Ventures Woman is on a journey to highlight women in business and professionals who are impacting Africa. We want to inspire women from all walks of life whether their passion is in fashion, technology, or becoming a social entrepreneur. We hope through these narratives African women will be able to find their own voice to become whoever they want to be. Our first interview is with Alsu Odemwingie a tenacious woman who started StartUpSity, a business ecosystem in South Africa and now has spread all over Africa. She started her business at the age of 18 and has helped thousands of businesses flourish on the African continent. Want to get solid business advice? Read more for the exclusive interview.
VA : Can you tell our readers about your company StartUpSity and when the company was launched?
Alsu: StartUpSity’s roots started when I was 18 years of age. I came back into Nigeria with my family, holding a diploma from Russia in Software Management and found myself just like many other Graduates at the time not being able to find a job. Instead of sitting and moping about not finding a job I created one for myself. I started by developing concepts of businesses I could start myself and ended up selling them. StartUpSity was fully registered in 2008, but prior to that I first lunched A&Ace a HR Management company.
Startupsity is built as a sister company solving the issues of mass unemployment and complementing the services of A&Ace. A&Ace is still operating and doing well. StartUpSity is a Business Incubator and Business Management Training Centre. We have 53,000 hits monthly from our service subscribers. It takes in individuals and their business Ideas converts it into a structured entity and launches them into the market.
VA: What influenced you to start your company?
Alsu: What influenced me to launch StartUpSity was the fact that many students and adults were trapped in the ever changing business environment. This caused us to develop our platform to support the transition from student hood into employment, and employment into business as an alternative to making more income without losing their daily bread.
The business world of Africa is stagnant because many presume trading to be business, rather than being informed that trading is a part of business not the business itself. A sugar cane seller is a tradesman while a sugar producer is a business man! If u are producing you are a business man, if you are selling you are a tradesman.
This revelation may come in as a huge surprise to many but the only way in Africa we will be able to lift up is when we accept that apart from consuming we have to produce in order to rid ourselves from economical slavery.
VA: What companies have you worked with since you launched StartUpSity?
Alsu: They are numerous ranging from Telecoms, Oil&Gas, Architectural, Interior and Engineering company, as well as Legal, IT, & Automobile. To name a few Airtel, MIS, Space Concepts, CPMS, Channels TV. We work with local and foreign companies bring about a wholesome business solution.
VA: How is your business model unique to Africa
Alsu: Our business model: we manufacture businesses, train all its participants, provide them with their start-up needs and lunch them into sites that need jobs. We operate online and on-site, communicate through face to face, sms, BBM’s, Email. We are hands on and don’t discriminate on pocket size. We are builders and that implies we are accommodating! Going as far as helping rural areas and minority groups. We are not an NGO, but we do have CSR outreach programs.
CHIKA UWAZIE : Who is your role model?
Alsu Odemwingie: Me? this would sound a bit arrogant, but I belong to a generation that lacks role models and humbly aim to inspire youth and women to believe in themselves. I sure do have people I admire Mandela, Steve Jobs, and of course there is my kid brother Osaze Odemwingie, who I am very proud of and he gives me strength looking at how far he has soared as a professional regardless of obstacles.
VA: Can you tell us about your experience on the Dragons Den show?
Alsu: I went into the Dragons Den Show with several aim’s, first of which was to try and see if I can stand in front of established business men and sell myself first and my dream.It’s easy to presume you and your business is great when your family cheers you on, but when you put yourself in the hands of strangers you are in for scrutiny and develop and objective view to your business and self image. I considered it my graduation exam in business. Very few people realize how important acknowledgement means and how far it can push someone!
Second it’s a test of wits, and a test to perceptions of people towards your person or what they presume to know about you. Many think that I didn’t need the money that I was asking for but finance is only a physical representation of partnerships. I went to look for partners so I refocused from the money. That’s what I think got me the best of partners in the face of Chris Parks and John Momoh. Money is only 1/10th of what a business needs and there are still many more partners that will join StartUpSity.
VA : As a woman in business what are the challenges you face?
Alsu : I would be lying if I said I don’t have challenges but its got nothing to do with me being a woman. More so I would say because I am a woman I am more likely to be trusted and people open up easier. What I find to be of an irritating issue is the image that many Nigerians and Africans like me go through in defusing the lack of trust created by certain groups of individuals. I refrain from judging their reasons behind their actions, but they certainly aren’t helping others who in small drops to put out the potential of Africa and by Africans.
We almost love to oppress ourselves. People don’t go for a good business because they are struggling from lack of faith in others, and being open enough to accept them and in return do that to the dreams of others.
If I don’t believe in others how can I expect others to believe in me? It’s a self and socially defeating attitude that we need to eradicate before anything can start flowing. We are more likely to open our wallets to foreigners; yes they will give us what we want. But in return we have rubbed our own brother of an opportunity to make a living! We are all interlinked, it’s only a matter of time when our own negativity comes back as a boomerang.
VA: How do you see women influencing business in Africa?
Alsu: I am sure this will come out as a low blow to men. But the life of a woman is all about business. She keeps, she produces, she embraces. As women we were given the body and mind of producers. Men on the other hand are designers. They like to dream, we like to bring them back to reality. (Laughs)
Women spice up things, we add flavor, colors to the structures men build. The business world needs women, it’s fun so long as we are ready to play the game. The reason women get rattled by the pressures of the business world is because we become so serious that it’s easy to get dragged down by the pettiness of situations. Because women have been graded to having no business skills we become easily irritable and lose focus. Your competition be it a man or a woman will trivialize your efforts to distract you.
VA: What are the future plans for StartUpSity?
Alsu : Integrating 400,000 individuals into business. Youth, Women and the physically disabled! Inserting 3000 incubated business into regions needing jobs. We are currently registered in the UK, SA and Nigeria. We aim to be in countries willing to share our joy in eradicating poverty in Africa.
VA: For young women that wants to start a business what advice would you give them ?
Alsu: Never start a business alone. You can trade alone, but not do business alone. Fear is a subjective feeling. Your partners should only be of like minded goal achievers not character similarities. Values, interests should align, skills must differ. Remembering that there are 10ways to skin a cat, everyone’s approach must be different, and this gives your business advantage over change.
Money doesn’t solve management issues. More often it kills collaboration “creativity”. A business must be busy to be profitable, have 5 service lines, 6 product lines and control with a process, positioning your strategy with what comes after the other, stage steps that your client needs to follow.
Never be afraid to be called crazy “a man was called nuts for wanting to fly like a bird, today you are on a plane” don’t lose reality when implementing, but keep the dream that leads you to reality.
Last advice, come to StartUpSity nothing better than us!