Pioneering Pathways: Shaping Entrepreneurs for Tomorrow

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PROTOCOLS

I’d like to begin by commending the vision and tenacity of the organisers of this program. They have been in discussions with me since December 2021 about organising this event and inviting me to speak with you about entrepreneurship—what the journey entails, what entrepreneurship truly means, and how young people can prepare themselves to become job creators rather than job seekers.

Today, I will not be giving you textbook knowledge or discussing what I’ve read in books or heard in lectures. Instead, I will provide insights from my own entrepreneurial journey. Please keep in mind that what I share is not set in stone. Life doesn’t always follow rigid principles where you go from step A to step B. However, life is indeed about processes, which I will emphasise throughout our conversation today.

There are key issues and constants you will encounter in the journey of almost every entrepreneur. I will share these experiences with you in the hope that you can learn one or two things from them. If I may take the liberty to speak on behalf of the organizers, I believe that if, at the end of all the resources, sleepless nights, and efforts to bring this event together, one or two people can take something away that changes their lives for the better—enabling them to become economically independent and eventually help others do the same—then the organisers will have achieved their goal.

Though I will be speaking from my own experiences, I have also noted a few points. While I am not a huge fan of slides and presentations, I understand the importance of having these points documented for those who might want something to refer back to. Therefore, I have decided to use slides to highlight key points during this engagement. I hope our conversation will be enlightening, educating, and illuminating.
If you have any questions, please jot them down. There will be time for a Q&A session at the end of my talk, and I will be more than happy to provide further insights and, of course, learn from you as well.

Thank you.

Good [morning/afternoon] everyone once again,

My name is Petra Akinti Onyegbule, and I have been tasked with sharing my insights on “Pioneering Pathways: Shaping Entrepreneurs for Tomorrow.” During this conversation, I will discuss crucial aspects of navigating career paths in entrepreneurship and maintaining relevance in today’s economy.

In preparing my thoughts, I aimed to address questions that were sent to me regarding the primary challenges individuals and young graduates face when transitioning into entrepreneurship. Additionally, I will cover the pivotal roles that networking and mentorship play in developing young entrepreneurs.

I have also been asked to speak on how individuals can harness opportunities presented by digital platforms and the gig economy to facilitate career transitions into entrepreneurship. I will also discuss emerging trends that I foresee shaping entrepreneurship in the digital age and how graduates can prepare accordingly.

Once again, I ask for your full, undivided attention and participation as we explore this topic and try to answer the questions posed before us.

Question 1: What are the primary challenges that individuals and young graduates encounter when transitioning career into entrepreneurship?

To start, let’s explore what entrepreneurship means. In preparing the answer to this question, I asked some of my colleagues for their thoughts on entrepreneurship, and here’s what they said:
• Emmanuel: “Entrepreneurship is the ability to generate income on your own.”
• Nnamdi: “It is the ability to use scarce resources or the resources available to you to generate income.”
• Salwa: “Entrepreneurship is like finding a gap, then putting your thoughts into a business and bringing it to life.”

According to the oxford dictionary, “Entrepreneurship is the activity of making money by starting or running businesses, especially when this involves taking financial risks; the ability to do this”
Wikipedia says that “Entrepreneurship is the creation or extraction of economic value in ways that generally entail beyond the minimal amount of risk (assumed by a traditional business), and potentially involving values besides simply economic ones.”

In my view, entrepreneurship is simply identifying a problem and providing a solution for profit. Essentially, it’s about solving problems and making money in the process.

