The story behind Startup Kano’s Women Founders Conference

Being a woman entrepreneur in Northern Nigeria is hard @StartupKano wants to change that Click To Tweet

I started my journey six years ago, I was 17 and it was hard because I just graduated from college. Every girl’s dream at that age is totally different, but nobody understood what I wanted to do. Yet I knew what I wanted and I have never given up.

As years passed, things became even more complicated than I would have imagined, and the challenges came too. One thing that helped me was that I’m a business oriented person so I easily became a serial entrepreneur, diversifying my skills and business ventures. With the little resources I received, I made sure to give back and have helped countless women. From donations to little startup capitals, I’ve worked for free at women-focused NGOs, I have mentored girls, I did community work, and many other things that I can’t even recall because I wasn’t keeping records.

Finding my team

In 2015, I decided to start blogging and took my project to social media because I wanted reach more people. I wrote articles to encourage and motivate women, I gave out business ideas, free consultations, online mentoring, and more. That same year I finally met my team. We founded StartUp Kano, an organization aimed towards creating an ecosystem for creative and innovative entrepreneurs.

Ahmad Bature and Abdulbasid Kabir are Google Developers. Ahmad Idris is the founder of Code Pyramid and thenortherner; Maryam Gwadabe is founder of Blue Hub, Blue Sapphire E-Solutions ICT and Business School. Then Maimuna Abubakar Anka, C.E.O Malaabis by Maimz is a fashion designer.

They were tech people and entrepreneurs and I was an entrepreneur, now running my advertising company! Yet, we had the same mindset, mission, and dedication. We decided to create a special avenue for women under StartUp Kano. That was how we came up with the Women Founder’s Group, a platform for creative and innovative tech and non-tech women entrepreneurs.

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Launching the Women Founders Conference

The Women Founders Conference is an annual event organized by The Women Founders Group for women in business, budding entrepreneurs, and start-ups. We choose this name because we needed “founders”, successful women from different fields, to come together to help raise and mentor younger women.

@StartupKano needed successful women to come together to help mentor younger women Click To Tweet

We wanted to make these women a family, we wanted them to feel included, and speak up, we wanted them to connect and network. Most importantly, we wanted them to support and stand by each other while we help them with the necessary resources and guides.

The conference is a gathering exclusively attended and curated by women with the aim to bring together bright minds to deliver talks that are idea motivated and on a wide range of subjects, to foster learning, inspiration and to provoke conversations that matter among women entrepreneurs in our ecosystem. This is an opportunity for them to be among top business women, customers and decisions makers. We brought women whose efforts and impact through their brands and services over the years demonstrated business excellence and the highest standards of ethical conduct, integrity, civic and social responsibility.

The first of its kind in Northern Nigeria

The conference is the first event we hosted and it took us 6 months of planning and hard work being the first of its kind in the North.

Northern Nigeria has been left behind in different aspects of contemporary developments and women in this respect suffer the most. My team and I realized that out of ten women in the North, eight are entrepreneurs and most of them are at the grassroots level. Looking at the international standard and practices we decided to start something that will give these women the necessary tools to compete with their counterparts worldwide.

@StartupKano found that 8 out of 10 women in Northern Nigeria are entrepreneurs Click To Tweet

We brought together bright minds in education, industries and corporate organizations who gave expert talks. We had counselling sessions with budding and aspiring entrepreneurs so as to help them harness their skills and talents and also to equip them with necessary tools to maximize their potentials.

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The Women Founders Conference 2016 was lit!

During the maiden Women Founders Conference in 2016 we had the likes of Engr. Hauwa Muhammad Sadique, the first Northern president of The Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria as the key-note speaker. Maryam Lawan Gwadabe, an Msc holder in Network Management from Middlesex University Dubai made a presentation and demonstrated on digital skills. Hajiya (Dr) Hadiza Nuhu Yusuf talked on leadership skills with the aim to encourage women’s participation in leadership. We also had Hajia Aisha Maijamaa who is a politician among others.

We hosted over 200 women, both entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs. Being a woman founder in the North is very hard. The challenges and risks, the culture and society are all factors that only a dedicated and brave woman can scale through. This is why we decided to bring older, established women to sit with the younger ones and inspire them.

We believe that they have been through it all, they know the risks and challenges so they are the right people to advice other women. We also believe that if we continue with this project, we would be able to bring together women, make a great impact and give them room and opportunity to achieve their dreams.

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Aysha Tofa: No business idea scares me

aysha tofa

Aysha Tofa is a 24-year-old entrepreneur who is not afraid to try her hands on several, diverse business ideas.  She discovered her passion for business as a young girl in college and even now, is an inspiration to many young women in Northern Nigeria, where she resides. Aysha shares with SLA her experience and the driving force behind her entrepreneurship.

How did you become an entrepreneur?

My first brush with the business world was in my 3rd year in college. I often bought clothes to sell to other students and my friends. However, my biggest and scariest opportunity was when a friend was getting married. I had assured her I could supply 400 pieces of fabric for family and friends even though I had no idea how. Fortunately, things panned out; I made good of my word and some good money too.

That first big opportunity opened up more business doors as I invested the profit in other ventures. At the time I was done with school, I was already a known name -an entrepreneur in her own right!

You are an entrepreneur involved in a lot of things.  Tell us about them.

Yes, I am involved in a lot of businesses. My scope covers just about everything – textiles, traditional caps, electronics, properties, food, fashion, etc. I also own an advertising company called Waves Advertising Limited.

I am, in fact what they call a hustler in the Nigerian parlance. I believe that for any business idea, no matter how novel, a detailed research would tell me exactly what to do.

Away from business now, we understand you had a project called Pink Waves. Tell us about it.

Pink Waves was another of my many projects. Our focus was on creating awareness on the cancer scourge, starting with northern Nigeria. Twice, we were on Voice Of America’s radio show, Yau da Gobe, to discuss the project. We reached out to influential people,  government agencies and organizations soliciting support and sponsorship, but that never came through. It was a good project but sadly, it had to be put on hold.

How are you inspired?

I have a solid support system. My parents believe in me and that alone keeps me going. I want to keep making them proud.

How do you keep yourself going as an entrepreneur?

I read books on both successful and failed businesses. Through them, I have learned and mastered the act of taking risks. For someone who has tried her hands on many things, I believe failure in business can be a learning curve.

The entrepreneurial route can be tough, but I try to be as focused and patient as possible.

What is the business climate like in Northern Nigeria where you live? Are there challenges? How are you overcoming them?

Around here, people are more amenable if you are able to convince them of a product’s usefulness. But of course, a prevalent preference for quantity over quality negatively affects sales.

Also, due to religious and cultural beliefs, there’s the erroneous belief that successful women tend to be arrogant and may never find husbands.  Notwithstanding, I never let these things stop me from reaching my dreams. I believe an empowered woman is not only a gift to her family but the society at large.

What is your driving force?

Through my various ventures, I want to inspire other women to reach heights they never thought possible.  The ultimate  goal is to add value to my society and I am taking it, one day at a time.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here