Meet The Garage, a campus co-working startup that achieved 5,000 combined work hours in 2 weeks

Meet The Garage, a campus co-working startup that achieved 5,000 combined work hours in 2 weeks

As the world continues to grow digitally, the realities of work and study have continued to witness rapid change. So quick are the changes that having full-time students on campus also holding full-time roles in tech companies has become a stark reality. Many such student-professionals are scattered on campuses around Nigeria.

The challenges with such arrangements are, however, quite numerous, especially for underdeveloped countries in Africa. They include balancing work with studies. Because of the remote locations of many universities, the challenge of both power and the all-important internet becomes ever so biting. Finally, there is a challenge with community, as these student-pros, usually in the minority, struggle to find people going through similar situations.

These are the challenges which Raymond Chuma-Onwuoku and his team at The Garage set out to resolve. Being student-tech professionals themselves, they struggled to meet their academic requirements and their work duties.

“The unfortunate reality was that despite how every Nigerian household preached hard work to the young ones, it was really difficult to work hard as a young person in tech,” Raymond told me.

Founding The Garage

The Garage was founded in May 2023 although it didn’t launch its service until November 13. It was founded by a group of three undergraduates of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka who also hold full-time roles at different tech companies.

Raymond Chuma-Onwuoku, is a 500-level student of Materials Engineering who also doubles as a Content Marketer at iorad, a digital tutorial platform. Darlington Nnam, a 500-level Mechanical Engineering student is also the Developer Ecosystem Lead at Argent, a global crypto platform. Finally, Peter Ajanwachuku, is a 300-level Mechanical Engineering student and a Designer at the digital investment company, Piggyvest. 

Raymond who leads the team as the Head of Business and Operations explained that the members of the founding team struggled to combine school with their remote jobs. This was because several factors beyond their control affected their ability to perform optimally at their places of work.

“On several occasions, I couldn’t join Team meetings because of terrible network reception, and other times, I couldn’t meet deadlines due to power outages that spanned several days. Upon discussing with several more people within our community, we discovered that this was a problem that they all faced, regardless of their location. We decided to build The Garage, a support group for young people in remote and campus areas,” he said.

The overall idea is to provide students struggling with remote work with all the infrastructure required to make working hard as easy as possible. To do this, the startup intends to build smart co-working facilities with round-the-clock access to power supply and high-speed internet across several remote campus locations across the country. At the heartbeat of these infrastructures, they want to build a tight-knit community to support their users through tailored training programs, mentorship opportunities, job boards and so much more.

Raymond said the team’s hypothesis is that by doing this, they could plug a critical gap in the work life of users, thereby increasing productivity and economic output among young people. To test this hypothesis, they decided to build a proof-of-concept branch at the University of Nigeria Nsukka.

“The early success and support we have enjoyed at this point convinces us to keep putting in the work to bring The Garage to as many locations as possible,” he said.

Raymond oversees the operations of the company as the Head of Business while also handling marketing and partnerships. Darlington leads the Engineering team and is focused on developing the startup’s space as a service software. Ajanwachuku is the Head of Design whose role involves overseeing all visual and web design endeavors within the company.

Raymond told me that the name, The Garage,was inspired by global tech leaders like Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, who started their companies in garages and have gone on to build world-changing businesses.

“Our belief is that The Garage will serve as a similar incubator, to groom amazing future professionals and entrepreneurs,” he said.

5,000 combined workhours, 317 unique visitors to The Garage

The southeast is quickly becoming an emerging powerhouse within the Nigerian tech ecosystem. This is propelled by the activities of tech communities like Google Developers Club, Ingressive for Good, Blockchain University of Nigeria etc. Between these clubs are nearly a hundred thousand young people looking to pursue careers in tech. However, they too suffer the same challenges that prompted the establishment of The Garage.

Thus, Raymond said the company is collaborating with these communities to provide its service to the techies. As such, the company has seen good influx of unique visitors, receiving 317 of them, 88 per cent of which came back as recurring users. The Garage has averaged over 17 hours of work per user and hosted three start up teams. It also boast a virtual community of about 1,000 people, many requesting the company’s services to be expanded.

The Garage recently hit 5,000 hours of work time

Recently, it hit the very important milestone of achieving 5,000 combined total workhours. This figure is a cumulation of the total hours spent by each user since The Garage was officially opened on the 13th of November. And Raymond told me the milestone was special because it provided deep insight into what they could achieve.

“This number was special because it helped us put into perspective the amount of quantifiable impact we were making and how much more we could do. 5,000 hours of uninterrupted power supply and high-speed internet yields an amazing amount of productivity. It’s super exciting, but there’s so much more to come,” he said.

Funding and expansion plans

At the moment, The Garage and its operations are currently bootstrapped by the founders. Raymond said the idea was to invest their own resources as a sign of their commitment to the project. They also wanted to test out their hypothesis first before seeking external funding. The team is also been supported by Switch Electric, a blockchain startup bringing power supply to remote locations across Africa. Switch Electric has saved them over $10,000 in power costs.

Moving forward though, the founders are looking to pursue more funding opportunities to accelerate scaling.

“We’re looking to explore a managed franchise model, where we collaborate with external financiers to fund the development of The Garage in new locations. In consideration of their funding, these financiers will receive a majority of the profit generated from that location, while allowing us to oversee the operations of the facility,” Raymond said.

While the startup currently only operates one garage, they are already in preliminary discussions to build garages at some other locations, most notably Abakaliki, Awka and Lagos.

In conclusion…

The Garage is currently developing its space-as-a-service software which will provide users with a suite of advanced space management resources while allowing them to synchronize their membership across multiple locations. ‘One membership, any Garage’ is the idea. The team is looking to make this software available to the public at large, allowing anyone to build a co-working space from scratch, at their convenience.

This way, they hope to democratise access to co-working spaces for tech talents across the country and indeed the African continent.

“Just like us, these young persons face the same challenges – lack of access to stable power supply and decent internet reception. Our challenge is to lay the foundation towards soothing this need, while also growing alongside the region’s thriving tech ecosystem,” Raymond said.

See also: Meet Med Mind, the student-run AI startup that won the UNN hackathon with its medical chatbot

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