Challenges Faced by Young Graduates in Entrepreneurship

  1. Lack of Business Experience
    o Many young graduates lack practical business experience. Without this experience, even if they have capital, they may not know how to effectively use it, risking the loss of their investment.
  2. Limited Access to Capital
    o Securing funding is a major hurdle. Without sufficient capital, it’s difficult to start or sustain a business.
  3. Infrastructure Constraints
    o Issues such as unreliable power supply and poor transportation can hamper business operations.
  4. Unsettling Economic Environment
    o Economic volatility, including fluctuations in inflation and exchange rates, creates uncertainty and challenges for planning and stability.
  5. Limited Access to Mentorship and Networks
    o Having mentors and a strong network is crucial for guidance and opportunities. Many young entrepreneurs lack access to these resources.
  6. Bureaucracy and Regulations
    o Complex regulations and lengthy bureaucratic processes can be time-consuming and discouraging for new entrepreneurs.
    Solutions to Challenges Faced by Young Graduates
  7. Lack of Business Experience:
    Young graduates often lack practical business experience, which is crucial for starting and managing successful ventures. It’s essential to emphasize the importance of learning and willingness to follow processes. Instead of rushing into entrepreneurship right after graduation or NYSC, aspiring entrepreneurs should invest time in learning the intricacies of business operations. The Igbo business mentorship model, exemplified in shows like “Nwa Boy,” is a commendable approach for nurturing future entrepreneurs. Apprenticeships, although less common today, offer invaluable hands-on learning opportunities that can’t be rushed. Spending adequate time under a master’s guidance helps in understanding the business from ground level and prepares one for entrepreneurial freedom later on.
  8. Limited Access to Capital:
    Financial constraints are a significant barrier for young entrepreneurs. Access to capital remains challenging due to factors like lack of credit history, high interest rates, or reluctance from friends and family to take financial risks. A solid business plan is crucial here. It not only outlines the business idea but also presents a practical and sustainable roadmap for potential investors. Clear financial projections and feasibility analysis in the business plan can enhance credibility and attract funding.
  9. Infrastructure Constraints:
    Infrastructure limitations, such as unreliable power supply and inadequate transportation, pose additional challenges. Many entrepreneurs resort to costly alternatives like generators or inverters to sustain operations. Moreover, urbanisation trends drive businesses to expensive urban areas with better infrastructure, increasing overhead costs. Advocacy groups play a crucial role in pushing for better infrastructure and government support to create a conducive business environment.
  10. Unsettling Economic Environment:
    The volatile economic landscape further complicates business sustainability. Government policies significantly influence economic stability. Advocating for favorable macro and microeconomic policies can provide a stable environment for businesses to thrive. Engaging in policy advocacy and participating in economic summits can influence policy decisions that benefit entrepreneurs.
  11. Limited Access to Mentorship:
    Access to mentorship is vital for young entrepreneurs’ growth, but it’s often limited due to mentor availability and the competitive nature of seeking mentorship. Mentees must demonstrate initiative and commitment to gain mentorship. Building a rapport and proving one’s dedication are essential steps in securing mentorship. Organisations can facilitate mentorship programs, but individuals must actively pursue and engage mentors to benefit fully from these opportunities.
  12. Bureaucracy and Regulation:
    Bureaucratic hurdles and excessive regulations stifle business growth and innovation. Government initiatives and advocacy efforts are necessary to streamline regulations and reduce bureaucratic barriers. Following up on summit recommendations and actively engaging with policymakers can lead to meaningful regulatory reforms that support entrepreneurship.

Personal Example

Let me share a personal example. Leading up to the general elections in 2003, fuel scarcity became a significant issue. I had orders to fulfill, and despite budgeting for generator use due to unreliable electricity, the scarcity meant buying expensive black-market fuel. Staff had to spend time searching for fuel, which delayed production and increased costs, affecting both my timeline and profits.

However, I couldn’t just cancel orders and return payments, as that would harm my business’s integrity. I had to use my personal finances to cover the extra costs, which, while maintaining the business’s integrity, strained my resources. This experience highlighted the importance of considering unexpected variables and maintaining business integrity, even at personal expense.

Importance of Time and Business Expertise

Another challenge is not fully valuing time which leads to the inability to monetise time. Many entrepreneurs focus on material costs but overlook the importance of monetising their time. When you’re running out of time to deliver, you might need to hire extra help or work extended hours, impacting your health and finances.

Additionally, it’s crucial to factor in your expertise and managerial qualities. Many entrepreneurs don’t pay themselves a salary, which affects sustainability. Properly valuing your time and effort is essential for long-term success.

Access to Mentorship, Networking and Finance

Access to mentorship and networks is crucial, and I believe this ties directly into the next question, so let’s address both together.

Access to mentorship is vital. Without it, young entrepreneurs miss out on valuable advice and support. Financial access is also a significant barrier, whether due to a lack of credit history, high interest rates, or the unwillingness of friends and family to take risks.

