So, four days ago I was selected onto the 4th cohort of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme, a decade-long $100m initiative designed to give training, mentorship and seed capital to 10,000 entrepreneurs with start-up business ideas they want to execute in Africa. The programme is run by the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), an African non-profit organisation founded in 2010 by Tony O. Elumelu and headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria. The foundation is based on Mr Elumelu’s belief that, with the right support, entrepreneurs can be empowered to contribute meaningfully to Africa’s prosperity and social development.
I am clearly very chuffed with my selection and look forward to new challenges going forward. Here is the thing – 13 years ago I officially registered my IT business, Project4 Digital Design. I was still employed at the time and for a number of years prior, I had already been freelancing, mainly designing websites, working mainly at night and on weekends. I would use the occasional free time at work to catch up or learn a new skill (hope my ex-boss is not reading this).
My early work years were all about learning. When I picked up a job for an internet service provider, I took keen interest in the work of the webmaster. I asked him to show me the basics of web designing, which he kindly did. As I had unlimited access to free internet, a luxury for many in 1999, I took full advantage and learned all I needed to know about web design. I later enrolled onto an online course that Fukula Nyekanyeka, a Malawian IT professional living in the US, was running for free to members of the Malawi IT community. He would send notes and assignments through email and we had to submit assignments on Brinkster, a hosting platform that had a free section for students. Some three weeks after the VBScript classes had started, I was the only interested one left submitting assignments. Fukula continued to teach me anyway until the course he had set out to teach was finished. I also took an interest in ColdFusion but soon realised that it was not a popular development language.
Feeling I had enough web design knowledge to conquer the world, I set my eyes on learning Adobe products. I would download manuals off the internet, ask the secretary to print them, take a week off work and teach myself. I started with Dreamweaver and Fireworks. I later learned Photoshop, InDesign and lastly Illustrator.
In 2007 I felt something was missing. I would want Project4, my business, to be an ad agency of sorts but I felt I lacked the marketing knowledge. So I enrolled into a marketing course with the intention at the time of simply learning the basics of marketing. But I got hooked…
In March of 2008 I found myself out of contract. It was a pretty scary moment because I had never found myself out of work before. But I took some solace in the fact that I had a few customers I had done work for and a few friends I could call on to help. After all I had a registered business.
My first project was for a quasi-government organisation, a deal put together by an old secondary school friend. Being pretty naive, and perhaps a bit desperate to maintain some sort of cashflow, I didn’t have a proper contract in place setting out certain conditions like payment terms. I had a Local Purchase Order, so I knew I was going to get paid but the when was unclear. And boy did I struggle to get paid. It had to take me meeting the accountant, the financial controller and finally the executive director to get my pay. Lesson learned the hard way and that kept coming in different forms and sizes!
Meanwhile my interest in marketing had gone way beyond learning the basics. I was now fighting against time to finish my professional postgraduate course before my examining body changed their syllabus. And you guessed it. Despite the many late nights and cans of Red Bull I didn’t finish, the syllabus changed along with rules on how the course was delivered and I felt rather defeated. The knowledge I had gained did however help me align my business away from a purely tech operation to brand communication.
Passion for Nature
I have always had a keen interest in nature and conservation. I marvel at the natural beauty that God gives us humankind but get rather perplexed at the way we go about causing so much environmental damage, driving species into extinction and damaging sources of life like rivers. Over the years my attachment to nature has grown stronger.
Yup, after over 20 years in tech a new challenge beckoned.
Ideas and concepts have been swirling in my head for a while, a long while. So recently I started doing some research, talked to the experts in the field and I am now on a new journey – a journey into travel and tourism. And the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme provides just the perfect vehicle to help me launch this project.
I am looking forward to 12 weeks of intensive online training, access to a world-class mentor and access to the TEF network of startups. And seed capital to prove the concept with opportunities to access further funding.
(Raising my glass) to new adventurous projects and assignments. Exploring new places and discovering unbeaten tracks. Experiencing different cultures and traditions. And getting to work on some inspiring conservation projects.
I always love a good challenge!