The Chief Executive Officer of GDM group, Hazon Holdings and Founder of Eko Innovation Center, Victor Gbenga Afolabi in this interview with The Parakeet Show speaks on his journey into becoming a successful serial entrepreneur as well as the enormous potentials of the country’s Culture and Tourism space. Happiness Irabor presents the excerpts:
Tell us a bit about your background and journey into becoming an entrepreneur
I got my Bachelors Degree from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where I studied pharmacy, and then moved on to a Master’s Degree in Managerial Psychology from the University of Ibadan in 2016, as well as an MBA from Manchester Business School in 2018. I am also an alumnus of Lagos Business School as well as the Advertising Practitioner Council of Nigeria, which has been of great help towards my entrepreneurship journey over the years.
Currently I find myself playing in the various key sectors of the economy where we have been able to make a lot of social economic impact.
What brought about the drive to establish Eko Innovation Centre and how has the innovation hub been able to support curators thus far?
My passion for creating enterprises of the future led to me founding the Eko Innovation Center which is basically a place where we accelerate technology driven innovative ideas by providing curators with access to capital, mentor-ship schemes, and all the support structures required to help businesses grow.
We have been able to identify the various vital sectors of the economy in which we are interested in accelerating innovations and enterprises that are adding value to the country and citizens.
Also, we are delighted to have partnered with the Lagos state government last year in an attempt to get the state government to handshake with the ecosystem of innovators, hubs and enterprise curators through design thinking sessions, in order to co create and accelerate innovations and startups.
Thus, we have been working on accelerating enterprises to their maximum potentials by providing all the required support needed to upscale. We have provided mentor-ship and hand holding initiatives, as well as the funding needed for the startups to become sustainable businesses.
At the Eko Innovation Centre we have an ideology of concept to commercialization. We believe it is okay to have an idea if you are ready to work towards making that idea a reality and available for patronage. It is in view of this we are ready to work with entrepreneurs and startups to support them with generating structure and funding that would sustain-ably develop the businesses across the various sectors of the country’s economy.
Also, remember that the innovation center is just 7 months old and yet we have been able to contribute quite a lot to the development of the Eco system.
How do you think innovators and curators can infuse African Culture into their solutions and enterprises in order to yield greater results?
One of the authentic things I believe Africa has is her Art and culture, which makes it a perfect tourism destination for local and foreign investors.
Her culture and Art is the gateway to a buoyant industry called, Tourism. Thus, we need to study the sector more in order to understand and harness its enormous potentials. Entrepreneurs should be able to build their business module in such a way that they tap into and leverage on the enormous potentials the sector has.
We have a very diverse, beautiful and rich culture that the whole world looks at and admires; so, it is up to us to leverage on it and create standard and conducive destination experiences for indigenous and foreigners across the globe that are looking to invest towards the sustainable development of our Society.
Meanwhile, on our part, we are working on a global Jazz Festival called, Runway Jazz because we know when you integrate Art and culture, into a business, you are projecting such enterprise for long term growth and higher yields.
How can we harness the rich volume of innovators and curators in the country and change young entrepreneurs’ mentality of selling off their ideas as a result of impatience and lack of access to capital?
That is why I created an enterprise that can mentor people, train and assist people to scale up. Young startups do not need to have such a mindset of selling off their ideas. Instead they should do the necessary ground work required to develop and accelerate such ideas into a sustainable and efficient innovation. Entrepreneurs need to have a long term perspective towards business and innovation.
One of the things that lead to that is when you do not see the potentials of what you posses. For instance; you are holding a seed and people tell you it is a mango seed and if you plant it, within five years it will be a mango tree and that mango tree will produce lot of mangoes that will last for the next ten years and you can then open a mango juice factory from the mango tree. Instead of working smart and being patient you decide to break open the mango seed and eat the nut instead of waiting five years to manufacture a mango juice factory.
What do you think is the level of innovation in Nigeria?
I think we are just scratching the surface, I think a lot of work needs to be done. We find some hubs which we think are not so vast in acceleration of innovative ideas, but rather, more into offering co working spaces. We think the business at hand is bigger than that. We think the real deal is how we create the mentor-ship and the hand holding experience for these entrepreneurs who are emerging into the economy as scalable businesses; how we can support startups to harness the tools required to change the lives of our people thereby, bringing out that local solutions that will transform the landscape which, is one of the major foundations upon which Eko Innovation Center was founded. Hence, it is okay to have an idea; it is okay to build castles in the air because we are ready to provide the pillars that would help the castles become a reality.