Question 2: What pivotal role do networking and mentorship play in developing young entrepreneurs?
What exactly is networking and mentorship? Here are insights from my colleagues Emmanuel, Nnamdi, and Salwa, with whom I had a sit down with.

Emmanuel defines mentorship as placing yourself under the guidance of someone experienced in a specific field. Networking, according to him, is about creating connections across different fields. It’s like weaving a web where you know various people who may not be mentors but are part of your professional circle.

Nnamdi emphasizes that mentors are individuals who have achieved what you aspire to accomplish. They provide insights into their journey, including their successes and failures. While networking is a connection of people that you know

Salwa describes networking as building connections with diverse individuals. She contrasts this with mentorship, which involves learning from someone you admire and who guides you through your career.
Emmanuel uses the metaphor of a web to illustrate networking. For instance, while I may know Emmanuel, Nnamdi, and Salwa directly, Emmanuel might know Bukonla, Nnamdi might know Gracefill, and Salwa might know Kingsley. Through this interconnected web, when I need assistance, Salwa might not have the answer but can connect me with someone who does, extending my network into areas I might not have ventured into otherwise.

Mentorship, as we’ve discussed, is a deeper relationship where you actively learn from and are guided by someone’s expertise. It’s important to differentiate between having a role model, whom you admire from a distance, and a mentor, who knows you personally and invests in your growth.

Now, addressing the importance of mentorship and networking: Many young people misunderstand these concepts, viewing networking solely as a means to exploit connections for personal gain. This is a misconception. Networking involves cultivating relationships with integrity, where reciprocity and mutual benefit are key. It’s about giving as much as you receive.

Building a network requires dedication, loyalty, and sometimes financial resources. Attending events, adhering to dress codes, and investing time are all part of nurturing these connections.
Networking involves more than just showing up at events and expecting immediate favors. It requires effort—sourcing opportunities, attending events, and sometimes offering gifts. But the real essence lies in genuine engagement.

When mingling, it’s crucial not to treat connections as transactional. It’s not about meeting someone today and asking for favors tomorrow. Building a network should involve mutual investment and respect. I’ve encountered many who, upon meeting, immediately ask for big favors based on superficial connections. This approach is misguided and disrespectful of the effort and emotions I’ve invested in my network.

For instance, on social media, I’ve received countless messages from strangers who claim to admire me but then abruptly ask for financial help. I rarely respond, but when I do, I highlight their lack of engagement over the years despite claiming to be long-time followers. Genuine networking isn’t about jumping into someone’s life to gain benefits—it’s about shared values, experiences, and history.

True connections are built on mutual respect and shared experiences, not opportunistic requests. It’s about fostering relationships where both parties genuinely care about each other’s well-being and success. This approach not only strengthens personal networks but also ensures that when favors are needed, they’re asked for and given with genuine respect and consideration.

Building a network requires effort and investment. You must attend events, sometimes buy gifts for celebrations, and mingle. But it’s crucial that your interaction isn’t solely transactional. Some people make the mistake of only reaching out when they need something urgently, like a favor with government officials or financial help. This approach is disrespectful and shortsighted because networking is about mutual respect and trust.

I’ve spent years cultivating my network, particularly on platforms like Facebook, where many young people approach me with messages that start with exaggerated flattery and end with urgent requests for money. I rarely respond to such messages because they show a lack of genuine interest in my life and experiences. If someone claims to have followed me for years but never acknowledged my milestones or struggles, why should I assist them in their time of need?

Occasionally, I do respond to these messages, not to help immediately but to teach a lesson about respectful networking. You can’t force yourself into someone’s network; it evolves naturally through shared values, experiences, and history. Genuine connections develop over time, often through mutual friends or shared interests.

For instance, Nnamdi might see Mr. Emmanuel’s offer to fund small businesses on Petra’s posts and reach out through mutual connections. Mr. Emmanuel is more likely to respond positively because Nnamdi has engaged meaningfully to some of his comments on Petra’s posts. And he is like, okay,I like him! Let me still ask Petra because he’s a regular there. Let me ask Petra what her opinion is. And Petra goes. He’s such a fantastic human being. He runs a poultry farm. But there’s been no money in fact as a matter of fact. And I’m just thinking if I could even just do crowdfunding for him because he’s such a fantastic human being. Those are the kind of young people we need to because when you establish him, you know that okay, at least one is a little drop, but then it’s out of society’s problem. The person doesn’t even need you to say recommend anymore. And Nnamdi gets his funding. From getting his funding from Emmanuel, he does well after six months.

