Nigeria’s economy in recession, everyone now agrees there’s a need for the country to look inwards and produce what Nigerians consume. Now, with the drop in oil price, young Nigerians across sectors of the economy have taken up the task to save the country from its overdependence on oil. From what to wear down to the food we eat, Made in Nigeria is the new cool. There is an increase in the demand for all things Nigerian, and in the words of Senator Ben Murray Bruce, “Buy Naija, Develop the Naira” is the way out of Nigeria’s present economic quagmire and there are few young Nigerians pushing for this new way of life. In this edition of Montage Africa, we present to you three of them.
Adedeji Alebiosu – the Made in Nigeria [MIN] project
What is the Made in Nigeria Project about and what informed its creation?
The Made in Nigeria Project is an initiative created to reignite the will for nation building and to stir within us the consciousness that a greater and an enviable Nigeria where dreams, goals, aspirations of the Nigerian, is realistic and possible. Also, to redefine narratives about Nigeria, given the hope in our collective future and to promote and celebrate everything uniquely Nigerian. Our flagship is the Made in Nigeria Conference & Exhibition which is a one day social investment initiative under the Made in Nigeria Project that aims to empower young Entrepreneurs, MSMEs, start-ups, which are cardinal to our national aspiration towards self-sufficiency and overcoming the challenges of job creation and unemployment. This edition would focus on ‘Made in Nigeria’ as the new economic frontier, as well as to project Nigeria’s growth trajectory and the opportunities that thrive and abound, as well as to build the requisite steam towards national transformation with focus on the economy, policy, innovation, trade, job creation and employment, including SME growth.
The MIN conference and exhibition was supposed to have been held but was postponed. What was the cause and how were you able to manage it?
The conference and exhibition was postponed owing to a major unforeseen setback suffered just a few days to the event and we were able to manage it by activating mechanisms that’ll further boost its success. It was a blessing in disguise and we have put in measures to host a successful edition.
What do you see as the most critical challenge faced by entrepreneurs in Nigeria that when addressed would go a long way in enhancing business productivity?
Access to finance is the biggest challenge faced by entrepreneurs, SMEs, and start-ups. Also, there aren’t monetary policies that are provided to aid SME growth, development and advancement. Businesses will thrive and be productive when there’s the right working and business environment being created.
How best can Nigerian brands be positioned to compete with foreign businesses? Also, whose responsibility is it, the government, individual businesses or both?
To begin with, Nigerian brands would need to understand Nigeria is the world’s most sought after investment destination owing to our growing population and thriving home grown ‘Made in Nigeria’ businesses is the new model as the next economic frontier so, we have to be doing something differently which i is where innovation comes in. Now, since the government and business owner complement each other’s efforts with their role, decisions and indecisions, both parties have a stake in the role they play towards economic growth, and its positioning as a Global brand to be reckoned and identified with.
There’s been an increasing amount of interest in the SME sector by the federal government. Do you think enough has been done? What more can be done?
There has been quite a few efforts being made but, there has to be a landing page. The plans have to be measurable. On what can be done, the government has to provide SMEs with access to finance, and there has to be a harmonization of government’s policy thrust to grow SMEs. Also, government has to see SMEs as the new economic frontier as statistics have shown overtime that SMEs are key drivers of economic advancement and growth.
Lately, a lot of conferences, exhibitions, trainings and e-commerce platforms targeting SMEs have been on the increase. What do you make of this trend?
It is a welcome development and very laudable but then, we need to also put into consideration the depth, genuineness, the intent of purpose of these platforms. I think most are caught up in the mix as presently it’s unarguable that SMEs is the new goldmine. There are loads of untapped potential in this sector but in due time, we shall know the ones that have substance.
Tell us about your organization, the SME Connect Nigeria – its objectives, and also about the SME Connect Series which I understand you’ve held twice this year?
SME Connect Nigeria is a social enterprise that was birthed with the sole aim of effectively bridging the gap between Nigerian SMEs and the opportunities around them via the use of online and offline communication channels, to help them with their marketing needs as well as organize events that will help empower them effectively. Our goal is to create online and offline platforms where SMEs can come to source for opportunities, network, advertise and pitch their businesses on a day-to-day basis. We also aim to connect prospective investors (local and international) to SMEs that may interest them through our hub which we are working on implementing.
SME Connect Nigeria will also be offering training and empowerment programs to undergraduates, corps members and fresh graduates that may desire to become entrepreneurs in different states across the country. Our ultimate goal is to empower existing and aspiring SMEs, as well as attracting other graduates and undergraduates alike to create their own businesses which will surely help to reduce unemployment by up to 70 percent.
We help SMEs and aspiring entrepreneurs to achieve scalability by providing them with business consulting and trainings (structuring, branding, and more), networking events, highly subsidized advertising, as well as vital information about funding opportunities. We are also making plans to create an incubation hub where we connect investors to SMEs with the potential to become successful. We aim to own equity in these businesses in the long run. Our ultimate goal is to assist in reducing unemployment in Nigeria as much as possible and our approach is to contribute immensely to the growth of small businesses to a level where they can recruit unemployed talents into their organizations and this automatically have a ripple effect in economic growth in Nigeria.
After two successful events, what do you see as the most critical challenges facing entrepreneurs in Nigeria and how can they be adequately addressed?
