Local business going global
Helena Etim, 62, never imagined she would be a part of a boardroom where young entrepreneurs and top executives work together to solve common business problems through research, brainstorming, and collaboration. The mother-of-four runs a small business called Andemine Enterprises, which deals with herbs, local spices, and food. She is an indigene of Akwa Ibom State’s Ikono Local Government Area.
For so many years, Etim had been running her little business the same way and the results were everything but impressive. She knew there must be a better way to run the business and was determined to learn so she could scale while still delivering value to her customers. Unfortunately, the opportunity did come but she never lost hope that someday, things would change.
In September, just like every other year, the Akwa Ibom State Government rolled out the drums to celebrate the creation of the state. Events marking previous anniversaries were characterised by elitism and subtle flamboyance, but this time around, the emphasis shifted. It was a string of events celebrating all things Akwa Ibom and more.
One of the major highlights of the celebration was the “Made in Akwa Ibom Trade Fair,” which took place at the popular E-Library complex, along IBB Way in Uyo capital city.
Just like other small-scale business owners in the state, Etim did not want to miss the opportunity offered by the trade fair. Determined to make the best of it, the sexagenarian took the best in-class products from her brand to the trade fair ground. Customers fell in love with her spices, her edible herbs and foods.
“I was opportune to hear about the trade fair which was organised for the 36th Anniversary celebration of the state. The registration was free, so I registered. I said to myself, let me go and sell my products at the trade fair and see if I can make a name out of it. I was amazed when the governor came and walked around inspecting the products,” Etim recalled.
“Later when he addressed us, he promised to award N200 million as grant to the entrepreneurs. He requested that some select entrepreneurs be trained for three months. At the end of the training, each participant will be given N500, 000 as a starter pack. At that time, it seemed I was in a dreamland. So, I asked my girl to pinch me.”
The governor’s promise to award a staggering N500, 000 grant to entrepreneurs with the best business ideas and pitches left many, including Etim, feeling like they were in a dream.
Glory Ettekak, CEO of Nature’s Glory Limited, shared her joy at the prospect of receiving funding after participating in the trade fair. She praised the Ibom-LED Entrepreneurship Accelerator Programme for its impactful training, providing valuable insights into business structuring, funding access, and networking.
Ettetak, 33, said she could not control her joy when the governor made the grant offer, adding that it was an answered prayer and an opportunity to make it big in her business, especially with the training she received at Ibom-LED.
“As an entrepreneur, I have done a lot of training but IBOM-LED has been the most impactful of them all. There are many opportunities out there for entrepreneurs that we could not access because of lack of information and knowledge but when we came into clusters in the course of this programme, opportunities are shared, connections are made and people got to know things they would never have known just sitting inside their shops,” she said.
“As an entrepreneur, I have done a lot of training but Ibom LED has been the most impactful of them all. There has been a shift in my business. We learnt business-structuring, access to funding, networking etc. Because it has the standard of the Lagos Business School, we have done a lot in three months. We have received a lot of value from the training.
As one of the pioneer trainees of Ibom-LED, Ettetak said she could compete with other entrepreneurs anywhere in the world. She also thanked the state governor and the leadership of the training school for giving them the opportunity to learn and the resources to grow their businesses.
Elias Akpan, a renowned 67-year-old artisan, commended the Ibom-LED programme, emphasising its role in fostering innovation and business growth. He expressed regret that such initiatives were not available earlier, envisioning Akwa Ibom State as a potential hub for manufacturing in Nigeria.
“We’ve not seen this kind of thing before. The programme is impactful. I never had any idea on how to move my business forward, record keeping, and other things we’ve been taught at Ibom LED. If this programme was given to us before now, Akwa Ibom State would have become the hub of manufacturing in Nigeria,” said the elderly businessperson.
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Windfall from the blues
When the portal opened for entrepreneurs to register for the maiden edition of Made in Akwa Ibom Trade Fair, no one, not even the organisers imagined it would become the next big business incubation platform in the history of the state.
If everyone knew, the registration portal would have crashed due to over-subscription. Our findings showed that at the time the state Governor Umo Eno visited, only 365 persons had registered and brought their products to the trade fair.
Ime Uwah, programme director of Ibom Leadership and Entrepreneur Development Centre (Ibom-LED), confirmed that nobody on his team had a clue what the governor had under the sleeve until he announced the plan to assist entrepreneurs at the trade fair.
“When we opened the portal and asked people to register free of charge to participate in the trade fair, we never knew that it was going to become a major business incubation platform in the state. We saw a surge in registration as soon as the governor announced that the government would support participants engaged in the production of goods and whose outlets are located in the state,” Uwah explained.
Speaking on how the potential beneficiaries from the business grant were selected, Uwah said his organisation simply picked the first 400 participants who registered for the programme on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Uwah continued, “The governor said he didn’t come to give us money and set up Ibom-Led. He simply said to us, ‘look, you’re going to train people and we’re going to pay you fees. Therefore, whatever you are going to do around Ibom-LED, do it in terms of infrastructure, engagement of people and all of that. It is none of my business. My business is to patronise you.’ He has done that. We just finished training 400 people and he has paid us as he promised and I see that as resource management.
“The governor said ‘because you have a hub, I’m going to give you 10,000 uniforms to make and 5,000 desert boots to make.’ We delivered and he pays for it.’ That’s patronage. You can imagine when your governor tells you, ‘hey, you guys have a shoe making and tailoring hub, I’m going to patronise you.’
“That is for me the highest level of resource management, because you’ll now understand that you are in business. It’s not government business as usual. What is happening is totally different. What we have noticed in the governor is that if you mean business, he works with you. You have to be serious for you to get his attention.
Over 400 small-scale business owners from the state went through three months of rigorous training, encompassing key facets of areas of entrepreneurship such as: Business development, record keeping, sales and marketing strategies, product development and innovation, legal and regulatory compliance. Others were networking and collaboration, pitching and presentation skills and access to funding and other resources.
The first batch of entrepreneurs, having completed the programme, is now officially part of Ibom-LED’s distinguished alumni community, enjoying perpetual benefits like mentorship, networking, funding avenues, and ongoing evaluation.
As the first batch concludes its training, anticipation builds for the second batch, with citizens optimistic about the enduring impact Ibom-LED will bring to the state. Governor Eno’s commitment to fostering business growth has transformed the landscape, signaling a new era where business is uncapped in Akwa Ibom.
This report is supported by GuardPost Nigeria’s Free Writing and Storytelling Initiative aimed at creating responsible and credible government engagement with the citizenry