Emmanuel goes ahead to make a post and says, it’s always so good when you empower young people and you are happy to have done it. You are so happy there is no regret and you feel that if only I had more money, more resources, I could have taken the business to another level. Somebody else now comes and says, oh wow, these are the kind of people like Emmanuel’s friends. Salwa, Alhaji, Amaka. Eh? Really? There’s some, this is it. And in fact, I’m going to tell Alhaji to put more money. Alhaji puts more money. And after one year, Alhaji is like, wow. Nnamdi comes back. He shares his success, not only with Emmanuel now because he has collected money directly. He shares it with Emmanuel. I didn’t give him any money, but he shares it with me because I’m the connection. And then he shares it with Salwa. Three people, right? And then in our different webs, we are talking about that one investment that somebody did. Oh me, I did not put in any money. And people are like, who is that person? Really? From one room, he now has like 12 rooms full of them. That means if we invest more, instead of him always buying feed, chicken feed, we can, he can actually start milling it on his own. I have so many, so many, so many. I’m not going to dash you the money. What I can just do is guarantee that when they bring the equipment to you, you will pay in installments. If I send those now you are no longer looking for how, you now employ, that’s another part of the value chain that is being expanded. So that’s what networking does for you. But networking means that you have to have invested first in yourself, be of good character, have common sense and know, actually now know the thing. Because if you know the thing and your character is your advert, whether good or bad, it is your advert. So, you are advertising yourself as uncouth, as lacking common sense, as not being responsible. Nobody, no matter who is making the recommendation, if the person making the recommendation is so dear to the person that would, they will say it is because of you and they will hear all manner of history. And I can bet you they will not likely put the whole amount of money that you need to make any significant. The person will invest what if you misuse it, is like, ah, no, no, no, no, problem. I never even thought he was going to do anything with it anyway.

So, when we talk networking, when we talk mentorship, there has to be a process. But again, I say that I have a problem with most of the young people with due respect and due apologies to your sensibility and your mental health. People don’t want to follow process. Even with their mentors, they don’t want history. They want to be telling the story. That, ah, do you know Mr. Tony Elumelu? He’s, my mentor. But they are not interested in the history of their mentor. They see the private jet. They see the fast-paced lifestyle. They see the blazing suits. They see the sharpness of the dressing and they feel this is what I want to be. You cannot be that without the history of what the person has passed through because it is in the history that there are lessons. In the story, there aren’t much lessons because the story is about the now. You are seeing it. The story is the food. You just get there, they serve you. You don’t know the recipe. You don’t know the process. You don’t know the timing.

An Example: When you are in the kitchen or even if you are not in the kitchen, you hear them say, oh, I went to the market. When I was going to the market, it rained so heavily. I was even shivering because I already had malaria. But then I knew that I had to get this food ready for a particular time so that when you guys come back from school, you would not be hungry. What is that teaching? It is teaching responsibilities. It is teaching you tenacity. You are not part of the going to the market. But you are hearing that somebody went to the market under the rain and persisted and continued to do what they needed to do so that food would be ready at a particular time. You know that you can also… And then it was only after the food got ready that I slept. What is it? It is teaching tenacity. Okay, let me ask you guys.

What is that teaching?

The story:It was raining. I was sick. I knew that I had to finish cooking this food because if you came back from school and there was no food, knowing that you did not eat breakfast, it was going to be, well, after I finished, I now slept.

What is it teaching? Empathy. The part of empathy. What do you think of? Patience. Perseverance.
In entrepreneurship, there is something very key that I am looking for because as it relates to entrepreneurship, this same story, what is that virtue that this story teaches?

