Beyond engineering to entrepreneurship

African Innovators Society helps students bring ideas to life

Emily Liu

Jul 8, 2024

Ever since his undergraduate career, Muhammad Aliyu (MSIT '25) has been driven to help others realize their dreams. While conducting undergraduate research at the Federal University of Technology Minna, Aliyu realized that a lot of his fellow students were struggling with their final-year projects, having to rely heavily on outside help to get everything finished. "It wasn’t something that I wanted to see," Aliyu said.

So, he worked with a fellow researcher to create the Ignite Research Academy, which aims to train students in STEM and strengthen their research capacity. The institute has connected over 200 students and researchers across Africa, and aims to train 25 million students by 2032.

Before starting the Masters in Science and Information Technology (MSIT) program at Carnegie Mellon University Africa, Aliyu reached out to students and alumni to learn more about the environment in which he would soon be immersed. He found that the program didn't have any clubs dedicated to entrepreneurship. "So, I thought to myself, why not create that community?" says Aliyu. "I knew that if I was thinking about it, another person was thinking about it."

Aliyu presented his plans to MSIT faculty and staff, and within weeks, the African Innovators Society (AIS) entrepreneurship club began operating at CMU-Africa. The club's mission is to help students become not just engineers, but entrepreneurs: leaders, critical thinkers, and problem solvers who stand out in the workforce and keep pace with the rapidly-changing industry environment.

In fall of 2023, AIS partnered with Jasiri, a program that supports African startups in the East African region, to organize a launch event for the club. The event took place during Global Entrepreneurship Week, an annual movement in which millions of people worldwide participate in activities and competitions to celebrate entrepreneurship.

Soon after, AIS secured over 80 tickets for CMU-Africa students to attend Norrsken Africa Week 2023, where over 1,000 investors and business leaders from all around Africa came together to share their ideas. The club members also attended the grand finale of the Africa’s Business Heroes program, networking with other innovators who were aiming to create the next big businesses in Africa.

In spring of 2024, club member Francis Yuyun (MSIT' '25) led a team that participated in the health hackathon organized by the African Leadership University. Having lost two loved ones to breast cancer, Yuyun pitched a project called Check Me, an AI-powered application designed to help women self-examine for breast cancer and increase the chances of early detection. The project won funding from the hackathon and will be further developed during the Africa Higher Education Health Collaborative Convening in Ghana this October.

AIS also hosts events back home, drawing on their experiences to uplift their peers. In the fall, the club invited João Barros, now a research professor at CMU-Africa, to speak about bringing generative AI to CMU-Africa. And in March, AIS hosted a rapid prototyping bootcamp in partnership with FlutterFlow, a user-friendly tool for building applications. The event saw attendees of various experience levels use FlutterFlow to turn their ideas into working prototypes in the span of just eight hours.

Aliyu is the president of AIS, working with four other dedicated students to propel CMU-Africa students beyond engineering to entrepreneurship. He’s incredibly proud of how far the club has come in a matter of months. "In the next few years, when you talk about entrepreneurs from Africa and you look at their names and their backgrounds, you’ll see a connection with CMU-Africa," said Aliyu.