Oluwatoyin Egedi is a Civil Engineer by training but an entrepreneur by decision. She currently sits as the CEO of Rullion Capacity Builders Foundation – a social enterprise that seeks to empower women with skills to start profitable businesses right from home.
The vision for her is to use the vehicle of skill acquisition to ameliorate women’s capacity and enhance their chances for economic enrichment.
Why did you start a women empowerment center?
I started Rullion Capacity in 2014 – a women empowerment center from a personal encounter and insight into the need for women to be skilled and have the capacity to generate income as stay at home moms.
This center was born at a time when I also needed to be empowered – I had just had my third baby and the few job interviews I attended didn’t expressly say, but once they learned I was married and had children, the odds tilted away from me.
Later, I realized that in an employers’ eyes, a married woman with children meant more off days, more sick leaves, the bottom line, fewer work hours. Without getting any offers, I decided that rather than just sit at home idle, I would learn a skill. I settled for small chops and cocktails.
The program was very affordable as it was subsidized by the church and I was amazed at the number of women who attended the skill empowerment. With the knowledge, I garnered from working in the advertising industry before being a stay at home mum, in no time I was selling my finger foods at events and was making some income even though I was working from home.
Soon, I discovered that a lot of the other women who attended that program with me were not grounded in basic business skills and were waiting to get funds to rent a space before they start a business. Instantly, I knew this was an error, and thought about how I could change this.
I gathered a group of friends and with further discussions, we saw there was a need to change the mindset of so many women who think being a stay at home moms meant being without avenues to generate income.
We launched a skill acquisition program laced with business skills in financial literacy, customer service, brand management, legal aspects of business, marketing and sales.
Our first program was a flop as we were still quite unknown but we persisted and created more awareness. Using social media as a very strong marketing tool, we had more attendees.
So far, we have trained over 400 women who have largely gone on to start their small businesses and some who do not have the financial capacity to start, are currently employed until they can.
There are quite a number of women empowerment organizations, what makes yours stand out?
In striving for excellence in a sector where there are so many mushroom operators, in 2016, we became an accredited vocational center for Trade Test 1, 2 and 3 and NABTEB (National Business and Technical Examinations Board) exams which further qualifies our trainees to work anywhere in the world.
Last year, we observed that a critical challenge our trainees had was having access to capital to purchase equipment. This led us to seek and partner with MISS – Micro Investment Support Services (an equipment leasing company led by Mrs. Elizabeth Ehigiamusoe).
With this, our trainees can purchase equipment on loan of up to N500,000 over a tenor of 12 months with a very affordable interest rate.
Furthermore, we observed that though our students now had the equipment and technical know-how for business and already had products, a bigger challenge was getting ready buyers. The answer to this was The Women’s Entrepreneurship Fair (WEF) with the vision to connect our women to customers, investors and the government.
We had 2 editions last year with women-focused brands such as Access Bank Women banking, Molfix Diapers, Guardian Life, Nobel Carpet and rugs (Lush Hair), Cake World, Orijin Zero, Bella Naija, Fero Mobile, De-united Foods Limited, Cadbury, United Capital Limited, LSETF, among others throwing their weight behind the massively successful event.
A lot of our women are still reaping the dividends of those shopping exhibitions and we are looking forward to having more in the near future
What Challenges have you encountered on this journey?
Remember I mentioned I was thrown into this journey not of my own will but because of circumstances around me at the time. So it has not been a smooth journey but I’ve been determined as I currently enjoy what I do. Below are some challenges I faced:
1. Wrong Structure: We are a registered social enterprise with the CAC but without any formal educational background in the team, we struggled with the structure a bit before we found our footing.
Working with the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity’s trade test modules and syllabus likewise NABTEB’s has helped us put a proper structure in place
2. Getting skilled workers: This was difficult for the courses we offer at Rullion but we had to overcome. Courses such as Cosmetology ( hairdressing, nail fixing, makeup and gele tying, Fashion design and accessories, catering and hotel works, and so forth) but as trainers, we have embraced the importance of training and re-training.
Some people are of the opinion that if you train your staff, they’ll leave you and become competition. But what if you don’t train them and they stay? It comes back to hurt your brand and what you aim to achieve. Besides, collaboration is a new competition.
