By Ugo Aliogo
The Chairman, Board of Directors of First Bank Nigeria, Mrs. Ibukun Awosika, has called on the federal government to invest massively in Small Medium Scale Enterprise (SMEs) sector, noting that SMEs are the engine of economic growth in any society.
She stated that 75per cent of the population who are under 40 are unemployed, and it is absolutely impossible for the multi-nationals to create the jobs, “because efficiency in technology is reducing the number of people that are required in the work place, and every company has a right to lead the way towards efficiency.”
Awosika who disclosed this at the 2016 grand finale of the Total Startupper award of winners’ event, organised by Total in Lagos at the weekend, said that the country has a large number of graduates who have the basic mind knowledge that can be applied to solve the basic challenges we are facing as a nation.
She pointed out that their knowledge can be used to bring solutions that can be commercialised and also be used as an alternative to create employment. “This is what I believe Total is facilitating and it is something I’m passionate about. At first bank, we are trying our best to support SMEs from the financial service sector area, therefore, it is a pleasure for me to support total through this process in their commitment to build a new generation of Nigerians,” she added.
Awosika who was also the head of the jury of the total startupper challenge, noted that the initiative was not just aimed at only bringing alternative source of energy, but also to challenge young Nigerians to think, look at problems within their environment and find commercially viable solutions, “Total had this initiative going on simultaneously in all Africa countries where they were operating”, she added.
She said: “The one we are having today is the Nigeria version. The Nigeria winner is on his way to Mauritius to join the other winners from the other Africa countries for the Africa competition. There were thousands of applications and there were different stages of processing those applications. There were also elimination and winners were picked at different stages. These winners moved unto the next stage until we had the final ten.
“At the stage of final ten ideas, we had major presentation by each individual in details. All the members of the jury could ask questions about the project, in order to understand the viability of the project, the impact of the project to the society, the jobs that will be created with the project, the commitment of the entrepreneur to the process and the innovativeness of the process. It was the last group of ten that gave us our three winners.
“The first winners solved a problem that he experienced for 25 years of his life. His project was about the safety of using gas, he has created a cooking gas which if there is a leakage, it cuts off by itself, which is an intelligent cooking system. This will serve a lot of families and remove many threats in that regard.
“The first runner up started her project during her National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) in Osun State. She discovered a problem around where she served, she did not drop it, but kept thinking about how to link the farmer with the market and how to link the famer with the buyer. In order to ensure that the product they grow and it will be used to meet a particular need. The project was about is using technology and the mobile platform to solve a problem.
“When you at the three winners, the solution they have provided are solutions that will serve millions of Nigerians and millions of the other Africa lives. Ultimately, with the support of the Total process, the education, trainings, mentoring, and empowerment will go a long way to help them. The money is not for them to go and spend, it is meant for them to execute the project at different stages along the line. They will get different portions of the money as milestones to execute the projects, so that they can build a viable project that can employ other Nigerians.”
At the end of the event, the winner Mr. Opeyemi Owosho, won N6million cash price, while the first runner up Miss. Uzoma Eleke won N4million and the third place winner Mr. Emeka Nwachinemere won N2million.
The Managing Director, Total Nigeria Plc, Alex Vovk stated that the challenge was aimed at supporting young Nigerian entrepreneurs through financial support, customised coaching, an impactful, rewarding label, and visibility, adding that the company identifies with young entrepreneurs who are interested in empowerment and visibility.
Vovk added it was an initiative with a very concrete response towards strengthening the industrial fabric of nations and improving employment locally by supporting the most innovative entrepreneurs in realising their projects.