Delayed gratification. Deferred gratification. you want to sleep and it is raining you want to go on that you do it and sleep but then empathy comes to play focus comes to play tenacity comes to play ultimately you know that you can see after you get this food ready you it is the same thing that happens when an entrepreneur is successful entrepreneur tells you that we were living in one bedroom then I got a promotion and there was no money but I knew that if we moved to a bigger room already, it was going to put more string because when I moved to a room, it means that we need to furnish the place it means that we need to do this so instead of furnishing that you make a decision to remain in this place and then we have more savings with more savings we can do investment. Getting the bedroom and probably even furnishing is deferred gratification there are successful business people that will tell you that for years even when they could afford the car they did not buy a car because by the car means maintaining the car and portraying a lifestyle, when you portray the lifestyle it means more responsibility because your nephews are coming to you, your brothers are coming to you, your sister’s children are lining up after all of who is driving a Benz whatever whatever they do not know the pressure that he is under to ensure that when the car breaks down he fixes it but because he has portrayed that lifestyle he has to he’s under pressure to at least do something so the fact gratification means that you you continue to manage what you have until such a time that the lifestyle you want to live you are able to live it and also able to cope with the responsibilities that come with the portrayal of that lifestyle do you get it.

After all is said and done mentors have the responsibility because well there’s a lot that I’ve said already about what mentees need to do mentors have the responsibility to be genuinely interested in the growth and career progression their mentees. On the other hand, mentees, please take note, your mentor is not your financier unless they want to. Some people will come to you and say, oh, I’d like for you to be my mentor. I like the way I have followed your career over the years. I’ve seen your challenges and I like the way you have surmounted them. Then they actually give you pointers to show that yes, they have followed you. And then sometimes you accept. The next day they are asking you, I have a business idea, come and give me money.

Your mentor is not necessarily your financier unless they want to be, unless they choose to be. And if you are smart, you would wait for your mentor to assume that role. Most people, and the same goes with your network, you don’t meet people and the first thing you are doing is placing demands on them. You don’t meet people and the first thing that comes to your head is how to exploit who you think they are and their standing and their social capital. In the course of your relationship with both your network and your mentor, there will be a time when they have to expend on you, when they have to put themselves on the line for you, their integrity, their reputation, they have to use those as collateral for you, their own personal finances, they want to use as investment for you, but you have to prove, you have to show that you are actually worth it.

Example: I have a mentee that is one of my most successful mentees in both the way that it happened and in the relationship that we share. She came to me to say, I have followed you for so long, it’s because of you. I worked my posting to Kogi State and it’s because of you. I told someone who helped me with my posting that I must meet you. So, when I heard that you are coming to this event this evening, I was overjoyed. This person is a medical doctor. The age difference is no more than five, six years. But at every turn, this person is telling me, okay, so this is what is happening. This is what I want to do. They are giving me updates about their career. It got to a point they give me updates on their personal lives. Then sometimes they come to me in confusing situations. This is it, but now I am confused. How do I go about it? And I say this person is the most successful because like I said, mentorship is you are giving and then the other person is interested in your growth. It’s been eight, nine years. And the pattern has continued. Whenever there is an update, I get to hear it. Some people say they have mentors. It is when their mentors and random social media followers hear important stories about them, important news about them. Promotions, new jobs. They say they have mentors.

But everybody sees it at the same time.

A good mentee would even tell the mentor, oh, I have applied for this, I applied for this, I applied for this, and this is where it’s at. A good mentor takes that information, looks at it, and says, oh, this person is worthy, this person is deserving, this person should have this. This person has put in in fact so much work over the years. And this person has shown themselves worthy of someone I can say, this is my mentee, I am proud of it. You pick up your phone and look at your contacts as a mentor. And then, this is the place, this is the place, who do I know here? I don’t think I know anybody. But let me call this person. This person should know. You are not preaching nepotism. This person is your mentee so you know their capacity, you know their capability, where you are saying that if it is possible, if it boils down to, oh, these three people scored the same, but now we are no longer looking at figures, we are no longer looking at marks, we are looking for something extra. Let me be the extra. The fact that I’m taking my name to say you will not regret investing that position in this person. You will not regret believing that this person has the capacity to discharge the roles and responsibilities required of the new office. That extra is what a mentor should also do.

A mentor will not say, in fact a good mentor should, if you are a mentor why do you have somebody that is not capable? Why do you have somebody that is mediocre? Why do you have somebody that you are not proud of?

