, how to lead their lives and make something out of themselves," continues Ukanwoke.

"With education comes discipline and we need a lot of discipline in Nigeria as well, so education is really important."

Ukanwoke relies mainly on social media to advertize but says that it's student referrals that are increasing BAU's enrollment.

"We still have a long way to go, we have a lot of work to do, a lot of policy wrangling too," he admits. "But it's a work in progress and we are quite happy with where we are."

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