Because of the dwindling space for formal jobs across public and private sectors, entrepreneurship has become a big thing in Nigeria and Africa. In an exclusive interview with Mr. Peter Bamkole, the debonair Director of the Enterprise Development Centre (Pan-Atlantic University), he delves into the intriguing and enthralling world of private enterprise and the available spaces for the youth bulge. Excerpts.
Good afternoon, can you introduce yourself please?
My name is Peter Bamkole; I am the Director of the Enterprise Development Centre at Pan-Atlantic University. Why should young people be thinking of Entrepreneurship instead of looking for Jobs, given the current situation in Nigeria? Okay, you must have read the last report released by the National Bureau of Statistics. The unemployment rate has hit 33% and so it is getting worse every day. And it is something that must bother everybody. The average graduate stays looking for job for about three years; during which she/ he could have been doing something useful. Graduates are looking for jobs that are simply not there! So, youth unemployment will continue to rise. It doesn’t take significant wisdom to think of venture creation as a viable alternative in our quest to reducing unemployment. Today, in all tertiary institutions, the National Universities Commission has mandated every one of us to teach entrepreneurship to all students irrespective of their discipline. This is slowly helping us build entrepreneurial mindset among our youth so that well before they graduate, they already have something useful that they can be doing for themselves. So, it’s inevitable and we just have to go through this route.
What are the important things young people must do to guarantee success of their ventures, maybe when they go into entrepreneurship?
Part of the challenges that young persons have, whether they are looking for job or venturing, is lack of experience. If they are looking for job, employers will ask for a minimum of 2-3 years’ experience. In the same vein, when they are venturing, they always imagine that they must know somebody before their venture can be successful since they don’t have track record. To be successful in venturing however, young people must ensure that their venture is solving real problem. Irrespective of whether it is a product or service, so long as a problem is being solved and value is being created, people will exchange money for the created value. On the contrary however, doing what everyone else is doing is a recipe for failure. Let’s look at a scenario – a young couple arrives in Lagos and as part of their settling down process, they needed to get their young children into schools – how do they decide which school? Who will answer all their questions? This becomes an opportunity for the entrepreneur who can design an “App” that could help this couple and many more like them, solve the problem of getting their children into the right school. The “App” will be able to categorise the schools for instance, by performance, fees, extra-curricular activities, etc. This will naturally ease the decision-making process. That’s the kind of solution-driven venture young people should engage in. For scaling access, they should always think of mobile-enabled solutions. So, to build successful venture, young people must
i think of solving problems.
ii. begin to build their networks. This could easily be done through volunteerism. It’s a classic way of meeting highnet worth people in a relaxed setting thus giving them an opportunity to showcase themselves while learning at the same time.
iii. Be part of any ecosystem. Here at EDC for instance, we have a network of well over 100,000, with more than half of them having been part of our programmes. So, it is an ecosystem that they can always tap into, which means that they have access to opportunities, scholarships, etc.
iv. Use your social media handles intelligently. A lot could be achieved using social media platforms – to learn, earn, research, shape one’s digital footprints and build one’s network. Young people can do this better than anyone else.
v. Finally, learn to be part of whatever competition that aligns with what you’re doing. If you have a great idea, get involved in hackathons, business plan competition, etc. Great idea always win. Even if it doesn’t win, you would get great feedback, which will help you modify your ideas and before you know it, it gets better at each round. These small wins / grants are very important in your journey from concept to market. Take the Tony Elumelu Foundation as an example, they give $5,000 equivalent; that is a great start-up capital for young people. There were others from the public sector such as YouWin and BIG that gave grants of up to N10 million. So you can’t sit down and be complaining; you need to get into that space where people are competing on ideas. After winning grants and/or competitions, you could be invited to join incubators / accelerators, which is a great way of getting your venture on a high trajectory. I deliberately left funding to the very last because people always think that the first thing after you have an idea is funding. Funding, as important as it is, is not the first thing entrepreneurs must think about. Once you have a venture that creates value, many people will put money into it. That’s what Angel investing is all about.
Are there opportunities for young people to be trained as they start and run their businesses?
Oh, there are many opportunities for training, many! Even here at EDC, I can name more than ten! Let me start with the biggest one – “Transforming Nigerian Youths” that is being sponsored by MasterCard Foundation. We are training Nigerian Youth (18-35 years) interested in two sectors – Creative Industries and Agricultural sector. Over a 5-year period, 40,000 scholarships are being awarded annually for capacity building and mentorship, limited consultancy and access to market – all free! All they will need is a mobile device. Even the data that will be used for learning is being provided free! Currently, we have 50 courses – 25 in management, 13 in Agriculture and 12 in Creative industries. Even for this gentleman taking pictures, he can turn his creativity into business by going through these courses. For those without smart phones, they can still be part of the learning because we are also using the “IVR Technology” to teach using auditory learning methodology. We also have the “Women in Technology” sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank. Beyond capacity building (blended learning), learning journeys and access to mentors and advisers, the top five get a grant of $10,000 each. Again, if you don’t compete, you don’t know if you are going to win. Another one is “Work-in-Progress” sponsored by Oxfam. The focus here is on impact and circularity. This is also a sponsored programme but you must already be in business, employing young people and women and making impact with your venture. Their focus is to assist scholars build a lasting company. This they do by building the capacity of both the promoter and up to four staff within the organisation. In addition, up to six consultants in different business areas are sent to the SME to help structure and put the business in a strong footing in readiness for growth. Apart from a very small counterpart fee of less than 5%, Oxfam pays for everything. There is the “Road to Growth” sponsored by the Cherie Blair Foundation for women that focuses on women-led businesses in their growth stage. They build their capacity to access and manage finance, provide them with great networking opportunities and being part of a great ecosystem. So far, we have trained over 2,000 women in the last few years across Nigeria. With Stanbic IBTC, we have trained and provided business support services to about 6,000 young people in the two years. A few weeks ago, we started Kickstart programme, which is being sponsored by the International Brewery Foundation. I have the honour of chairing the advisory board. This is the sixth edition, which involves training, mentoring and grant given to young entrepreneurs in specific sectors. So as you can see, different organisations are providing various opportunities to young people. All they need to do is to use their mobile connectivity wisely. A good place to start is to go to https://www. smetoolkit.ng/
How can young people access funds for their businesses?
