Adeoluwa: Poor Mentorship is the Bane of MSMEs

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Olatunde Victor Adeoluwa

Founder of Ovatech G Resoueces, Mr. Olatunde Victor Adeoluwa, is a youthful entrepreneur with passion to help men and women realise their dreams, which he does through his fields of – the Agri-tech, Fin Tech, Health Tech, ICT, Ed-tech and the SDGs 1,2,3,7 and 8. He spoke to THISDAY and here are excerpts provided by Dike Onwuamaeze:

What experiences influenced and shaped your life’s vision?

I am a Ph.D. candidate in Agricultural and Environmental Engineering and as well an entrepreneur. I grew up from a low background and I had to face my fair share of challenges. I got Into the University in 2005 amidst the huge lack and this affected me a lot. But an experience in 2008 brought the first change in my life. I had been forced to the street by hunger at State Line Junction, FUTA, to beg on the street. Several minutes passed by, and I couldn’t open my mouth to beg, so I concluded that night that I wasn’t created to beg. I left the junction, got into my room, and used a knife to carve that date into the wall. I told myself that that would be the last time I would ever have to beg. A few months later, I decided to be a student entrepreneur by selling what is popularly known as “Mishai” (bread, noodle, and fried egg). I got funds through my mother (long story) and bought all equipment. I remember seeking space then at the Space allocation unit and was denied permit. I however started at the front of the Student Union Building. I was selling that from 7pm till 12 midnight, and I didn’t dare eat that much personally, else all profit was gone. I also read five books that changed my life. The books were written by John Mason, Mike Murdock and Myles Munroe. In one of those books, I read a sentence that quoted Carl Bard: “Though no one can go back to his past to have a brand new beginning. Everyone can start from now and have a brand new ending.” Something changed in me. I saw a bigger me. I moved from the food business into ICT, Graphics and Prints and so on. I gave my life to Christ later on that year.

How were you inspired to do the things you are doing currently, especially your involvement in tech ventures?

At the start, my entrepreneurship drive was to survive and get on my academic journey. However, my journey into tech started in 2008 when I got my first web design certification and built my first machine, a sugar cane juice extractor when I was a 300L student. I went on to set up my ICT firm that dealt in computer engineering and networking, and in my final year in 2011, I built my first yam pounding machine and cassava peeling machines as project works. In my final year in 2011, I was taking a stroll in the campus and I felt like eating something balanced in nutrition with N50 I had in my pocket and it dawned on me that I can’t have food as cheap as N50, not even Garri, that has all Nutrients? That night, my search into the world of food fortification started. I saw 11 million Children were malnourished. I told myself, this is one of the reasons I was born. As an Agricultural Engineer, I decided I was going to produce affordable nourishing food. That’s where the vision was born and that’s where my final Journey into tech and social entrepreneurship started.

Some experts believe that finance is not the major challenge facing the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises but poor knowledge of business management. Do you agree with them?

Well, I’ll say that finance is a major challenge we are facing. However in my rating of MSMEs problems, I’ll rate lack of business knowledge and mentoring as the highest. Having money in business without the adequate business knowledge and asking those who have gone ahead how it is done, will still make the money useless. I’ve seen many who got grants who yet folded up. I’ve seen many who got loans, die to never rise. What we have in this space is more of these 3 days training to get certificate, no one wins in the line of business that way.

How will tech based companies accelerate financial inclusion and deposit mobilisation in order to provide access to finances to micro enterprises?

I’ll categorically say that there can’t be effective financial inclusion without the tech companies and that’s due to several reasons. In 2019, we got to be a part of the EfinA Fintech Challenge (Funded by DFID, Gates Foundation and IFC) to Drive financial inclusion in Nigeria and as the CMO, I was on the field, far in states like Benue, Nassarawa, Kaduna, and many other Nothern an Southern States.

The first alarming discovery was that many banks get to these regions, get them to open accounts (some even pay to do that) but these people are given no structure to service those accounts. The only way a few of such are able to have access to finance are through tech companies, like Paga, Extramile Africa (our retail Support platform) and some licensed mobile agent systems. The informal market and Micro Entrerprises are not much trusted by banks, relative to ability to return loans as many banks don’t have effective and reliable credit rating systems on individuals, to measure their eligibilities. However, our studies and operations have well shown that if our tech can enable these people to pay back in bits and work on their credit ratings to determine what they get as we’ve been able to do, the Micro Entrerprises are great to work with. Nigeria is a big country, banks can’t afford to have branches everywhere, the overhead costs will be too high.

