On Friday Tony Elumelu, the renowned business mogul would be meeting with the tech/start-up community at the Co-Creation Hub to listen (and maybe award grants) to three new start-ups. His foundation, Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) have been in partnership with Co-Creation hub since 2012, and are looking to award $5,000 pre-seed funding to 20 technology ideas/ventures, and give them a head-start in their endeavour. Apparently, they have already awarded grants to 7 ventures, of which my start-up, Tiketmobile is a beneficiary. For this, I am very grateful. Below is my TEF grant story.

Around July last year, I was at the NYSC camp at Wannune, Benue State. However, I had kick-started the process of building a company that lets people easily find and buy interstate bus tickets from the comfort of their mobile phone. So in camp, I was glued to my smart-phone most of the time, running my business and interacting with my co-founder. In the last week of the camp, he informed me of the good news that CcHub had selected us to pitch to TEF, with hopes that we would get a grant of $5,000. The good thing for me was that the pitch would hold 3 days after the camp closed, so I was excited.

After camp, I went to see my place of primary assignment, and the following day, I took the first Benue Link bus back to Lagos. The day after, I was at the Heirs Holdings building Ikoyi, pitching for the grant. Everyone who listened to us loved our proposition, not just because of the way Constance delivered his awesome pitch, but also because of the idea in itself. It was original and hadn’t been implemented by anyone in this clime before. Around September, we got the grant amidst excitements and high hopes.

The grant helped us in the following ways:

  • We ran a pilot program around our initial original offering of native Java ME app, which we ditched in favour of focusing on websites first, based on our discoveries. That was October to November 2012.
  • Between November and December 2012, we rebuilt and by January 2013 we released our official beta version to the public, amid press mentions in a lot of online and traditional media.
  • We ran a couple of campaigns, including conveying Batch-A NYSC campers directly to their camp ground, and grew a sizable number of customer-base.
  • We got the opportunity to get into partnership with some known online brands like Eskimi, and that further enhanced our brand’s credibility.
  • We also inspired two notable Tiketmobile clones, built by renowned internet entrepreneurs: Oya.com.ng by Chika Nwobi and Bus.com.ng by Jason Njoku. Both opened-up operations within the month of April 2013.

Then we ran out of money.

Right now, it appears the TEF grant has helped us get to the position where we used-up our personal savings, ran into personal debt and started running from pillar to post to fund our enterprise. Hence the running of Tiketmobile in itself started stalling.

Tiketmobile is not an NGO; if it were, we would have applied for more grants from other sources. I personally believe that it is unhealthy for profit-facing businesses to run on grants, it screws the mindset of the managers. Investments on the other hand, are opportunities for capitalists to be fully responsible for the effect/outcome of things they put their money into and cash-in on the results.

Many people probably already know that enterprises that succeed have a healthy cash flow in their early years, recording some losses, while building the customer-base which they would eventually cash-in on. This is evident in the history of traditional businesses and internet giants, like Google and Facebook. Also, history has shown us that most innovators aren’t the ones who finance their innovations to commercial profitability. Hence these initial costs are usually monies injected into the business by third-parties – by investors.

This is why I am calling on Mr Tony Elumelu sir, to go all the way, take it a step further by actually investing in the businesses your grants have helped raise. As good as $5,000 grant is to a business in the beginning, it eventually runs out and those businesses would need fresh injection of funds to get them to profitability, which are what capitalists are there for. I believe that the “Africapitalism” movement which you stand for is not just a buzzword, because I myself am a proponent of capitalism.

The success of technology start-up ventures, like Tiketmobile and a couple of others might be hugely dependent on the bold steps which people like you have taken in the past, and the ones which they would take in the future. If the latter is omitted, we would be stuck at the point where we have a lot of sensationally good start-ups, whose only existence would be a struggle of trying to find the best way to make headway.

I would close this note with a tweet from Tayo Oviosu, founder and CEO of Paga, which summarises my humble request.

This post first appeared on Celestine’s blog.

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