HGCP 2021 Participants: Chika Nwajoku is tackling Nigeria’s unemployment challenges through Shoemaking with NCR Design Limited

I sat down with the founder of NCR Design Limited, a company created to foster socio-economic growth and help mitigate Nigeria’s unemployment challenges through Shoemaking. 

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Chika Ruth Nwajoku, a women and youth entrepreneurship advocate and the founder of NCR Design Limited, a company created to foster socio-economic growth and help mitigate Nigeria’s unemployment challenges through Shoemaking. 

I am graduate of soil science from the federal university of technology and a professional salesperson who has built her career in a variety of industries.

I am passionate about empowering women and youths in the communities who are denied access to education because of poverty, early marriages, and the patriarchal nature of the society, with the skill to establish a career in small and medium businesses to enable them to be financially independent and contribute to economic development.

I acquired a shoemaking skill during the mandatory National Youth Service Program in 2012 and has since used her work at NCR Design Shoemaking school to improve the lives of women and youths in Nigeria by enabling them to produce and export standard footwear products through training, job matching opportunities, mentoring, and access to quality and affordable raw materials.

Tell us a bit about your background – how did you get to this point?

I wanted to create value with something that I was passionate about.  I have always loved shoes but became increasingly interested in shoes when I joined shoemaking CDS group during my days as a Youth Corp member in 2012. 

I started to dig deep into the art of shoemaking, read about master shoemakers, the business of shoemaking, its rewards, the challenges, and opportunities… just everything about it.  It was fascinating to say the least.  It had never occurred to me that I could make a living out of it because interestingly, I am a graduate of Soil Science so academically, nothing really linked to the career I have now.  But growing up I loved making things.  I loved art.  I loved creating, but somehow had forgotten about it during my years as a student. My joining the shoemaking CDS group made me remember how much I loved crafts.

I further enrolled for advanced shoemaking classes at Pretty and Chic vocational centre, Ikeja. Lagos state, after which I used my allowance from the NYSC program to acquire start-up equipment.

After my parent’s disapproval to follow my passion of setting up a vocational training centre, I secured a job as a Business Development officer in 2013, and after a job loss experience in 2017 and another year without securing a job, I used my personal savings of 150,000 naira, making use of my sitting room to establish the business, in 2018 when NCR Design was incorporated.

What do you feel are your biggest achievements?

One of my biggest achievements is establishing this business, securing awards and other recognitions for outstanding contribution to community developments. NCR Design emerged Winner of the top 10 startups of the Year 2021 in the Entrepreneur Africa Award. We’ve also featured in publications and Television stations, locally and internationally.

I would say that we have done tremendously well in ensuring that our work contribute to community development and to the sustainable development goals by empowering Nigerian youths and women with the skill to fight poverty, hunger, and gender inequality through volunteering and collaborations.

Since the business was incorporated, we have been involved in trainings, mentoring, volunteering and collaborations with NGOs and other organizations to empower Nigerian women and youths, especially the vulnerable ones with the skill to pull them out of poverty and start a new lease of life through shoemaking.

Achievement is not just about the happy, shiny things it is also about withstanding tough times and challenging situations, so handling challenges, complexity and change is also one of my biggest achievements.

What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

It’s the responsibility of building something of meaning & impact. Learning every day and working in a team to help people.

I am deeply invested in and passionate about the service that I offer. Making a difference and having a positive impact on someone else’s life is my favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur.

Introduce your company the way you would to a potential customer

NCR Design is a company created to foster socio-economic growth and help mitigate Nigeria’s unemployment challenges through shoemaking.

NCR Design was incorporated in 2018 in Lagos, Nigeria with the sole objective of offering its students personalized hands-on training on the different aspects of shoemaking from appreciation of equipment and materials, pattern drafting and design, lasting, stamping, threading, dying and quality controls, etc.  Our courses are built on an active, experimental, and practical learning session, known to combine design talent with technical knowledge of Shoes models and delivered by instructors with demonstrable practical experience in the field of footwear production.

We provide free accommodation, mentorship, and internship opportunities.

Where can people find out more about your business?

We will also be launching our official website shortly, in the meantime if you would like to connect with us, please google search NCR Shoemaking school, or do so via our email at ncrdesignlimited@gmail.com, or any of our social media platforms.

 We are on Facebook  at www.facebook.com/ncrdesign, on Instagram at www.instagram.com/ncr.design and on Twitter at  www.twitter.com/NCRCrafts.

How have you carved a niche for yourself in your industry?

By remaining consistent with our brand promise, we have established and positioned ourselves as one of the leading shoemaking schools in Nigeria. We provide mentorship and internship opportunities, free accommodation during training, also our training facility, tools, and equipment is available to students who completed their training for one year.

Focusing on quality customer service and growing my team have been other direct avenues for growth. Giving back to my community and being socially responsible is another great way I grew my brand and showcased my business values. 

What’s been the most significant thing you’ve done to grow your business?

Networking is one of the most significant things I’ve done to grow my business, making the right partnerships, and knowing my business community. I took the time to network and built relationships that could potentially build my business because I knew that having a strong network could lead to new customers, partnerships, employees, and even investors. 

Leveraging social media was another significant step. Diving into social media seemed daunting at first because I thought I had to have experience with it to leverage social platforms, but it appears it’s as simple as opening a business profile and beginning to grow a community of customers and  establishing a consistent schedule my followers and customers could expect.

What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our community?

You can be anything and everything you set your mind to, with the right amount of ambition, commitment, dedication and of course, hard work you will do it.

First things first, you need to realize what that best version of yourself looks like so that you can figure out how you can take the next step o become that person. It is all about your mindset and reprogramming your mind for success. 

If you had to write a book, what would it be on what and why?

It would be on THE GUIDE TO EMPLOYMENT THROUGH HANDWORK.

The book would encourage women and youths in the communities, especially those who are denied access to education because of poverty, early marriages, and the patriarchal nature of the society, to establish a career in small and medium businesses to enable them to be financially independent and contribute to economic growth through handwork.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

To be a successful entrepreneur in my industry, one must be Creative, always looks at the big picture. Creativity and vision often lead to the invention and discovery of new things. One facet of creativity is being able to make connections between seemingly unrelated events or situations and one must also be willing to step outside their comfort zone for their ideas to come to fruition.

Another skill is being a strong communicator and a good listener. You simply cannot manage a great team or provide a great customer service if you are not an effective communicator. 

Perseverance is another great skill to be a successful entrepreneur. An entrepreneur must maintain optimism and perseverance. Remember that you only fail when you stop trying. Persistence is the key to success.

What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs to invest their time in?

I would recommend entrepreneurs invest their time in finding a Mentor: Despite challenging conditions, there are always experienced people with often decades of experience to impart. Consider their advice and do not be afraid to challenge opinion.

I would also recommend entrepreneurs invest their time in building strong, active networks.  These networks provide referrals, collaborations, and other opportunities. They offer morale support and positive influences.  I am a true believer in the adage, “Your network determines your net worth.”

Another recommendation is that they never ever stop learning.  Those that think they know it all when starting-up are in real trouble.  

Chika is currently on the High Growth Coaching Program to scale NCR Design Ltd to tackle youth unemployment on a large scale in Nigeria.

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