Youth Enterprise and the Nigerian Experience

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Nigerians are living in interesting times! The political environment has stirred discussions by global thought leaders and key economic stakeholders. A key issue on the agenda is diversifying Nigeria’s income. Rapidly! The State needs to broaden its economy. Could the lens of entrepreneurship be the answer?

Many Nigerian youth, facing high unemployment in the country, are ‘entrepreneurs by necessity’ looking to entrepreneurship as a means of livelihood. Their objective is to survive until they land a job that will eventually pay off, or better yet will propel them to a place of affluence and personal satisfaction.

On the other hand, a new set of entrepreneurs are springing up. These ‘entrepreneurs by opportunity’ identify a problem area in sectors where they possess competence and offer solutions. Integrating technology into their business model, they’re creating jobs and opportunities, and most importantly, improving the lives of their target users or customers.

Whether entrepreneurs by necessity or opportunity, a recent independent survey suggests that 40% of the approximately 22 million people living in Nigeria’s cosmopolitan Lagos State own and run their own businesses. According to a recent report by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), Nigeria’s level of perceived entrepreneurship is 82%; the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The doggedness of the Nigerian entrepreneur in the context of their tenacious and audacious culture has gained attention from venture capitalists, foreign investors and government agencies. In various capacities, nascent entrepreneurs are receiving support in the form of grants, mentoring and training.

My recent experience of this was with the British Council in collaboration with Virgin Atlantic, Samsung West Africa and Zenith Bank, when they launched this year’s Creative Enterprise Challenge in February 2016. This online competition is designed to promote the development of entrepreneurial skills in the Nigerian youth aged 18 to 35.

In the first stage of the competition, more than 10 000 applicants submitted essays explaining their business concept. The 80 long-listed participants then sent a video pitch describing their idea, goals and objectives. Some 20 short-listed entrepreneurs made it to Bootcamp, which was rigorous and altogether rewarding.

In preparation for the final pitch, the team from Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, South Africa taught simplified modules, ensuring a transferable learning experience. I have never had any entrepreneurial training like this, so preparing for the pitch was nerve racking indeed.

I met brilliant and amazing people and made new friends at Bootcamp. The experience will remain with me throughout my entrepreneurial journey. I came into Bootcamp empty and I left full! I was thrilled to make it to the top ten and am ever so thankful to the British Council and all the partners for believing in my idea and for the grant, with which I will launch Startup Desk and for their lifelong partnership and learning support.

The top ten winners benefitted from grants to the tune of N8.5million. The first place winners, Qeturah Dot Com and The 5K Shop will receive fully funded scholarships to attend a five-day entrepreneurship foundation course at the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in South Africa. This includes a face-to-face mentoring session in London with Sir Richard Branson.Titi Portrait

Diversification through entrepreneurship encourages active participation from all stakeholders in the Nigerian entrepreneurship ecosystem. Most importantly, initiatives like this one stimulates innovative thinking which advances the economy to new levels of growth. Interesting times? Exciting too!

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Titilayo Obasanya is the founder of Startup Desk. Follow Titilayo Obasanya (@ttlayo_o) on Twitter.