Pastor Oluwashola Jesuseitan is the founder and promoter of
Business Owners Forum Enterprise (BOFE),
with the aim of helping business owners to overcome their challenges
What informed your starting the Business Owners Forum Enterprise?
There are two basic reasons why Business Owner Forum Enterprise (BOFE) was set up. In my interactions with bankers and top bank executives, I have come to discover that in most cases, what many business owners in Nigeria, who approach the bank for funding need, is not money as they claim. The person probably does not know how to run his business and how to scale. If as an entrepreneur you do not know how to scale, then the bank is not interested in such business. I realized that what a lot of businesses lack is capacity, BOFE was set up to fill that capacity gap. We run seminars, we do networking events so that people can get to know the experiences of other people who have thrived in the businesses they want to venture into.
The second reason why BOFE was set up is that it is a call to help businesses grow. The more businesses grow the more they employ people. The more people are employed, the more the issue of crime is reduced.
How did it all begin?
I am a pastor in my church and one day, I just decided to call business owners together, hear their challenges and pray for them. That was how it started. I later traveled to Germany and was in my hotel room one morning then it dropped in my mind that I can do what I was doing better. That was how it began.
Our first inaugural meeting was three years ago. As soon as I returned, out of the lot in my church, I selected like five people who were core executives. We strategized and gave it the name Business Owners Fellowship. We had our first meet and invited a brand strategist from Coca cola with many years of experience. In that meeting, he stressed on the importance of brand strategies in the market place.
During our program last year, someone advised us to enlarge it and replace fellowship with forum. That was how we changed it to Business Owners Forum Enterprise which we now used to register.
What is the focus of the forum this year?
One of the discoveries that have been made is that by the year 2020, those between the ages of 18-40years in West Africa will be over one billion. This means that the number of those in the middle class will increase and those with the purchasing power to buy goods and services will also increase. For the manufacturer, it is an opportunity to scale up and deliver on both quality and quantity in good time. This means the African market will increase tremendously and manufacturers who will properly position themselves for this period will reap bountifully because more money will be in circulation to buy goods.
The focus this year which is born out of the report about the demography of West Africa is “Ready for Export products”. Last year, we felt that we needed to add something new to what we do so that it would not just be the usual seminars which we do always. Hence, we started the trade fair. Even though the turnout was very poor because only about five people came, but we were happy because for us, it was a good start. This year, the exhibition is only for exportable products. If more people think of export, it means they will get dollars for what they are exporting. This means we are in a way solving the export challenge in the country. We want to sensitize people by telling them that if they can package their products properly, they can sell better abroad than they do in Nigeria and others who are already abroad.
Let us look at the issue of government support to SMEs. How much of government support gets to SMEs?
I honestly fund BOFE myself with no support from any arm of government whatsoever. Last year, we were only able to get products from all my corporate clients that I spoke to. It was just the products we gave to those who came. Nobody gave me a dime.
How were you able to source the funds?
Remember that I earlier told you that this thing is a call so it never gave me headache. I put in the little funds I am able to generate personally so that we achieve what we are able to.
What is the focus of the exhibition?
We want to sensitize the people that even the products that you have, you may not have paid so much attention to it but you can package it for export. The truth is that when people see products that they can make being exported abroad, it awakens their consciousness that they too can take the product abroad.
Can you compare the turn out for the first edition to what you expect this year?
Last year, by the time we came to terms with the amount people will pay, it was already close to the event. However, by the time this same people who had shown so much enthusiasm about the exhibition, started hearing the amount each exhibitor needed to pay, they started withdrawing.
How much was each exhibitor supposed to pay for a 2-day exhibition?
Each person was to pay N10,000. One of the lessons I learnt from the experience is that even though entrepreneurs want something that will give them value for money, they most likely do not want to pay for it.
If you get support, how cheap can the exhibition get?
If we get support, it can come as low as two thousand naira for two days. The truth is that we are not looking to make profit from it. What we are after is helping businesses to scale up and break into the international market.
What is that unique thing this exhibition will be bringing to its clients which include those who will bring their products for exhibition?
Over time, I have come to realize that once you add value to what you do, you will beat the competition. Last year, part of the benefits for exhibitors is that they would be featured on that Television station. We are already packaging something so that people can be able to advertise their products on a Television station.
This year, we are trying to cater to so many needs at the same time. For instance, someone has a product he does not even know how to export. We are bringing people from Nigerian Export Promotion Council. We want to bring someone who can train people on how to export better so that these people know the theoretical part of it. We are bringing one or two people who are exporters who will come to bridge the wide gap that exist between theory and practice. NAFDAC is also coming to talk about regulation. This is aimed at making people have a wider knowledge.
Where will the Exhibition hold?
The exhibition will take place in Akute. The reason why I chose Akute is because it is where I live. I also want to correct the notion that nothing good can come out of Akute despite the fact that we lack government presence here. We want people to know that the fact that the come from this area where it seems the government has rejected, does not mean that their thinking should be local. We want people to think global.