Meet Lucrezia Bisignani, Founder, and CEO of Kukua, an entertainment-education the company with a series of game-based learning apps to teach African children basic reading, writing, and math skills, she was awarded “Germoglio d’Oro” known as the “Oscar of female entrepreneurs, by the President of the Italian Republic, she was nominated among the 100 most influential Italian women in technology by StartupItalia, and selected to speak at WIRED as one of the women who is changing the world.
Who is Lucrezia Bisignani? define yourself
I’m the Founder and CEO of Kukua. I’m an entrepreneur and a learner at heart. I’m always fueled by curiosity for the world, what’s different and what I don’t know. I care deeply about Africa as a continent and its future. Passion, creativity, and imagination are my favorite words. I’m Italian but live in Nairobi, yet consider myself a citizen of the world. I can’t live without creativity and I’m committed to leaving a positive mark in this world.
How were you as a kid?
My parents describe me as volcanic and remind me that most of the things that I do now professionally I was already doing as a little girl (putting on shows, fundraising, caring about African projects and always creating or selling something!).
"I learned the power of being vulnerable and showing myself exactly for who I am. It shaped my character to become an entrepreneur and also set the basis to become a storyteller"
You graduated from Oxford School of Drama, why did you choose that course of study?
Acting had always been one of my biggest passions. In fifth grade, I was chosen to play Juliet in Rome & Juliet. Since then, my passion for Shakespeare, movies and, plays became my obsession. I loved the idea of connecting with audiences through stories and creating worlds. Going to Drama school was the best decision I could take, it eventually taught me more about entrepreneurship than anything else. Through the many audition rejections (over 50), I learned to embrace failure as a lesson and try again. I also got to work on myself a lot, I learned the power of being vulnerable and showing myself exactly for who I am. It shaped my character to become an entrepreneur and also set the basis to become a storyteller.
How did you jump from the arts to found your own entertainment educational company Kukua?
On the side of acting and of school, I was always creating projects and raising money for some educational causes in Africa I was passionate about. As a young girl with my family, I had traveled extensively through Africa and seen the educational problems the continent was facing first hand which led me to create my first little organization as a teenager.
After Drama school, however, I moved to San Francisco because I wanted to understand how I could use technology to have a wider impact on the work I was doing for Africa. My time at Singularity University, a program held at NASA in Mountain view had a big influence on starting Kukua and it is where I was inspired to use exponential technologies to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. So I guess the start of Kukua, its evolution, and where it is now, is a big combination of my life experiences, what I most love doing, and what I deeply care about.
"I think that for many women the greater obstacle is a belief in oneself. We never believe we can do it. We have so few examples and role models in our history and only now we are starting to see women in positions of power that can inspire us and that can tell us “Sure, you too can be the president of the United States"
Kukua, an entertainment-education the company, the franchise was launched with a series of game-based learning apps to teach African children basic reading, writing and math skills, where this idea came from? how does the knowledge reach the children in Africa?
The idea came from a big problem of illiteracy that the African the continent is facing - with over 250m children who are illiterate and whom without the basics of reading and writing, will not be able to proceed on an educational path which leads to not being able to live life to its full potential.
To address the problem, and leveraging the exponential rise of smart phones in the continent, we created over 30 games that teach various skills of the literacy path, from phonics to numbers. The apps have a young African girl as its main heroine, Super Sema, guiding children through an interactive learning path and the whole world was authentically inspired by Africa. This is when we realized that Super Sema, was amongst the first African characters in the world and that so few kids had ever interacted with a character that looked like them. We immediately saw the opportunity to bring our inspiring heroine to life in a lot of more ways, with the vision to create the first African franchise for children spanning from Apps to TV series and YouTube content, books, toys, movies and more.
You were named in 2019 as one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, you also served as a keynote speaker on "Powering Literacy and STEM through Entertainment and Technology” at the EdTechXEurope 2019 in London and in Italy, you were awarded “Germoglio d’Oro” the award, by the President of the Italian Republic, known as the “Oscar of female entrepreneurs” by Fondazione Bellisario. You were nominated among the 100 most influential Italian women in technology by StartupItalia, and selected to speak at WIRED as one of the women who is changing the world, what´s the recipe for your success?
I think that for many women the greater obstacle is a belief in oneself. We never believe we can do it. We have so few examples and role models in our history and only now we are starting to see women in positions of power that can inspire us and that can tell us “Sure, you too can be the president of the United States…” because at least one women tried to! This opens up worlds for women more than anyone can imagine. Believing that “we can.”
I think that for me, embracing the fear of being who I am, and believing in myself, my dreams and my capacities have given me the courage to put one foot after the other into the direction of what I wanted to do. But I must also say, I haven’t done it on my own. I am incredibly lucky to have a supportive family and extraordinary mentors who have been a cheering fan base and so kind with their time and advice and blind belief in me and my journey.
