Emerging Young Entrepreneur (EYE) Initiative is a non-profit that aims to inspire a generational shift in the African Agribusiness industry by providing students of tertiary institutions with the tools needed to start, run and grow successful businesses in the numerous agricultural value chains.
1. Tell us about yourself and your business
I am Abubakar Abdullahi, an Entrepreneur whose work is driven by a passion for building indigenous companies that will provide meaningful jobs to the growing youth demographic.
I started my career in the Construction industry before discovering a love for negotiation and sales. I later developed my marketing and business development skills as a Relationship Manager at Nigeria’s largest financial institution.
Since then, I have co-founded four enterprises. The latest one is the Emerging Young Entrepreneur (EYE) Initiative which is a non-profit organization. We aim to inspire a generational shift in the African Agribusiness industry by providing students of tertiary institutions with the tools necessary to start, run and grow successful agri-businesses.
2. How much did you need to start your business and how were you able to raise that capital?
It’s funny you ask that.The truth is, for each enterprise the situation has been different. I’ll give you three examples.
At The Front Office NG where we are helping businesses, individuals, and non-profits, we basically bootstrapped. After borrowing 50,000 naira and receiving another 100,000 from future partners (total of about $1,000 at the time), we registered the company and created branding materials. Proceeds from our first client subsequently paid for a shared office space and the laptop I still currently use. (laughs!!!) Essentially, we used the customers’ money in this case.
At EYE on the other hand, despite foregoing personal remuneration, delivering services to university students required a relatively higher commitment of early funds. A couple of small grants have so far supported our work, but we still need partners to achieve our short to long term goals.
Finally, on our latest enterprise, we need capital of about 200,000 dollars to even get started. We are trying to secure that by trading equity to a single founding partner.
3. What are some of the challenges you face in your business and how do you overcome those challenges?
Challenges of doing business in Nigeria are often tied to restrictions of achieving scale, and ours aren’t much different.
At the heart of this is the high cost of debt, occasioned by interest rates that place requirements for margins of at least 40 to 50% to remain afloat. This is closely followed by the lack of access to capital that is open to the possibility of failure, and ultimately shared losses. Finally, the tendency for new businesses to replicate any form of perceived success in yours, due to lack of adequate intellectual property restrictions and enforcement of staff agreements, especially for small business.
To overcome these, we have tried to adjust growth ambitions to the amount of funds directly accessible to us at any point in time. In addition, we have deployed outsourced staffing models and traded early equity to reduce overheads. We are also learning from the failures of some of these decisions. A typical example of this is that we have learned the effect of lack of a vesting schedule on early equity.
Finally, we are trying to be part of building an ecosystem of angel investors and venture capitalists by learning from the African Business Angel Network (ABAN) and Venture Capital for Africa (VC4A). We strongly believe that as the industry matures in Nigeria, we can turn a huge percentage of Nigeria’s “parked funds” into patient capital that not only supports the possibility of failing forward but also provides amazing returns on investment. Our interest in the successful set up and running of the Abuja Angel Network to support the work of the Lagos Angel Network is hinged on this.
4. Where do you see your business in 5 years from now and what steps are you taking today to reach that objective?
For the EYE Initiative, our five-year strategic plan is to be active in sixty (60) African Universities.
To help us achieve this, we recently inaugurated an eight-man advisory board representing six (6) nationalities, diverse age demographics, domestic and foreign experience on both the continent and across the world, public and private sector, as well as academia, in fields such as agriculture, ICT, project and supply chain management, and strategy.
We are also forming relationships with universities and strategic partners with interest in agriculture, job creation and youth engagement in Africa.
5. What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to start a business or invest in Africa?
What I continue to learn is the fact that anyone interested in Africa must be ready to be patient and build for the long term.
For entrepreneurs, patience and long term mean careful preparation, a lot of learning and networking, as well as perseverance. So my advice would be to first develop a thick skin. Next is to strive for opportunities to learn and find a mentor or two. Finally, surround yourself with people on the same journey as you are.
For investors, patience and long term mean commitments to developing the ecosystem, building capacity of founders and accepting real possibilities of failure in the early stages. So my advice would be to understand the implications of patient capital, work with the growing clusters of incubators and accelerators, and be willing to support the human development of the most promising founders.
If these happen, the opportunities would be limitless.
6.How is your business participating to the development of Africa?
At the EYE initiative, we believe the future of Africa will depend on what it does with its youth – a demographic that not only presents its greatest threat of survival but probably holds the key to all its potentials. We further believe that agriculture will pay a critical role in ensuring that any potential is maximized. But we also see that Africa’s agriculture and indeed agribusiness is dominated by an aging population.
That is why our mission is to inspire a generational shift in the African Agribusiness industry by preparing a young breed of entrepreneurs through improved access to technology, innovation, mentoring and finance.
It is also why we have put the vision of a robust African economy that is driven by thriving, locally-owned and gender-inclusive businesses at the heart of what we do.
So in the next five years, our contribution to Africa’s development is a plan to train 18,000 undergraduate students, support 1,800 agribusiness prototypes and incubate 500 startups in 60 African Universities.
We are looking for partners who believe this is possible and are passionate about supporting the delivery of such dividends.