At its Global Student Entrepreneurs Awards, the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation provided answers on how to shape the entrepreneurial skills of young Nigerians to create jobs, write Adedayo Adejobi

One of the landmark decisions by the current government, in recent times, was its decision to delist 40 items from the list of imported items through which the country’s hard earned foreign exchange was depleted. Through this policy and many others, the government seeks ways to conserve the country’s foreign exchange and give wings to the Naira to fly against powerful currencies in the world.
This move by government is intended to inspire the population to look inwards and embrace the principle of backward integration. Through this, Nigerians are encouraged to create jobs rather than look for jobs that do not exist.
Creating jobs as government would have wanted, however, has its own challenges. From a lack of sound business practices to mentorship challenges, funding and government policies all pose challenges that stare the greatest number of Nigeria’s entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs in the face.

EO is the world’s largest network of entrepreneurs, with over 12,000 members in 150 cities or chapters, across 50 countries.
“The interesting part is that we have a combined revenue of all members coming to about $600billion. This is bigger than the economies of Nigeria, Malaysia, Ireland, Portugal. Again, about 2.5 million people are employed by our members. Think about the job and wealth creation by our members and the effect it has on lives and the economy. Therefore, entrepreneurship is more about playing a positive role in the economy through job creation and about solving a need”, EO Global, Mr. Vijay Tirathrai explained.
The Lagos chapter president, Mr. Vincent Brown Molokwu, who is also the Group Managing Director, NiGSA Energy Nigeria, led other key speakers, EO members, special guests, and student entrepreneurs to play host to Mr. Tirathrai during the chapter’s 2016 edition of its annual Global Student Entrepreneurs Awards (GSEA), which in a way provides answers to the current government’s efforts at bringing the country out of its current economic quagmire.

The Lagos chapter president, describing entrepreneurs in Nigeria, said “I call them necessity entrepreneurs”, with the mindset of “I need to put bread and butter on the table”. Expatiating, he decried the situation where people are doing more of ‘necessity entrepreneurship’, rather than creating businesses that will outlive them.
Gauging the entrepreneurial landscape in Nigeria, the chapter president expressed disappointment that many people that one could no more hear the names of people who were millionaires years back and more saddening was the fact that their businesses no longer existed, but died with them.

“To create successful businesses in Nigeria, entrepreneurs and people generally need to change their mindsets. Instead of “necessity entrepreneurship”, “tenderpreneurship” or “political entrepreneurship”, let’s focus on building enterprises that will outlive us”, he advised.
According to Molokwu, despite efforts by authorities to encourage entrepreneurship in Nigeria, it is yet to get off the ground because of some obvious missing links.
“If we have to change mindsets, it’s from these youthful and tender ages that we need to inculcate in the younger generation the idea that ‘the business of entrepreneurship is not a destination’. Hence, business should be a continuous journey such that when the founder goes, another person takes over”.

According to him, the missing link is that “we are ignoring the SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) which are supposed to be the live blood of the economy”. In Nigeria, we have a lot of informal businesses. If the government can dedicate some more attention through policies to make the informal to be formally recognised in the system (you have the record, you keep data) then the government will be able to say how many people have been employed in a year, or what the turnover is and other critical economic questions can be answered. These build and make the system works. Currently, the SMEs are ignored as there are no policies that actually look at how to improve the informal sector by supporting them,” he explained.

Speaking in the same vein, the chair, GSEA, Mr. Lere Baale, who is also the CEO of the Business School of the Netherlands (BSN) said that Nigeria, like any other nation, is filled with great opportunities.
According to the GSEA chair, the gaps that people complain about are great opportunities for people with entrepreneurial mindsets. To further buttress this position, he explained that the “poor telephone system of 20 years was an opportunity which produced billionaires of today”.
Confirming that every challenge provides opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesses, Mr. Baale submitted that current complaints about power will produce billionaires in the short to medium term. Likewise, as long as technology, education, energy and food among others are in continuous high demand in a growing population of almost 200 million people, these are some obvious opportunities entrepreneurs can latch on to.

In spite of these huge opportunities in the country, unemployment could become a massive time bomb, Mr. Baale warned, adding that over fifty million Nigerians are underemployed or unemployed. For him, therefore, all hands must be on deck as government alone cannot guarantee full employment for all, while pointing out that the crucial role for the government is to create enabling environment for the full employment of all citizens.
“EO believes that every nation has huge potentials and that every man has something to offer as an entrepreneur. The GSEA is one of our ways of promoting the culture of entrepreneurship, but it is targeted at youths by catching them at their young age, through provision of tools, attitude, skills, abilities, knowledge and action that could produce the much needed results from which they can learn from, accelerate their business growth, create gainful employment opportunities for many and transform the nation’s social and economic environment”.

According to him, EO’s mission is not about creating businesses, but helping the entrepreneur to learn and grow. Education is the core ideal of what we do at EO. The GSEA programme has been a part of the learning programmes to support and mentor budding entrepreneurs to learn skills on how to be better owners of businesses. Through that education process, you become more successful and enlightened about how to have a growing business,” he added.

Mr. Tiratharai, who was impressed with the presentations of six GSEA finalists, said the body is proud being a source of influence to younger entrepreneurs and the contestants should be proud to have been mentored by EO members.
He advised the crop of Nigerian youngster entrepreneurs to build trust in people on their way up. “This is necessary, because they might need the people someday in their careers as business people”, the global CEO, declared.

Other necessary ingredients for success, according the EO boss, include networking, which should always feature asking and answering probing questions such as why an entrepreneur started his business and what were his biggest challenges? He also reminded the audience that “there is nothing as profession; progress is what is important”, hence he advised them to “boldly go” and “be the change they want to see”.
In her contributions, Mrs. Funmi Babington-Ashaye, President –elect, Lagos chapter and whose term is slated to take off in June, explained that one of the objectives of the EO is to impact on society. One of such ways is by organising the annual GSEA and sponsoring creative students who are already doing business whilst in school. The benefits come in the form of international exposure, leadership training and, most importantly, according to her “we get them mentors who will support them all the way. We also try and get for them, people that will help scale their businesses up in terms of getting finance.

“This tested and working process encourages other young people to go into their own businesses. In terms of impact, we reduced unemployment in the country. The EO is really adding value in this country”, added the president- elect.
Still on benefits to spur on Nigeria’s community of budding entrepreneurs, the GSEA chair re-emphasised that winners enjoy a long list of benefits. For instance, this year’s winners will receive support from EO member companies and Special Guests in the areas of finance, training, as well as mentorship. The GSEA chair revealed that this year’s overall winner, Miss Blessing Ijoma, a 300 level student of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, will enjoy cash support of about N1.4m; an all-expenses paid trip to Bangkok, Thailand to represent Nigeria in the GSEA global competition.

Ambassador Radio’s host, Joshua Oyeniyi, of University of Lagos, winner of the 2015 edition enjoyed a similar trip to Washington, United States, last year. “The top six winners will be given training and developmental opportunities to the tune of N3.6m at the prestigious Business School Netherlands, building on their knowledge base and skills to help them scale up their businesses, while mentorship from various members of EO will help shape their entrepreneurial future.
The EO is keen on producing more entrepreneurs in the world to accelerate economic growth and transform the wellbeing of people globally”, added the global chair.