Interview: Udoka Ozurumba’s Journey to Reducing Business Mortality in Nigeria Through Connect Skills

Udoka Ozurumba of Connect Skills

In 2019, Nigeria ranked 146 out of 190 countries on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index.

Although this improved in 2020, with the country moving up 15 places and ranking 131, a lot of entrepreneurs still grapple with the realities of doing business in Nigeria. 

From access to funds and resources to the availability of basic infrastructure needed for a business to run smoothly, doing business in Nigeria is a case of survival of the fittest.

This reality is what challenged Udoka Ozurumba to take the big step of quitting his well-paying bank job to set up Connect Skills and Venture Capital, a platform that’s providing solutions to the pain points of entrepreneurs in Nigeria.

In this interview with Founders Africa, he takes into the journey so far and how he’s using Connect Skills to improve business mortality.

Tell us a little about yourself

Udoka is a Serial Entrepreneur, Business Development Service Provider, accredited management consultant and trainer, economist, business strategist and investment advisor with rich knowledge about the Nigerian business ecosystem.

He has over 10 years of banking career before voluntarily resigning from Skye bank to establish Connect Skills which is a Business Solutions Hub dedicated to helping entrepreneurs professionally start, grow and scale their businesses.

As the coordinator of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria Center for Entrepreneurial Development, consultant for many Business Membership Organizations and mentor with several national and international organizations including Cherie Blair Foundation, Fate Foundation, Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, VC4A-MakeIT Africa etc. Udoka has contributed immensely to the growth of the Nigerian Business Ecosystem.

Tell us about Connect Skills and the solutions you provide

Connect Skills is Nigeria’s Business Solutions and Collaborations platform established to solve the problem of unemployment as well as the pain points of entrepreneurs and businesses by providing training and resources for them.

The solutions we offer are as follows:

– Toolkits that move entrepreneurs from Idea to Startup.

– The venture Management offering offers salary earners the opportunity to professionally scale their side hustles profitably.

– Comprehensive training offering covering Training Needs Assessment, Curriculum Development, Facilitation, Trainers outsourcing etc. suitable for incubators, accelerators, corporates etc.

– For those that need funding to scale their businesses, we help them source for equity or debt funding.

– Research & Business Development covering Business Plan, Data Generation etc.

– SME Events such as the Business Funding and Acceleration Summit (#BFASNG) and Manufacturers Distribution and Supply Chain Summit (#MDSSNG).

– Handholding Service to help businesses solve their pain points.

What inspired the idea for it?

A strong personal conviction that developing the MSME sector is the answer to the high rate of unemployment and high business mortality rate in Nigeria led me to sacrificing my well paying banking job to bring hope to the over 20 million unemployed Nigerians and over 80% of Nigeria’s 45 million MSMEs that risk failure within 5 years of starting businesses.

How has the response been from entrepreneurs and skilled freelancers since launch?

Generally I would say we constantly add value to them and they love it.

If we are not outsourcing jobs, then we are training them and giving them necessary tools that will help them improve their skills, knowledge and attitude

What makes Connect Skills different from other platforms offering similar services?

Connect Skills is an evolving ecosystem that raises businesses, supports established businesses, funds businesses by making use of internally sourced resources.

Hence, the goal is that whatever your pain point is, there will be a resource to meet it.

What has been your most exciting moment since you started running the platform?

Validating a disruptive idea organically is not an easy task especially when you are bootstrapping.

However, funding from Tony Elumelu Foundation, Business Support From Lagos Innovates, partnership with the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria Resource Center made it possible for us to sip coffee with a smile.

What advice would you give entrepreneurs trying to adapt during these times of crisis?

Personally we used this period to analyze our value chain and processes to learn and ensure our burn rate is reduced.

Also we gave out lots of knowledge and toolkits as CSR which has further helped us to build goodwill.

So my advice to entrepreneurs is to use this period to prioritize learning, taking feedback and getting lots of goodwill over profit.

What do you think can be done to improve the ease of doing business for entrepreneurs in Nigeria?

Yes, Nigeria improved in ranking but there are some critical things we need to look into.

For instance, beyond simplifying the processes at the CAC, there should be intervention funds for incubators and accelerators in Nigeria to ensure that Founders are professionally guided on how to start, grow and scale their businesses.

What are the future plans for Connect Skills?

We have identified that funding is key in driving the desired growth in any business.

Currently, we help businesses source for funds from our funding partners but we plan to be a full Venture Capital firm that will disrupt the normal way of identifying and grooming potential unicorns in Nigeria.

From your experience as an entrepreneur, what advice would you give young African entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

In your entrepreneurial journey you will do lots of learning, unlearning and relearning. 

So while being passionate about your idea, note that it might fail but what shouldn’t fail is your power to keep innovating.

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