What does it take to start a successful tech company?

I wrote a comprehensive article where I explained what a Tech Company is vs a Tech enabled Company. It is essential to differentiate the two hence we’ll make mistake in building the business. It will be good to have that 5 minutes read. Once that business model is clarified, it’s a good recipe for success of a Tech Business. I’ll however say that irrespective of which model, the most important factor in building a Tech company is the team. Your Tech Business Vision will succeed or fail based on the people who team up with the vision. You must be able to gather people with integrity, capacity and competence, as well as passion to run fast and steady, irrespective of whether it’s yielding results at the start or not.

What are the major hindrances to entrepreneurial development in Nigeria?

Our biggest hindrance, to me, is our inability to come together in groups to build big entities by pulling our strength together. Many of our youths all want to be CEOs, but they need to learn that it’s better to own a small chuck of an elephant than to totally own a rat. We need a new approach to collaborations and partnerships. The second major challenge is the infrastructural gaps. Roads affect agriculture, power affect industries. I remember being told that my food Factory can’t be connected to the grid because there is already load on the transformer. And this is a food processing factory that should contribute to the GDP and reduce food wastage. The third is the absence of a local content consumption policy. In our markets, in our supermarkets, in our processing factories, there is a dire need to enforce consumption of locally made goods. We’ll grow if our own things are consumed or used. The last would be funds and access to funds.

What really is a tech company and its role in the economic development of Nigeria?

Tech companies and tech enabled companies are more like the present and future of the Nigerian economy. Therefore, traditional businesses must find ways of becoming Tech enabled or tech compliant. For example, it is projected that 50 per cent of the Nigerian population is expected to be less than 25 years of age by the end of 2020. These are the Gen Z. These are the smart phone and tech generation. This implies that in the next few years, most Transactions will need to have a blend of offline and online means to sell. Right now, insurance has less than 0.4% penetration. It would have been higher if insure-techs can rise up, just as we’ve seen the mobile payments operations increase.

It is often said that the future belongs to the application of ICT. How prepared is Nigeria for this future which is already here with us?

In all honesty, globally, and Africa-wise, we are not ready. Nigeria as a country has not built required infrastructures to make us giant in tech, and make tech cheaper and affordable. For example, right now we have too less number of quality data centres. We don’t have a solid fibre optics networks. We don’t have power to sustain such infrastructure and so on. We are not yet ready, the rate of Mobile Communication and data Penetration has increased, yet the rate of tech adoption and behavioural changes that should birth the adoption, are still very low. We’ve not done enough to push tech, the media awareness to change the perception of people on tech platforms and usage are still low. We got a lot of work to do

How will Nigeria position itself to be prepared for the emergence of artificial intelligence in the work places?

The truth is that for artificial intelligence to take over in Nigeria is still a bit of a far cry. Just few weeks ago, I posed a question to Dr. Andrew Nevin of PwC on the Future of Work in Nigeria, and we came to the conclusion that Nigeria don’t need all youths to be techies in the next five to 10 years. We only need them to be digitally sound. Our people should learn the basic skills. And learn how to use tech tools but more importantly, youths should develop themselves in areas machines can’t replace like critical thinking, strategy, sales and marketing, emotional intelligence etc. These skills will be more needful in this decade and the next. However, Nigeria needs innovation centres to avoid being consumer of these emerging technologies. We will ensure quality research in our academic environments. I don’t mean the kinds of unmonitored grants some use to build houses and buy cars. I mean funds that can really reach the best minds, the students carrying out researches and can produce, if not better, replica of the foreign tech.

What do you consider as solution to youth unemployment in Nigeria?

