Bernadette Maisel Interview with Abraham Akinwale
Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team
I’m honored to be joined today by Abraham Akinwale, who is an alumnus of the International Space University and Department of Mechanical Engineering at Obafemi Awolowo University. He is a researcher, entrepreneur, and co-founder of MPG Aerospace. He is focused on building and developing African space business through capacity building in space science and technology in African countries and establishment of African space companies. He looks forward to developing more entrepreneurs in Africa. So, welcome and thank you so much for being with us today, Abraham.
Thank you so much for having me.
So, Abraham, you’ve been heavily involved in the space industry for quite some time, officially starting your career as a student in mechanical engineering and your work in UAVs. So, tell us what initially sparked your interest in space.
Thank you so much for your question, and I’m really happy to be here. One thing I would really say for me about the space sector is that I think this started really when I was young because right from my early days I have always been fascinated about space, about things that fly generally. I love looking at the sky when it’s blue. I love looking at sunset, and sometimes late in the night, I just like to go out there and look at the moon. It’s, you know, it’s dark. It’s beautiful! You know? And I guess that was part of the things that set my track towards going to science school and then, you know, studying mechanical engineering at Obafemi Awolowo University, where I really got more deep in and active in the space sector. And you know, this is something really good for me because it wasn’t just like I just stumbled into it. It was probably that I was lucky, and I found my passion early.
Yes. Well, thank you for sharing that. You know, as you’ve gone on your career, have you had any mentors or role models that have encouraged you to pursue that career in the space industry?
Wow, thank you so much. For me, actually, I believe no one actually grows in this community called Earth without looking up to someone or working with someone. We all need each other, and in my space journey there are some very important people—some important body I really must give special recognition to for what they’ve done for me and how we’ve probably related together. I give special recognition to someone dear to me, Mrs. Funmi Erinfolami also known as Mrs. Funmi. She’s a Principal Scientific Officer at the African Regional Center for Space Science and Technology Education in English. It’s a UN body in Ile-Ife at my University, and she was the former national point of contact for Nigeria for this Space Club while I was still in school, you know, while I was the president of Space Club. And she was so good because she’s so interested in space development and youth, and she would organize all these programs. She would organize. I would support. You know, back then we were also trying to build, you know, awareness in space within the university. So we do it within our university; we do it in other universities in the country. And sometimes she, you know, she spends even her own financial pockets just to make things happen—just to make programs happen. And then another person I give special recognition to is Professor Babatunde Rabiu, someone I really respect, a very humble man, you know. He is this Chief Executive Director of the Center for Atmospheric Research. That’s the space agency of Nigeria where this man has been so good. He spends his time, his effort, you know, in youth development. He can do anything just to make sure, you know, people have access to growth, access to what they need. And also, you know, in this my journey—granted my journey so far—I owe some people, individuals, and some organizations some special debt. I must also give a special recognition to Mr. Jean-Yves Le Gall from CNES the French Space Agency who has also been very good in this support as a whole. The International Space University, very loving family. And then you know the Space Foundation, which is becoming my family now. You know, the thing is that you get to meet people along the way who will not just help you because they don’t know you, but they believe in you. They support you, you know? These are very important things that not just help you grow, but it inspires you to be better as a person to even help people that are coming behind. So, I really think I have had some very good mentors, and I’m still having them because you are very special friends, too.
Thank you for sharing that, Abraham. You know, I do agree. I think having role models and mentors are essential for being successful in your career, and you’ve done a really good job of highlighting them and how they’ve impacted you. So, thank you for sharing that. On to the next question. You know, today, there’s a significant focus on commercial space, or new space, as it’s called, in which private investment and private companies are engaging in space activities that were once dominated by government investment. Africa, too, is becoming more and more engaged in commercial space activities, with African nations launching satellites, and the younger generation becoming more involved in space entrepreneurship, and you and your colleagues conducted a great deal of research into the state of commercial space and youth entrepreneurship in Africa. Can you describe some of the recommendations your team had developed in encouraging these young African youth?