So, young people need to be creative. Traditionally, they are excluded because they may not have the credit history and in most cases, the required collateral. However, with a good business venture, accessing seed funding is becoming easier. There is a growing network of Angel Investors that are willing to take a bet on a good venture. Of course, it means a percentage of the business must be given in exchange. This is what is referred to as equity. Beyond the capital that the angel investors will bring, they will also bring their network to help grow the business. They will give you access to places you will ordinarily not be able to access. Great businesses are attracting capital in Lagos, which was voted the Start-up capital of Africa in 2020. Beyond the fresh unicorn – Flutterwave which everyone is talking about, there are many more start-ups in Lagos that have recently raised $2 million, $5 million, $10 million in this same Nigeria that many are complaining about. Most of them are tech-companies or tech-enabled. As they provide solutions today for Nigerians, that same solution can be deployed in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. And now that we have the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which commenced in January 2021, it means that Africa is now our space. So anybody, any young person that is providing solution or starting a venture must always think not just about Nigeria but the continent. And so, their solution must be Pan-African in nature.
Are there specific sectors that young people should be looking at when they want to grow these ideas of entrepreneurship, like agriculture?
If we practice agriculture the way our forefathers used to practice it, then we can never expect young people to be motivated into the sector. If they are not bringing vibrancy, youthfulness, creativity into it, then it would be a waste of their time. I will give you three examples of how young people have changed or are changing the narratives. One company, Farmcrowdy for instance, is an Agtech company that leverages on technology to connect over 420,000 food-chain participants in their network to reduce production cost, yet better harvest, access to market and finance, and ultimately maximise their profitability. That’s the kind of innovation that will pull young people into the sector. The second one is Agropartnerships – a digital platform that helps people engage in agribusiness by funding farms and trading in agricultural commodities. It is a subsidiary of Farmforte, which is an agriculture value chain development company that processes raw materials into market-ready products, focusing on both local and export markets. In fact, you probably would have seen their Farm Shop in Lekki, on Admiralty road, very lovely; they have a farm market where most of the things they are selling there are made-in-Nigeria farm products. They also have coffee shop there – it’s a cool way to bring “farm fresh products” to town. I particularly love their focus on export and contract farming, which makes crowdfunding sustainable. But the one that is very interesting for me is that everybody can be a farmer! Agroponics is one way we can all grow our fruits and vegetables right in our houses! It’s a way of developing the “love” for farming. You can grow most things in buckets, sacks, just name it. Our staff tried it and it worked. So, they are now growing ugwu (fluted pumpkin leaf), yes! We simply harvest and consume it fresh! A few days ago, they harvested watermelon. I have loads of friends that grow their onions, peppers, okro, etc. and they tell me that they have not gone to market to buy vegetable in recent times. They just harvest and cook. So all their vegetables are planted at home…? Yes, but this is for domestic use. If you however want to grow this on a commercial basis, I will advise that you go for a short training though the principle is exactly the same. One young guy – Samsom Ogbole of Farm Lab does a very good job of this. Himself and other young people are engaged in this sector already. Many youths get easily discouraged, they say the environment, the climate and that everything is working against them even when they have ideas.
Now, coming from an expert like you, what words do you have for them, as in any final thoughts about young people and entrepreneurship in Nigeria?
You know, as you get older your risk propensity reduces because you are thinking of many things at the same time. What about if this fails, what will happen to my family, what will happen to me? But, as a young person, there is nothing to worry about, you just hit the road and if it doesn’t work, you have tried it, and you can still try something else again. They come with no strings attached. It’s an advantage they have over older people which makes it easier for them to take calculated risks. Secondly, there is a dynamic shift towards young persons. They have energy, quite creative and are digital natives. Have you noticed that if you get a brand-new TV, it would take you a while to operate it? But if you just tell your seven-year-old, to ‘go and operate it” he or she will not even look at your manual before getting it to work. Why? Because they already have that mindset, and so something that may take you a couple of years to unlock, these guys will unlock it in two weeks; and that is an advantage. Let’s use another example – Elections. The aggregate money spent used to be in the big media houses, TV, Radio and Newspaper ads. Massive billboards, etc. Young people were mostly excluded unless as workers of such media houses but never as lead players. However, when they started creating animation, which they can do better than the older folks, they started changing the narrative. Without serious capital and certainly no collateral, they took the space by storm and played critical roles in the last two elections. Between 2015 and 2019 elections, young persons took the lead in more than 50% of the creative collaterals used. So, young persons must always think of the value they bring to the table first and the clients will always pay for it. It has also happened in the tech space; Agtech, Edutech, HealthTech, etc. Those are the values they must bring to the table, and the rest of us will pay for it.