It’s quite complex, yet direct and simple: don’t give too much cash palliatives. Youth unemployment is not a problem, it’s an effect of a problem. There are no jobs because there are no industries that can take them. Prof Ndubuisi Ekekwe, expressed a concern recently on our companies remaining small, and I agree with him. When companies don’t grow, there can’t be jobs. The government shouldn’t fund non-productive engagements. Rather, those funds should be used to empower businesses to expand their production capacity, such as textile, foods, tech gadgets, steel and gradually place restrictions on importations of those things. The more Industries we have, the more jobs we can provide. I think that rather than giving N3.6 million in a year to 10 youth who have no jobs, why not place them under a coach in an enterprise set up with N2 million and use the remaining N1.6 million for operating capital and monitor and evaluate process? A recent Research by PwC showed that over 50 per cent of micro enterprises in Nigeria start with about N300,000 and some of these people are employers, how much more will we have if you place the 1 year Salary of 10 in one business for them to run? My solution is, create access to market, expand the industries, and reduce importations. We’ll get somewhere good with that than by funding laziness.

How will branding and marketing help to launch Nigerian businesses, products and services into the larger African market when the African Continental Free Trade Area takes effect?

Marketing starts from the conception of a product. Business is a war that is won by the best teams and the right strategies. Even if the borders are open to all trade via AFTCA but we produce what is not wanted, or we market what is not well branded, or not able to place our good products in the face of the right audience, we’ll still be at a loss. A business that will cover Nigeria and go beyond must be able to understand African psychology and do her branding and marketing with that in mind. However it’s not only branding and marketing that will do the job, it includes sales and distribution. These four are a key chain that Nigerian SMEs don’t have. So, complete, effective market-centric solution is scarce. We have the market in Africa, yet we have to do it right. We’re providing that solution already and will be glad to help many attain that African scale. Right now, Salesforce-x as a brand has 26 team members and 48 interns adequately giving global touch to branding, marketing, sales and distribution solutions and is building one of the best technologies that will ever happen to African SMEs and individual entrepreneurs. If the best will happen in Africa, only the youths can do it.

Nigeria is talking about focusing on agriculture for its goal of diversifying the economy. What roles do you envisage for ICT based businesses in realizing this aspiration?

It’s a good initiative and the ICT has a whole lot of roles to play. A look at agri-tech companies such as Investment or Crowd Funding Platforms, FarmCrowdy, Thrive Agric, which are digital lending platforms for agriculture, and are reportedly placing crowd funds in agricultural projects, gives a good prospect. The role of ICT can’t be overemphasized in finance, mechanisation, farm monitoring, food processing. We just need to go ahead and give full support into Agri-tech industry.

How do we improve food processing to reduce the loss of food products between the farm and the market?

Access to market and creation of processing facilities are very important. Creation of storage facilities are essential and agro-logistics brands should rise up. Interestingly these are all high profit industries that entrepreneurs or intending entrepreneurs can get into.

How do you give back to the society?

I’m a believer in value addition. One of the ways we give back is the part time employment to hundreds, especially students who need extra sources of income, just like me while in school. The other way is via internship and trainings. Right now across our Companies we have close to 100 interns and trainees that are all trained to retain programs, which mean after their trainings, they start working.

Were you at any time tempted to quit. If so, what made you to stay on?

Strangely, I’ve never been tempted to quit. The journey is fun for me, both the struggles and the pains. What keeps me going on is my vision to help men realise their God-given dreams in life through education, entrepreneurship and ministry.

There is this culture of instant gratification among the current crop of youths…they are not ready to wait for anything…how do we address short term mentality?

Firstly, we have to give them a hope of a future. It’s amazing to see that in our businesses, we’ve set a culture that makes the youths be part owners of the company. Even an intern in our brand has the possibility of becoming a stake holder. I agree with the fact that the youths are having short term mentality. However, a few of the reasons is that the society has not given them reason to be resilient since all they see is a country not working.

We understand you mentor young individuals…can you tell us more about this mentoring programme…what has been the impact?

When I saw the need for mentoring in June 2018, I went ahead to create The Exceptional Creativity Hub, which started on WhatsApp and Facebook Platforms. It offered 1 to 4 months mentoring programs.

How do you think the youth should be involved in politics?

I do believe that youths’ involvement in politics is essential and that it has to start early. One critical factor I believe will be a game changer is if youths actually get into entrepreneurial activities that serve the grass root from which they can gain influence at the grass root. Their works will be the vehicle that their political ambitions can ride on.