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‘With startups Africa, we want to unleash the power of African female entrepreneurs’

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Felix King


An entrepreneur and philanthropist of note, Dr Felix King Eiremiokhae is the founder of Felix King Foundation, a non-profit organisation that gives hope to poor and vulnerable widows and their children in communities across Nigeria. At the fall of 2018, the foundation launched Goal 36,000 Women By 2029, which aims to empower 36,000 women in Africa in 10 years window. In line with this vision, the foundation recently unveiled Startups Africa initiative that supports young African female start-up entrepreneurs with seed funding of up to $10,000. The project will also provide mentorship and training opportunities for participants with support from the Trinity International University of Ambassadors (TIUA) School of Business, Georgia, USA.In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, Felix King, who is also the CEO of Oracle Experience, spoke on the Startups Africa initiative and the forthcoming conference, which holds on March 27, 2020, at the Balmoral Convention Centre, Federal Palace Hotel & Casino, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Your foundation has been in the forefront of providing support for women, especially widows, how far have you gone with that vision?
We have done so much in the area of supporting widows and trying to impact their lives. Recently, we launched the Goal 36,000 by 2026, which is a 10-year roadmap. We are trying to see what we can do in the next 10 years in supporting women around us.

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You recently launched the Startups Africa Initiative for female entrepreneurs, what inform your decision?
We came up with Startups Africa because the issue we’ve always had is, most of the time we go out there, people usually ask, ‘These are widows, what about the people that are not widows?’ For me, the reason why we have so much vulnerability with widowhood is because most women at their earlier stage are not empowered to stand on their own. Most of them don’t have what they are doing, which makes widowhood to be very challenging when they get to that phase. So, we’ve decided to expand the scope to also include women generally, especially the younger ones.

We discovered that women in general face exactly the same problem. In this environment, women work twice as hard to succeed and the role of women in the community is so critical because they are like the foundation to the stability of the community. That is why you discover that when you go to some communities, if a child goes to school or not, sometimes the man doesn’t really care; but the woman will never abandon her child. So, if you want the community to be peaceful and you want to enhance bonding in the community, you want progress, the woman tend to be the custodian of making this happen better. However, they are the most disadvantaged in the community; that’s why we decided to come up with the Startups Africa platform for female entrepreneurs. The idea is for people that have ideas to do things for themselves, but they just need that little support for them to get it started, or people who have started, but they need that support for them to be able to scale up what they are doing, should get support. That’s what the Startups Africa is all about.

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In this environment, startups are mostly young people. How do you intend to handle this category of people, do you have age bracket?
We are looking at people from 15 to 50 years; there are projections that have been made already. One projection was that by 2021, the world would be putting touch light to the continent of Africa because of the huge potential that exists. And there was another report that came that globally; $12 trillion is what women could possibly contribute to the GDP by 2025, and Africa has a huge chunk of that contribution to make. The opportunities are there; we have the land that is so fertile, but the support is not there. So, the Startups Africa is coming as a support system to help these women be part of that revolution because, everybody is beginning to believe that the future actually is women.

Beyond giving cash, what format is this particular support going to take?
Money is very important, but when you run a programme like this, it goes beyond money. There are a lot of people that want to do things, but they don’t know how to go about it. So, this programme is going to be providing opportunities for training, mentorship, exposure, and networking. The platform is going to bring a lot of women together. So, we’re going to be having people, who are going to be organising training; we are partnering with Trinity International University of Ambassadors (TIUA) in the US. They’re going to be on ground to help train these women on different aspects of business, personal branding, how they can set up their businesses and grow it.

There are people that have some great ideas; all they are just looking for is for somebody to discover that idea, which is lacking. There are some people, who have already started doing some business, but there are some people just have idea, but they don’t know what to do with the idea. So, we are going to be bringing experts to sit down and listen to these ideas. So, you might not necessarily get grant at the programme, but an investor, who is sitting down there, who listens to the idea, might like the idea and decide to invest in it. There are some people, who just want to sit down and learn how to organise their business.

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Could you share more details about the forthcoming Startups Africa Conference?
Startups Africa Conference is a 2-day business conference with the aim of bringing together 500 female African startup entrepreneurs, world-class mentors, business experts, investors, government leaders and the media to support and encourage female-led businesses. The theme of the conference is Unleashing the Power of Female Entrepreneurs. One of the objectives of this programme is to facilitate the growth and success of women-led businesses by providing them with pitching, training, mentorship and networking opportunities.

The conference is designed to unite female startup entrepreneurs in all stages of business development, exposing them to topics and subject areas in branding and marketing; networking and business strategy as well as organisational structure and access to market. Participants will acquire new knowledge on actionable strategies to build and grow world-class businesses. The event will feature a keynote address, top-tier speakers, masterclasses, expert discussions and business-pitching sessions where the winners with revolutionary ideas will win up to $10,000 in seed funding investment. The pitching session, which will be a live demo, will be business styled reality event and produced for television in front of live audience, judges, investors and media.

What format will the conference take?
Day one is going to be the conference. Currently, registration is already in process; people have been sending in their proposals and business ideas. In fact, we have more than 2000 applicants, who have already put their business ideas into the portal. For the conference, we are going to have keynote speakers. We’re going to have other speakers for the day one, and then the Day Two will be the demo itself, that’s the pitching process. We are also going to have the masterclass for both day one and two.

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We are going to move into the demo, where the lucky people are going to be pitching, then we are going to move down to 100, from where we scale down to those, who will be going for the live presentation before the judges, investors, the media to sell their ideas. The beauty there is that some people whose ideas are so great can get up to $10,000 to support their ideas and the minimum people can get will be $5,000.

Where is the fund coming from?
The fund will be coming from the foundation; this entire programme is an initiative of Felix King Foundation. So, it’s of what the foundation has been doing.

As a female entrepreneur, what do you need to qualify for this funding?
What you need is a very simple thing; you just go to the website and register your business idea. But the business must be in female funded or female led organisation or team. Once you do that, then you submit a business proposal, then it goes right to the portal, then to the jury. The jury look at all business proposals sent in; they have different criteria, but one of the most important criteria in selecting the ideas is an idea that has the potential that at least employs one more woman. So, if your business is about you, then there’s no growth; women must help themselves. So, your idea must be good enough that when you start-up, you must be able to engage at least one woman to work with you. Those are some of the criteria they’re going to be looking at.

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Entrepreneurship is one thing that is missing in our educational system, how do you intend to use this platform to remedy that?
That’s the essence of collaborating with TIUA School of Business; it’s for them to come and have a full session with people who don’t even know how to go about their ideas. Right now in Nigeria, everybody just want to do something for himself/herself because there is no employment. People just want to do something, but they don’t know how to go about it. So, for the first time, we are only having that platform for startups, where we have people, who are going to teach them and show them the process of starting a business.

Beyond this event, what happens to the participants after?
That is the essence of our collaboration with the school. So, the school is going to open an online platform for the attendees to get online classes and certification at the end of the period of time; it’s free. For the winners, the disbursement format is a little different; it’s broken into three different steps. So, the first step is the startup where the winner gets $4,000 to go and start, step two is the incubation period. We will see what you’ve done, then we’ll move to step two. Then, the balance the remaining 30 per cent goes to the winner at the launch stage. Because of my experience as an entrepreneur, I understand how the system works.

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