We can’t do all the work, so if our ex-staff leaves and sets up hers, that’s great as we then have a branch in that other location where we can refer willing trainees
3. InadequateFunding: We initially set out to offer our training programs at no fee at all but without a fund base, we couldn’t keep up with the standards we seek to deliver.
Therefore, we asked our trainees to pay a small fee which we use to cover the overheads of running our programs but even with that we still require help to bolster the training programs we deliver and further enrich our capacity as learning is quite dynamic.
We also offer small short-term loans to the women we train. We want to include an internship program to our curriculum which we believe will further help deepen the knowledge of our students. A deterrent for an internship is funding – employers are willing to take on interns but are not willing and/or ready to give them an allowance to cover even their transportation.
If we could access funds, we can do this and much more
4. Online access: We are based in Lagos, Nigeria. Though we’ve held training programs at Ogun State, Edo state and Rivers state, there is still a lot of work to do. With the explosion in the use of technology, it’s necessary and import to now migrate some of our training programs to online learning platforms and offer a Blended Learning curriculum.
If we can do this, we will have more reach. Funds have been the deterrent to properly execute this as we have inquiries from all over Nigeria which we cannot cover.
5. Partnerships: If only a lot of us embraced collaboration rather than competition, we can all do the work better and faster.
We have approached a number of organizations who are doing similar work in the women empowerment space to partner with us especially outside Lagos state so that more women are economically empowered and in the process, mitigate and eventually eradicate poverty but the response has not been so encouraging as financial gratification is a key factor for a lot of them.
Do you think Government involvement can help with the challenges?
Yes, of course. There is almost no business that does not depend on infrastructure from the government – power, water, roads, etc.
At the moment, there is no room for growth in the micro business space because the cost of setting up even such a business is so high. You consider things like accommodation (there’s no regulation – the landlords are the alpha and omega and decide whatever rent they want), power.
You have to purchase your own power generating plant because you can’t rely on government’s supply, transporting yourself from one location to the other to offer service to customers eventually becomes a chore with bad roads and many man-hours lost due to traffic gridlock!
If all the government can provide for us is an enabling work environment with a stable economy, I tell you, we aren’t a lazy bunch – we will really go far.
Do you think there’s room for more women empowerment centers?
Of course! It is not enough! Women are quite pivotal to the transformation of any nation’s economy- history has a lot to say about this. We at Rullion have carved a niche for ourselves by targeting women, who have a minimum education of O’Levels, are somewhat computer literate and can communicate in Basic English.
What about illiterate women who only speak pidgin or just their local dialect? How about younger girls in secondary school who need to embrace the culture of entrepreneurship even before they go on to higher institutions to study?
The jobs they target are all the top corporations like Dangote, Nestle, OandO which were all started by entrepreneurs.
We also have to think about those outside Lagos and in other states of the Federation. So, the answer is Yes! We need a lot more women empowerment centers.
The challenge I see however is how to ensure the quality of what is taught at these centers. Because we wanted a certain standard, we had to push ourselves to put in some structure and we keep updating that as we go along.
A lot of these centers have just one facilitator teaching 100 people per time and then you wonder what exactly the people are learning because they don’t go further to carry out any practical sessions and the next thing is a graphic designer/printer issues them certificates.
There needs to be a body that ensures that centers comply with a certain minimum standard.
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Dear Motherland Mogul, anyone who said starting a business is fun and easy told a fat lie and worst still, have never started a business.
One of the biggest hurdles an entrepreneur in Africa (or anywhere in the world) has to cross is the hurdle of financing their business. It’s the reason why many fabulous and potential million dollar ideas die every day or remain mere ideas.
Like it or not, money is everything in an entrepreneurs world. Without it, ideas are buried and passions are watered down while frustrations set in, making even the strongest of personalities call it quits and go back to their corporate jobs.
I’ve come up with 8 innovative ideas you can use to fund your startup without necessarily borrowing money. Depending on your situation and kind of business, you’ll find at least one or two you can apply immediately to get your business running.
1. Sell your valuables
Yes! You saw that right. If you’ve been struggling with acquiring funds to finance your startup and nothing seem to be working, maybe it’s time then to look inwards.
