Emeka Ossai schooled in the University of Ibadan. Ossai believed that one of the problems of development in Nigeria then in 2012 was the stereotype that students could not study and own businesses at the same time. He felt that if students were involved in entrepreneurship early enough, it could help the development of the Nigerian economy in the long run. However, he was to face the problems of how to convince students that they could own businesses and have good academic grades, convince academic institutions that it was a workable project and lastly, figure out a sustainable system for the project.
Emeka Ossai started a company, Inceptum services in 2012 with the goal of building 1 million student entrepreneurs across African campuses by the year 2020. He started with Nigeria and he chose The University of Ibadan, a campus of familiar terrain as he had graduated from the same University 3 years earlier.
Ossai’s plan was to use The University of Ibadan as a test-run for his business plan in order to get sponsorship for expansion to other campuses. He pitched his idea to the Centre of Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the University but they were not receptive of his idea. Ossai was not deterred. He started out a programme called Wake up and Smell the Coffee (WSC) in the University of Ibadan also in 2012. WSC was a breakfast programme where success stories of African entrepreneurs were shared. The goal was to instil the passion for entrepreneurship in the students and motivate them to start businesses of their own. Ossai saw the big picture and he imagined a situation where entrepreneurship solved the bulk of the economic problems in Africa.
Months after the establishment of Inceptum services and the successful completion of the first WSC programme, Ossai started a project called Nigerian Campus Entreprise Challenge (NCEC). Ossai had secured a sponsorship from the world’s leading coffee brand, Nescafe. The plan with NCEC was to take the gospel of entrepreneurship a step forward. This time it was going beyond the success stories– he was giving students platforms to experience the practical aspect of Entrepreneurship – students were to be taken through rigorous practical tests on advertising, marketing, business operations and team play to determine worthy winners. The winning teams were then to be given a Nescafe branded shop where they would manage the business activities of selling coffee for a whole year. They would be given an initial start-up grant and the profit from the proceeds of the business throughout the year would be theirs. Just as he did with WSC, he used the University of Ibadan as a test run for the workability of the NCEC project.
The winning team from the test run of the NCEC project in University of Ibadan ran the shop for a whole year successfully. Despite the harsh business conditions the team was made to work under, they were able to gross revenue of close to one million naira. This was a huge success for the NCEC project – students who had no prior knowledge of anything in business were able to run one successfully for a year. This was a go-ahead for the project to expand to other campuses. Ossai expanded the NCEC project to two other campuses; The University of Benin and The University of Calabar. The project proved to be successful on the two chosen campuses.
Last year, 2015, Ossai decided to expand the reach of WSC. The programme was no longer to be exclusive to invited students but was now going to be free for all. Ossai’s target was 4,000 students. This time, he was not going to be sharing the stories of successful African entrepreneurs but the entrepreneurs were going to be present, sharing their experiences as entrepreneurs. Despite a change of venue a day before the event, the WSC programme recorded an attendance of over 2,000 African students. Speakers at the event were, Iyin Aboyeji, co-founder of Andela (recent host of Mark Zuckerberg in Nigeria);Chude Jideonwo, co-founder of Red Media Africa;Oluseun Onigbinde, Lead Partner, Budgit;Amaka Kentebe, founder, Scuup; Femi Kuti, founder, Talent Mine; Akpo Kentebe, CEO, Sod Bond Developments and a host of others. Marek Zmylowski, co-founder, Jovago was also billed to speak at the event but could not make it. The Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, University of Ibadan, that turned him down in 2012 were official partners at the event. Other partners were Microsoft and Nescafe.
Emeka Ossai has built a network of over a thousand campus entrepreneurs in Nigeria and he plans to extend this in subsequent years. He has, for 5 years, continued to mentor students in different areas of entrepreneurship.
I had to reel out the C.V of this Nigerian to drive one point home – The problem of Nigeria is neither the economy nor terrible leaders. The problem of Nigeria is not Buhari or the rising dollar, so stop complaining. The problem of Nigeria is you! You have refused to utilize the resources made available to you; you have chosen to be swept by the tides of change when the counter-current of innovation and change is ready to wash you to shore. The Nigerian youth is the future of Nigeria and the future of Nigeria is today. Education is not gotten from the classroom, it is sought after. Your lecturers have so little they can do. They are crippled by the leprosy of the system. It is left to you to take initiative. Take advantage of the resources at your disposal. Take advantage of entrepreneurship – the goldmine of the 21st century. There are willing mentors around to help budding ‘preneurs. Imagine a generation that could fend for themselves – they would be their own government and then the government would be useless. That should be the dream!