Nigerian tycoon inspires Kenyan entrepreneurs with Sh168m seed capital

A thousand aspiring entrepreneurs drawn from across Africa gathered at Ota, outside Lagos, Nigeria recently in an unprecedented forum to learn how to build their fledgling businesses and exchange experiences.
What made the novel gathering stand out truly tall was the seed capital of $10,000 (Sh1 million) each of the 1,000 start-up entrepreneurs was entitled to and the source of the money, billionaire philanthropist Tony Olumelu. Amazing, given the fact that the Nigeria born entrepreneur’s motivation is nothing but a resolute determination to prove to the world that the African private sector if adequately enhanced can be the primary generator of the continent’s economic development and the wherewithal to go with it. His gesture left minds wondering where Africa would be with a dozen other Elumelus.

His dream of African entrepreneurs flooding the continent with the much needed jobs and a revamped economic muscle is one that the 52-year-old is unwaveringly set to achieve going by his personal commitment of $100 million (Sh10 billion) to empower 10,000 young African entrepreneurs in 10 years.

“I am confident that the startups have the potential to create one million jobs and $10 billion (Sh1 trillion) in revenues across the continent at the end of the decade long programme,” says Elumelu.

Besides geographical representation embracing West, East, Central, North and Southern Africa, the continent’s major language blocks of Anglophone, Lusophone, Francophone and Arabic were represented. The emerging entrepreneurs had interest in diverse sectors ranging from agriculture, education, energy to fashion, hospitality and ICT–a commanding statement of African potential as the economic powerhouse of the future.

Rich delegation

Kenyans numbered 168 of the 1,000 budding entrepreneurs who after rigorous interviews qualified for the 2015 boot camp entrepreneurship conference at Ogun State’s Covenant University, the second largest delegation after the host nation, Nigeria. Among them was a former secretary cum personal assistant at Telkom Kenya Ms Margaret Nyalwal whose Namdar Caterers based in Buru Buru, Nairobi, specialises on traditional foods with a Western Kenya tinge such as kuon bel (brown ugali), aliya (cooked dried meat) ngege (tilapia), obambla (a kind of dried fish popular with the Luo) and traditional vegetables preferred by dieticians. Her market includes staff at various Government ministries who relish her traditional food such that they tender for it.

Also in the Kenyan crowd was Alex Gathii of Tanolope Consultants Limited whose firm specialises in sorting out problems for small and large scale dairy farmers. His ‘feed business centre’ idea to churn out wholesome animal feeds played a crucial role in winning him a place among the 1,000. He says the seed money will help him consummate the idea whose execution requires a feed mill, silage, hay bank and mineral supplements to boot. “Our final goal is to establish a supermarket for dairy farmers,” says Mr Gathii.

Each of the 168 Kenyan entrepreneurs had big dreams that they shared with others from across the continent. Among the benefits that accrued from the two-day event was the proposal for a Kenyan Chapter of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) to have tentacles in each of the 47 counties. “Our goal is to recruit 47,000 young entrepreneurs, 100 from every county,” says Gathii.

Besides seed capital, transport, accommodation and general upkeep expenses in Lagos were catered for by the Tony Elumelu Foundation he created in 2010 to, in Mr Elumelu’s words, “unleash the inherent ingenuity and passion of African entrepreneurs by empowering them to create businesses that will drive the continent’s transformation”.

The training session by some of Africa’s best entrepreneurial minds was garnished by healthy interactions that yielded fruitful contacts to last a lifetime. The apogee of the conference was an address by Mr Elumelu who was flanked during the closing ceremony by Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the Prime Minister of Benin Lionel Zinsou and Kaduna State Governor Nasiru El Rufau.

Said Elumelu to deafening cheers: “Young entrepreneurs and those they inspire are the livelihood of Africa’s rise. My hope is that you will hone your business plans, expand your networks and be motivated than ever to overcome obstacles and make a mark on the continent”.

Mr Elumelu described entrepreneurship as not a short-term journey. “I am pleased that we can help these emerging leaders, as they seek to join me in transforming Africa,” he said adding, “My commitment towards creating a thousand new entrepreneurs who can change Africa forever, has now become a reality. This is only the beginning.”

Obama invite

To more cheers he said: “This effort is not just a programme. It is an act of faith in you to be successful africapitalists and engines for the creation of economic and social wealth across Africa.” He capped it all with the words: “The return I want from this personal $100 million investment is your success, because your success is Africa’s success.”

At the sixth Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi where Mr Elumelu was a key speaker invited by the White House to address the topics of innovation, navigating the funding cycle and entrepreneurial hubs, he said what will determine whether Africa’s swelling young population is a blessing or a curse is whether or not African economies can create the hundreds of millions of new jobs for the youth who will shape the continent’s destiny for generations to come.

Born in Jos, Central Nigeria, Mr Elumelu who is an economist by training is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Programme. He is the founder and chairman of Heirs Holdings, a firm with interests in power, gas, financial services, hospitality sector and oil. Besides, he is chairman of Transcorp, Nigeia’s largest listed conglomerate, the united bank for Africa (UBA) and Seadrill Nigeria Limited among others. The Forbes Magazine recognized him in 2012 as one of Africa’s most powerful individuals.