Oh, thank you so much for that question. I’ll just quickly take a quick highlight into that work, because that work is so important, because it did not just take a look at one specific country in Africa. I think we had like five countries we were able to look into: Nigeria, Ghana, Sudan, Morocco, and one other country I’m missing right now. But, you know, what actually inspired us towards the work is that we felt there is a need for investors to really invest in African space business because majority of the businesses that have come into Africa—even I’m not talking only the space sector—the majority of businesses that have come into Africa have failed because they come into the system and they choke. And, you know, they get into this system where there are so many bureaucracies, so many actors they didn’t plan or didn’t envision. So, the idea of the work was to give more perspective into what happens, you know, in the African space industry in Africa and how they can actually invest. And one thing that we actually concluded on at the end of the work was that Africa is ready for investment. And one of the things we actually, you know, recommended was that you can now take a look into the countries—at least the active countries in Africa—and you can invest directly. You can partner with industries. You can easily now gradually—let me say gradually because it’s at least a step forward—gradually invest in the industry. You can look into our figures now, and then we are seeing probably seeing more of the other sectors like the banking sectors and some other, you know, engaging stakeholders in the industry, really ready and willing to also support space business in Africa, which is something that I really love from the work. And I’m seeing people actually already reading and making use of the work, which is very good news for me.
Well, thank you for sharing that. I think that that was a very important piece of work and research that you and your team conducted. So, Abraham, you are the CEO and cofounder of MPG Aerospace, which builds and designs UAVs. Can you describe how African nations can benefit from your custom UAVs?
Thank you so much. So, we started a company to develop UAVs, fixed-wing majorly, for surveillance, border controls, asset management. Not just that but to also, you know, use it for crop, precision agriculture, and so many other things like that. But our plan actually is to be able to develop, you know, UAVs just like we have Starlink, but to develop UAVs that can actually integrate, you know, a connection network, which I believe will be very useful for security in Africa, and to be able to use this in an intelligent approach towards application, not just for security, but for management, for food production, for so many other things, which we are still developing along the way. I know it’s still a long shot, but one good thing about this is that this is in us. We are trying to build capacity from within. The things that we are doing, the brains we are using, they are within. You know, they are within the system, which is what we are trying to preach, like capacity building within space science and technology in the continent. So, that is some of the things I can share right now about the business.
Very, very interesting. It sounds very beneficial with all of the applications that you’re working on. So, can you tell me, you know, what have been the most challenging aspects of starting your own company and how have you addressed those challenges?
Well, for me, I’m an African person, I’m from Nigeria, and I must say, we really have some political and some bureaucratic challenges. But one major thing that we actually face as Africans is the fact that the barrier to entry for many businesses starting out is so high. You know, the rules and regulations are not favorable to accommodate, you know, startups. A lot of startups in the Western world, they already have the support of the government and, you know, and other industry ready to take them in, ready to help them, you know. There’s a community already waiting for them, which is not really like that in the African space in the African industry in the region because you have to fight your way through. Let me put it that way. Sometimes businesses have to lobby their way even to success. So, those are some of the things that are presently choking, but we’re trying our best to make sure that, you know, we can make progress. Sometimes it has to involve engaging people from outside the region, but you have to really try your best to make progress, you know. And we are trying to do that right now.
Thank you for sharing that. So, let’s talk about some of the rewarding aspects of your career and as a young professional, you know, what is most rewarding about being an entrepreneur in a young professional setting?
Wow, time. Time, you know, I say we are of time, but time refuses to end, you know. The thing that you are able to make better use of your time for more productivity, for to do something that will actually help others along the way, because for every business that is successful, then you are helping other people. You are helping other families. So as a person, making better use of your time, exploring your dream, exploring my dream, my passion, meeting people because you know this is more about the people, it’s more about the link, it’s more about how you relate with people, how you build yourself personally. Starting your own business actually will push you to so many loopholes you see you actually have to develop yourself personally, which is a good thing and you see you also have to work with other people. So it’s about how you manage your time, it’s about how you explore your time and how you explore yourself and at the end of the day, you find out it’s more of the people—the people you relate with, the people you stay away from, the people you work with. You know how you actually, you know, move ahead with people along the way. If for anything we’ve realized more than the money we make, more than so many things we take more importantly, this covid has shown us that the, you know, the relationship with people, the people is more, much more important in life, you know, man to man, one to one person, you know, the company you keep, the people—that is most the most important thing in this life. And for me as a businessman, too, I think that is one very important thing that actually either leads to your success or failure. I think that is one thing I actually learn and explore in this, in this, in this journey.
Well, thank you for that insightful information from you. I, you know, I think it’s really important for young professionals to hear those types of insights. So, thank you for sharing that. Abraham, during your work with the Space Generation Advisory Council and your presentations at the IAC and some of the other activities you’ve been involved in, you’ve demonstrated a strong commitment to the growth of commercial space activities in Africa. What advice would you give to people or companies in Africa trying to pursue or get involved in the growing aerospace industry in Africa?