"I never think of my life as a “career” but as a precious opportunity to have a positive impact on people’s lives. I also hold a philosophy about surrounding myself and my company with people who are not just very smart but who also are good at heart"
Everybody has had dark moments in their lives, what have you done to get out of that phase?
My sister who is a life coach and coaches me has taught me that every dark moment is a doorway. The biggest “failure” for Kukua in the early days - losing a 10M dollar competition that we were sure to win - resulted in the unfolding of Kukua’s much wider vision leading us to where we are now. If we treat setbacks as lessons, then they become opportunities for greatness.
What is the reality of your day-to-day?
I wake up early at 6:30 am and every day, even the difficult ones, I feel like I have the best job on earth. Every hour of the day is very different and everything is religiously on calendars. I’m a product-oriented CEO so a lot of my day will be on that. I go from creative meetings such as calls with our design team or giving notes on scripts and animation, to production meetings to assure that schedules and processes are operating smoothly and the team is happy. Then I have more traditional CEO tasks like plotting growth strategy and aligning goals to bigger vision and budget.
I have an incredible women led team in Nairobi and we have a very beautiful office. One wall is covered with photographs of women of color who inspire us and who’ve made history, having them in front of us reminds us of where we want to be. We have another big wall covered with Sema’s early storyboard sketches and then an outside meeting area that also leads to a green garden. We chose, built and designed every corner of the office because creativity needs air and beauty.
Do you have any particular philosophy that guides your career decisions?
Yes, that I never think of my life as a “career” but as a precious opportunity to have a positive impact on people’s lives. I also hold a philosophy about surrounding myself and my company with people who are not just very smart but who also are good at heart.
What do you love most about your job? & what is the most difficult part?
I love every bit of it. The hardest parts are the constant ups and downs. You sign a contract for an epic hire in the morning and the afternoon your go-to-market strategy falls apart, just before you get the news of sponsorship or a mind-blowing new script gets written. Up and down, up and down. It’s a roller coaster and you have to like the feeling otherwise it overwhelms you.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the years?
That failures are lessons that lead to bigger successes (if you have the grit to persist).
"Take time off every day to learn and read. It brings clarity, perspective, and inspiration. Also to have a “personal board” of people you trust who can advise you and you and who you can discuss decisions with"
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Take time off every day to learn and read. It brings clarity, perspective, and inspiration. Also to have a “personal board” of people you trust who can advise you and who you can discuss decisions with.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Have a big vision and construct a narrative around it. The reverse engineer and make it happen.
In an interview, you mentioned you are creating TV series to inspire boys and girls to like STEM. In your opinion, what are the reasons women are not into STEM?
Lack of female role models in those roles. This is precisely why we are creating the TV series around Super Sema, who from her secret lab-created ingenious and creative solutions using technology and science to fight a robot villain. To put it in other terms, until we see a female astronaut on the moon, no little girl will grow up thinking that is even an option.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
My family is my everything and I dedicate a lot of time to them. I also love to read, mainly biographies. I could go to the cinema almost every evening if I could. I love to travel and have visited over 60 countries. I play tennis and do aerial yoga every week. I adore hosting dinners on weekends and cooking for everyone.
Many authors say women can and must strive to have everything – a shining career, blossoming family life, and a perfectly balanced lifestyle all at once, others point out that– then women are placing unrealistic expectations on themselves if they believe they can have it all, I guess you are single with no kids so according to your experience, what do you think about these statements?
I think you can have it all, and I hope I will. I’ve been so lucky to have a loving partner who has always supported my dreams and ambitions. Of course, when it comes to kids, the people you create your family with and the culture you set in your company will be key to supporting the day to day reality. But it is achievable, this is what I want to believe for myself. The women who work at Kukua all have big families and kids and they just make it work. They are my inspiration.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to drive Kukua all the way to being an African unicorn and I would love to have a big family with four children.
What tips, can you give to young girls who want to become an entrepreneur like you?
I am a woman, building a company for Africa and minorities, with a team made up of predominantly women from a range of many different backgrounds and I’m proud to have received so much support. It’s never easy of course, but we did get funded by best in class and have hired world-class talent. So I didn’t encounter the glass ceiling but I know they are there. So I hope we can be a positive example that everything is possible. That there shouldn’t be glass ceilings for anyone. For girls out there who want to become an entrepreneur I say be “unstoppable”. It will take rejections and doors closed. Many of them. But there’s always a way around it, always.
"be unstoppable, It will take rejections and doors closed. Many of them. But there’s always a way around it, always".
Who is the woman you admire the most and why?
Oprah Winfrey, she is the example of a woman who grew up in a minority and created a media empire which every day changes lives.
Name: Lucrezia Bisignani
Sector:Entertainment - Education
Designation: Founder and CEO
- FB: teamkukua
- IG: @teamKukua, @supersemaofficial
- Twitter: @teamkukua
- Youtube: SuperSema