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How budding entrepreneurs are tackling SMEs challenges

When Osagie Azeta and Bayo Ojelabi won N3 million each at the 7th edition of Diamond Bank’s flagship corporate sustainability project tagged “Building Entrepreneurs Today”…

When Osagie Azeta and Bayo Ojelabi won N3 million each at the 7th edition of Diamond Bank’s flagship corporate sustainability project tagged “Building Entrepreneurs Today” (BET 7), little did they know that money only doesn’t translate into business growth and success.

The journey to explore the potentials of their businesses for growth started within the classrooms at the Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) of Pan Atlantic University, Lagos few days after winning the grants.

For Azeta, who runs CropSafe Agro Services Limited, an agricultural post-harvest loss management company, the classroom experience impacted his business intelligence three months after.

“What they have done through the BET 7 programme is to take us to EDC, which is a very good place to be. They gave us a good training and more support and enable us meet a lot of people from the Diaspora. One of the biggest issues we have in my sector is access to market.  If we store and save up all the crops and do not get access to market, a lot of crops would perish and a lot of farmers won’t have that kind of patience because that is what they live on. So, the EDC continues to link us up through its forum and also links us up to people in the Diaspora and we’re telling them we can do things that are of international standard.

“We lose a lot of crops after harvests in Nigeria. Therefore our company helps a lot of farmers to store their crops at the highest level without the use of chemicals, which also leads them to higher value market. That is basically what we do; we use techniques and technology in order to preserve their crops so we can lead other farmers in the interior villages to Lagos markets, Abuja and other markets in big cities.

“For example, our beans (in Nigeria) have been banned for 3 years in EU. But my beans can be exported to the EU once I finished my first harvest in December. Yes, you will meet challenges. For example, you have to go far into the northeast to meet the farmers; they have to trust you to do business with you. Financially, you need a lot of money for my own industry, you will need a lot of money because, farmers won’t wait for you to sell before you give them money for their harvests

“We (Nigeria) are the largest grower of beans in the world. That 2.9 trillion Naira lost from spoilt harvests is not from our budget; it is what should be in the pocket of me and you and several other farmers. We have to train and also talk to people so that they will see the reality of what they are going through.

“We have been trained to be dogged and keep knocking on the door and avoid gratification; we might not get profit from 1-3 years but we will keep trying but hopefully once the message is out there for people to be more health conscious, people will start to see the need to eat my beans and the profit will come.

“The challenging issue for most entrepreneurs is finance to expand my techniques, technology and train others too. But, I thank God that BET 7 through Diamond Bank and the EDC has empowered me; because the training really pushed me ahead. There is job in Nigeria but people are not thinking in the right direction. May be someone else will pick up mango or another will pick up vegetables. I also do castor beans and oil and also shea butter,” Azeta said.

His challenges weren’t much different from that of Bayo Ojelabi, who owns Medivice, a company that designs and provides biomedical prosthesis for the physically-challenged, especially amputees in the society.

Also a beneficiary of BET 7 grants from Diamond Bank, Ojelabi prefers to call himself a social entrepreneur.

“Before now, I don’t usually believe in grant and all that; I thought all these things were scam. It was a friend who told me to apply and I applied. So far, BET has actually opened my eyes to a lot of opportunities around me; just last month I started my second company.

“Actually, my line of business involves a lot of technology coming together, so it depends on what you want and that is why if you come to us, we have to ask you questions and tell you the options available; so, you will be the one to decide based on your budget,” Ojelabi said.

Speaking with Daily Trust on their projects, Chizoba Iheme, the team lead, Liability and Emerging Businesses at Diamond Bank, said the initiative targets start-ups with potentials to provide solutions to societal problems like hunger, disability etc.

“In trying to come up with the BET, we looked at the challenges facing SMEs, so that we are able to attack every problem that they may face and make sure that once they graduate from EDC, these sets of SMEs will not face the challenges others who have not gone through this training will face.

“For us at Diamond Bank, we support businesses that would be solving pertinent issues in the society and not only for profit making. We know that in Nigeria, we have issues with agriculture, especially with storage. We know about buyers as well, some people do not have access to things that they need to have a more comfortable life. Their businesses are not about getting the platform’s grants or funds but more so about impacting lives and contributing to social development.” Iheme noted.

Daily Trust recalled that the initiative, organised annually in collaboration with the Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) of the Pan Atlantic University, Lagos, aims at promoting innovations and make social impacts especially among young start-ups across the country.

“Business is beyond just Naira and Kobo; there has to be social inclusion. You have to consider your whole community. Most of the innovations we’ve had haven’t come from the banking industry. It comes from tackling societal problems i.e. developing solutions to problems in our communities,” Diamond Bank’s CEO, Uzoma Dozie, said while presenting winners of BET 7 with their grant awards.

Also speaking, the executive director at EDC-PAU, Mr. Peter Bankole, said the winners were selected after undergoing rigorous business training at the institution for 6 months.

“This year we left it open so everybody from all sectors can apply so long it is a productive sector; so if you are productive in any way, then we will choose you.,” he said.

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