At the second matriculation of Ritman University on Friday 16th June, 2017, Engr. Samuel Inyang, CEO of construction firm Seyang Ltd and Aqwacoco Enterprises shared business insights with the university community in his lecture. Excerpts…
I have been a practitioner of entrepreneurship for many years, starting at a young age, under tutelage, in the mid-seventies. I am currently leading two successful organizations, Seyang Limited and Aqwacoco Enterprises, both of which I co-founded. In between this period, there were other economic ventures, most successful, but there was one notable failure. From all of them, there have been helpful lessons that many aspiring entrepreneurs can certainly benefit from.
In my opinion, Ritman University is unique. Here, the competition in academics and entrepreneurship is destined to be fair and great. This young but fast-growing university with students at the most receptive ages of 16 to 21 is bound to yield great fruits tomorrow for Nigeria and the world. Akwa Ibom State, with its fast-growing modern infrastructure and economy, provides the most appropriate location for incubating the business men and women of tomorrow. Though today, the active courses are Natural/Applied Sciences, Social/Management Sciences and Humanities; Agriculture, Engineering and Medicine will follow soon. Skills development and entrepreneurship is applicable and relevant to all courses, now and in the future. I congratulate Ritman University proprietors for their well thought out educational and business model.
An Entrepreneur, from an economist’s perspective, is a person who matures a business idea by pulling together professional capacities, with humans, materials, financial resources and employing good management capabilities to obtain products or services which have value greater than what was there previously. Products or services may not be new or unique but value must be infused into them. Prerequisites for success include passion, devotion of time, relevant technical and managerial expertise as well as acceptance of risk of failure.
According to the 19th Century French economist, Jean Baptiste Say, an entrepreneur is “one who undertakes an enterprise, especially as a contractor acting as intermediary between capital and labour”. However, a more embracing definition was given by Pickle and Abrahamson (1990) that “an entrepreneur is one who organizes and manages a business undertaking, assuming the risk for the sake of profit. The entrepreneur evaluates perceived opportunities and strives to make the decisions that will enable the firm to realize sustained growth”. Let us work with this definition.
Identifying Business Opportunities
There are 5 key steps that concern a potential entrepreneur’s journey to success.
1. Identify the product or service with clarity on benefits (to self and potential users) and differentiation from other products and services in the market. Again, remember that products or services of interest may not be new or unique but that value must be infused into them.
First time business ventures may need to take incremental steps and gain confidence by doing or work to gain experience from others.
2. Understand the market, customers and competition, and the technology that will help or mar the venture. Find out where competitors fail to satisfy the customers.
3. Detail out the finances and sources which include start-up capital and operating costs. Then evaluate how long it will take to achieve positive cash flow and profit.
4. Put a team of human resources with requisite skills and experience for the venture and find ways to fill any gaps. Develop the processes that will aid start-up and sustenance of the venture.
5. Then get started, advertise the business and work out ways to fill any gaps from items 1-4 above. Test the market for new products and services.
My Entrepreneurship Experience
I started young, helping my relatively young but enterprising widowed mother to enhance her business models. This is what I term my entry point into entrepreneurship.
a. Small Scale Enterprise 1: We saw the business opportunity in fast, large volume, low margin wholesale trade in preference to retail trade in Ikot Ekpene. At that time, wholesale trading was practised mainly in Aba and Onitsha. We traded in agricultural inputs (e.g animal feeds and fertilizers) as well as foods and drinks.
b. Small Scale Enterprise 2: Thereafter, we extended our business focus to construction of low-cost buildings and bulk sales of building materials. Particularly attractive was band saw milling of timber and wood to provide feedstock for the smaller circular saw mills that were prevalent in Ikot Ekpene timber markets. Our entities were indeed the first movers in this line of businesses.
c. Medium Scale Enterprise: Then we made a major step into civil engineering construction (mainly roads and highways) and we gained considerable acceptance by major clients to the point that we are currently within the top level of road construction contractors in Akwa Ibom State. The company currently employs over 230 staff and therefore adds great value to the economy.
d. Large Scale Enterprise: Encouraged by previous successes, we stepped up into higher technology joint venture arrangement to manufacture electric transformers. This new business was a technical success but a marketing failure. We failed to fully recognize the pervasive influence and understand the full effects of government, the then only consumers of the products. We could not get sufficient market share so as to stay in the business. Government and its parastatals has remained the only customer in this sector.
e. The latest business venture in our portfolio is in the agriculture sector. The business, when fully mature in another one year, will cover the full value chain from cocoa farming to the manufacture of final products such as chocolates, beverages, liquor etc.
The venture has already matured to the point of transplanting of the 65,000 seedlings to 50 Ha of farmland and work is ongoing in this year 2017 planting season. Total farm size is 170Ha.
Since the NUC has made some focus on entrepreneurship a requirement in universities, I suggest students should form an active Entrepreneurs Development Club and invite practitioners, business leaders and policy makers in government to make presentations. Fortunately, the key policy thrust of Akwa Ibom State Government is to grow the economy supported by good infrastructure development. These are good catalysts to entrepreneurship development. So with great passion from you undergraduates, I will not be surprised to see you develop into key commerce and industry players of the future.