Well, one thing I would really say is this, you know, you are not alone. So many other industries around the world might be acting alone, but when it comes to the space industry, it’s a community. You are not alone. For anybody starting out right now, no matter how you feel, no matter your dreams, there is a community that is ready to help, that is ready to support. So all you just have to do is reach out because once we understand that we lack in so many things, we are not expert at everything. We’re not good at everything. We need help, you know. And the space industry is so good at: some people are really gonna add. Some people are just starting out. Some people are, you know, pushing it, but everybody is still willing to support, everybody is still willing to help. So just reach out and one thing I can really be saying now is this, because we have like an organization at the Space Advisory Council that helps to bring people together. That helps to—that gives a platform for people to actually relate with each other, to leverage and work together, even volunteer, you can start. It doesn’t have to be like—you’ll be amazed how someone’s even working at NASA might be ready to even support your private work. You know, it’s like just reaching out. Don’t be alone. In this community, there are people that are willing to, people that are ready to assist, you know, so just reach out and try and explore yourself. You know, for me, I started out very, very—with so many challenges. But if anything I have seen how enthusiastic, how supportive this community can be, how life rewarding it can be, because I wouldn’t be anywhere else, I would not be doing any other thing other than this space stuff I’m doing. And I have really come to meet a lot of lovely people who are helping me, who I have also helped but, you know, we are able to actually make progress together, you know? So, you are not alone.
Well, that that’s very good advice and not only for young professionals, but for everybody. So thank you for sharing that. So, Abraham, let’s close this off here. I’d love to hear what is your vision for the African space community or industry over the next ten years?
Thank you so much for asking that. For me, I know the countries are gradually doing stuff. We have the African Space Leadership Conference, we have the space agencies in Africa that have active space agencies, they come together almost every year or two year, every other year, to deliberate on space matters. And then they have the real forum where there are deliberations. But one thing I really look forward to, probably at the end of this decade, is to have like an African Space Business Summit. A body that we can, you know, establish that we can be able to deliberate together. We can help leverage that gap between, you know, you coming out as a student or as a young professional to getting into the industry. And probably help startups or businesses, you know, probably that are starting out or that are growing to be able to leverage with governments, and we can have a way we get investments. We talk with the right stakeholders. Because at the end of this day, the things that we do today, the laws that we put in place, really matters for the future. You might actually realize that a lot of these countries don’t actually—let me say a lot of the politicians within our African regions—don’t actually understand what is happening in space and you need more collaboration, more explanation, so to speak, more politics. Maybe sometimes, but you need something that can stand on its own that can relate with people that can help. Sometimes having this kind of access just like the Space Foundation does every year with the Space Symposium really helps a lot of people, helps a lot of startup, helps a lot of companies. It’s a good thing when as a company or a startup you’re doing your stuff alone. But you know that maybe almost every year or every other year there is this place you can go to. There’s these people you can talk to. They can open you up, they can boost up what you’re doing. They can give you the platform, so I really hope that, you know, by the end of this decade we would have been able to engage the important stakeholders to have something like this kicking off because we must look beyond this decade. This decade, by the grace of God and with the hard work of a lot of people, we wish that we would be able to start a moon base and go to Mars, but there is going to be a lot of more things to come. And Africa as a region has to be able to contribute to this progress. Contribute to this exploration, not just things that are personally personal for Africa, but actually helping with things that are more communal. Because at the end of the day, the Earth is a community. We are all in one community and then we all have to still be able to contribute our own culture, so it’s still a long way to go. And I really, really, really hope that in this decade we can have an African Space Business Summit, a big body that can help the youth. We really need to invest in youth to build capacity in space science and technology, which is something much more than my own watchword, something I’m really, really passionate about. It has to be from within. We have to be able to engage people that are really important in these discussions. We actually have to start having these discussions now so that the future can be better. Thank you so much for having me.
Well, thank you for sharing that vision. I think that’s a very important vision that you have, and we’ll look forward to watching your success. Abraham, thank you so much for all of your insight today and sharing with us all of your perspectives as a young professional, as an entrepreneur in Africa, and as a friend of the Space Foundation. We really appreciate your time today, and we look forward to engaging with you more in the future. And I am signing off here from Colorado.
Thank you so, so much for having me.
Take care, Abraham!
You, too! Be safe!
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