From what we’ve realized, Nigerian entrepreneurs face two very critical challenges. Firstly, the lack of educational or professional experience at running a business is a big issue. Knowledge is key to success in entrepreneurship and as far as I’m concerned the long term solution to this critical issue of lack of knowledge is the creation of compulsory “Entrepreneurial Studies” in school curriculums.
Entrepreneurial studies should be made compulsory in our secondary and tertiary institutions because that is where the interest is developed. Various level of this course can be embedded into different levels in the degree or secondary school curriculum as it relates to the kind of field the pupil is planning to focus. This should lead to a compulsory entrepreneurial project for every student as a form on training. Candidly, a lot of young ones have no business studying a lot of courses that they are being forced to study in our schools.
The bottle-necks created at the public sector that regulate businesses in the growth of SMEs here in Nigeria, is another critical challenge entrepreneurs are facing in Nigeria. Business registration, custom duties (especially on raw materials or machinery importation), CBN regulations, multiple taxation and several others, are practically killing several businesses before they even start. I can start to mention other ones such as cost of renting an office, lack of electricity, piracy and what have you.
For example, it took me 3 months to get a limited liability company registered. That’s worse than how long it takes to procure an American Visa. Staffs at these parastatals make it seem like they are doing you a favour every time they provide you a paid service. And of course, most times that leads to bribery and corruption where you may have to tip your way to get a faster solution.
I believe the solution to this issue lies in the hands of the State and Federal Government. Creating an enabling environment helps businesses to thrive and that has its effect on the economy. The government should take time to solve a lot of these issues before embarking on a tax enforcement campaign especially against businesses that are barely few months old.
A good number of Nigerians still buy foreign. What would you say it is that Nigerian brands aren’t doing to connect with customers and win more converts?
There are a couple of things that Nigerian brands are not exactly getting right. One of them is the quality of their products or services. Another is the high price Nigerian brands tend to place on their products. Ineffective distribution and unavailability of goods and services is also a critical issue. One other very important aspect in which I think Nigerian brands still lag behind is that of proper customer care and support.
However some of the challenges emanate from the environment of business operation where cost of production can tend to affect pricing. You need to understand that the cost of production here in Nigeria has not made it favorable for Nigerian producers to compete effectively with foreign producers who have to worry more about importation duties than other factors. Chinese products come into the market and crash it, sometimes with substandard goods, other times with good ones.
Competition is subject to price and quality and that is what Nigerian brands can work on. They should ensure they don’t compromise on quality but as for the price, it is not going to be easy to tell anyone to sell less slightly equal to their cost of production. Other ways to increase sales will include proper branding and marketing including the use of social media. Also they need to ensure effective distribution and availability of their products and even consider the option of exportation.
Taking from the theme of your second edition of the SME Connect Series, how best can small businesses leverage on technology and the internet to grow?
Technology and the internet are tools or medium any 21st century entrepreneur cannot ignore when it comes to doing business. Technology and internet is an enabler as it connects to thousands of people that may not have seen or heard about you or your business at much affordable or zero rate unlike using newspapers, TV, radio and the likes.
It also makes your activities measurable and you can be able to track, control and tweak your spending if you have to. It also gives you access to the global community where you can sell your products or even services. Platforms like Amazon, Alibaba and the likes have proved beyond all doubt that you can do business beyond your local shores.
Social media is key to finding and retaining customers. The use of tools like Google’s Keyword Planner can go a long way to help you run a business feasibility studies by letting you know if your kind of business is sought after online via Google search engine. Google analytics does a better job in helping you know if people are visiting your website and even their location. You can also use this to know if people aren’t patronizing your website due to your terrible website design and user experience plus you can also use the tool to manage conversions on your website. All these, plus a lot more, can help your business a whole lot.
Kelechi Ekeghe – Made in Nigeria e-Commerce
About a year ago was when you first talked of the plan to build an e-commerce platform that helps drive sales of Nigerian made products. How has it been?
Like everything worth doing, it has been good but not without its challenges.
In simple steps can you tell us how the Made in Nigeria e-commerce platform works and what successes you’ve recorded so far?
Min.ng is an online marketplace for made in Nigeria products; this means that merchants across different segments own micro sites from which they sell their products, manage their inventory, shipping/logistics and accept payments online. As per achievement, today we have all kinds of products ranging from food to Jewelry accessories to machines and almost 100,000 people subscribed to our email database.
Would you say there’s been a substantial increase in the purchase of Made in Nigeria products by Nigerians than the purchasing of foreign goods?
Yes, in the last few months we have seen increased demand for made in Nigeria products. People are now educated on the need to look inwards and patronise made in Nigeria. What first started as an act of patriotism has now opened people’s eyes to see that a lot of what is being imported into Nigeria can be done locally and some have superior quality.
A large number of Nigerians continue to prefer foreign brands. What would you say is the problem why they are still uncomfortable buying Nigeria?
A lot of Nigerians still think made in Nigeria products are substandard and this is far from the truth. You will be blown away by the quality products coming out of Nigeria across different segments. Min.ng is changing this narrative and helping entrepreneurs who would have gone under due to lack of market access to achieve their sales and business objectives.
From months of monitoring placements on the platform by prospective business owners, can you tell us which product category sells more in Nigeria?
Almost everything sells on Min.ng but the most sort after product categories are: food and beverages, fashion and lately locally fabricated machines. We encourage Nigerians to look inward at what else we can produce. MA