Search your house thoroughly for any valuable item that could fetch you a fortune when you sell…that gold wristwatch, expensive jewelry, MacBook, or iPod, whatever.
It’s time to let them go for the bigger stuff. If you aren’t ready to get rid of these precious items to make your ideas work, then it doesn’t matter what you say, you are not ready for business! Or better still, you are not convinced about your ideas.
Entrepreneurs are people that can give everything including their lives for something they believe in. That is one skill you need to survive in this overcrowded business space.
2. Dip into your savings
This is what your savings are meant for: to invest in opportunities and ideas that can transform your life and change your world. Your savings are not meant for spending, fixing urgent situations or paying debts.
You can have separate savings for that but primarily we save to invest. Just in case you don’t have any savings, you might want to take some time making some money at first. So try to get a job where you could work for some time and save before starting your business.
3. Your Rich Friends
What big money is to you is nothing to some of your rich friends. You know this is true. Instead of dying in silence and wondering if they will be willing to help you, swallow your ego, take the bold step and pitch your ideas to them.
You’ll never know if they’ll support you unless you ask. If one rich friend says no, walk up to another until all of them have said no and at that point, you know something else is wrong. Maybe something that has to do with your approach or the feasibility of your ideas.
Your friends should be willing to help you make your dreams come true especially when they can. After all, what are friends for?
4. Crowdfunding from family and close relatives
Crowdfunding is a good fundraising alternative for entrepreneurs. It involves raising a small amount of money from a large number of people. Crowdfunding can be done through online platforms.
The best people to start fundraising from are your family and relatives. You can start by listing down all those who can potentially fund you and write down how much you think they can conveniently donate.
Once you’ve located your potential donors, go reach out to them. Pitch your ideas so that they know what you’re capable of doing. For some other family members, you can ask to instead borrow money and then pay as your business yields profits.
5. Leverage on funding opportunities
Governments, NGOs and other private and public bodies are providing support to entrepreneurs all over Africa. Since more people are participating in entrepreneurship, these bodies come up with initiatives and CSR projects to provide financial support to budding entrepreneurs. Be sure to leverage these opportunities when they show up.
Other funding opportunities include idea-pitching events. For example, the upcoming SLA Accelerator gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to pitch their ideas. Then the top selected ideas get to win large sums of money, partnerships, and mentorship.
Such events provide you an opportunity to not just fund your business when you win, but also learn from your mistakes if you lose. In the end, it’s a win-win situation where you get to build on your ideas either way.
Regardless of the kind business you run, a partnership is a smart way of funding your startup. Strategic partnerships will not only afford you funds, but also help you leverage the experience, expertise, resources, and network of the other party.
Just make sure you go about it the right away and involve a legal personnel in all your dealings and agreements.
7. Microloans and peer-to-peer lending
While I always discourage small businesses from starting up with loans, at times, that might appear to be the wisest step to take. Microloans are small business loans offered by microlenders to help small or relatively new businesses finance their business.
As a new business, you might not qualify for a bank loan because of the collateral requirements and others. But with microloans, you can get your business started without acquiring too many debts or paying high-interest charges.
Similarly, peer-to-peer lending is a new debt financing method that provides a platform where lenders are connected to borrowers. You don’t need a financial institution for a p2p lending. The interest rates are also at an all-time low and less risky and safer than other methods.
8. Angel and seed investors
Angel/seed investors are wealthy and affluent individuals who provide a business startup with capital or funds usually for a convertible debt or ownership equity in return.
Most small business owners don’t buy into this idea of business funding. This is because it involves sharing their business ownership with another business even if it’s a small percentage. However, you will consider this option when you think of the bigger advantage, to you as an individual and to your business as an entity.
No amount of funds will cover up for your incompetence, ignorance or poor products and services. At the same time, nobody will be willing to invest their money in a business you’ve not invested adequate time and effort into.
Test your ideas. Hone your craft. Know your industry. Understand your target market. Study your competitors. Identify trends. Research. The goal isn’t 100% perfection but at least do so much background work that anybody will want to invest in your idea. Life is not a dress rehearsal, neither is running a business.
So before you go about looking for funds to finance your business. Ask yourself one very vital question? “Is your idea worth investing on?”
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