A mentee reflects the standards of the mentor. Same with network. If we are in a network then I should be able to put in as much as I get out. It may not necessarily be immediately. Don’t forget a network is a web. So, what it means is that you will sow what you reap. Not necessarily what you reap. Because it is a web. When I sow in Emmanuel it doesn’t mean that I will reap from Emmanuel immediately. By reaping sometimes what you are sowing is goodwill and then what you are reaping is the pride that you get from Emmanuel. But be that as it may, it might even end up that Emmanuel is just a rascal and you wasted opportunities on Emmanuel. But then, because it is a web, your network, someone else in your network might give you pride. Secondary pride. Somebody just calls you and says, the person is not necessarily close to you but says can you please put in a word for this my person and you do that and you forget about it and you always get, oh that is that person. Oh really? Oh wow. You take pride in it. So, you reap what you sow, not necessarily where you sow. If you are reaping, if you are sowing goodwill, you expect to reap goodwill because at some point, maybe your own mentee might need a favor from that other person’s network. So, the web continues to grow and grow and the network expands. I think I’ve exhausted that right? Over exhausted. Really, really exhausted.

Question 3: How can individuals harness the opportunities presented by digital platforms and the gig economy to facilitate career transitions into entrepreneurship?

The digital age presents numerous opportunities for career transitions into entrepreneurship, particularly through digital platforms and the gig economy.

  1. Access to Online Education and Training: Digital platforms like Coursera, Udemy, Google, and Microsoft offer a wealth of online courses and certifications. Many universities also provide free or subsidised courses online. These resources allow individuals to acquire new skills, enhance existing ones, and gain knowledge relevant to their entrepreneurial aspirations. Notable platforms include:
    • Coursera: Offers courses from top universities and companies.
    • Udemy: Provides a wide range of courses on virtually any subject.
    • Google and Microsoft: Provide certifications and training in high-demand areas like digital marketing, data analysis, and cloud computing.
  2. Mentorship Programs: Several digital platforms offer mentorship programs, some of which are paid or have rigorous application processes. Engaging in these programs can provide guidance, support, and valuable insights from experienced professionals in your desired field. Examples include:
    • LinkedIn Learning: Offers mentorship opportunities and courses.
  3. Networking and Professional Connections: Digital platforms are also valuable for networking. Websites like LinkedIn allow individuals to connect with industry leaders, potential partners, and peers. By actively participating in online communities and forums, entrepreneurs can build a network that may lead to collaborations, funding opportunities, and valuable advice.
  4. Showcasing and Marketing: Digital platforms provide a space to showcase your skills, products, or services. Social media channels like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, along with personal websites and blogs, can be powerful tools for marketing and brand building. Entrepreneurs can reach a global audience with minimal cost.

    Question 4: What emerging trends do you foresee shaping entrepreneurship in the digital age and how can graduates prepare accordingly?
    You have to put your best foot forward at all times. You have to show that you have intelligence, not just book intelligence, but social intelligence. When I’m talking about social intelligence, I’m talking about the fact that some people will tell you, “Oh, social media is a leveler.” Social media is not a leveler. What social media has done is break the walls that would ordinarily divide some people into categories. People that you ordinarily would not meet in a million lifetimes. Social media breaks the walls and grants you access. It’s now left for you to show that you merit that access. And when granted that access, you should remain within the space, the confines of that access.
    There are some people whose lives have been turned around on digital platforms. Whether social or formal, however you are engaging, make sure that you are engaging in a way that is accessible. A way that makes people want to identify with you. That tells people that you know what you’re doing. Social intelligence, emotional intelligence, your character—your character is your advert. So, you have to brand yourself properly. You have to present yourself as you want to be perceived.
    You also need to develop business management skills. Everyone likes building a network. Learn, learn, learn. Learn from books, and learn from people’s experiences.


    To buttress my point in what I said earlier, young people don’t want to go through the process. They don’t want to serve. They just want to be CEOs and bosses, just because they see the glamorous lifestyle of their mentors without knowing that before they got there, they passed through fire and brimstone. Take diamonds or gold, for example they go through a lot of heat and fire to remove impurities before coming out as precious substances that are invaluable.

– Petra Akinti Onyegbule, Group Head, Corporate Communication and Consumer Experience at Credlanche Limited.
Being a paper delivered at Innovate X Summit in Lokoja.


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