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How I won in the YouWIN Business Plan Competition – Interview with Utibe Etim

The YouWIN Nigeria program was transparent. Because for someone like me to be among the winners, then I would say it’s really transparent. Because I don’t know anyone who would have helped me.

The FG of Nigeria introduced the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria –YouWIN programme in 2011 www.youwin.org.ng; a collaboration of the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Communication Technology (CT) and the Ministry of Youth Development. The programme launched an annual Business Plan Competition for aspiring young entrepreneurs in Nigeria in line with the federal government’s drive to create more jobs for Nigerians.

The first round of the YouWIN Business Plan Competition has come and gone with 1200 successful young entrepreneurs as winners. In the first round, over 125,000 young Nigerians participated. 25,000 successfully submitted their business plans. 6,000 business plans were selected and the 6,000 entrepreneurs were trained in the six geopolitical zones. Afterwards 1200 winners emerged for the federal government grant.

Utibe EtimOver the week end, I meet with one of the winners of the first (2011) YouWIN Business Plan Competition, Utibe Etim, and he gladly shared his experience through the process, exclusively for www.afterschoolafrica.com readers. If you are planning to apply for the coming competition, be sure to read through to the end, because you will find a lot of information that will surely increase your chances of winning up to 10million naira business grant. Please use the comment form below to ask your questions concerning the YouWIN Business Plan Competition.

The transcribed and edited version of the Audio interview:

Ikenna: Hello, this is Ikenna Odinaka from AfterschoolAfrica.com.  Here with me is Utibe Etim one of the winners of the first YOUWIN Business Plan Competition 2011. Let’s get to meet you. Let’s know you and what you do.

Utibe: My name is Utibe Etim. Am from Akwa Ibom state. I’m a web designer and web developer. I’m the CEO of Etimate global services; an IT company. What I do is to design and develop websites, graphic design and web applications.

Ikenna:  You emerged as one of the winners of the YOUWIN business competition?

Utibe: YesYouWIN Nigeria Young Entrepreneur Business Plan Competition

Ikenna: That’s really something. What was the experience like?

Utibe: It wasn’t easy. Initially when I saw the advert I didn’t believe it was real. I just said to myself “it’s the Nigerian thing. It’s not going to work .One of the ministers will just go to his constituency pick his family members and list them as winners”. I didn’t believe it. At a point I began to write about the program on my personal site, UtibeEtim.com. Even after writing about it, I was not convinced. It was when I met one of my friend, who is also into web design and web development, he asked me whether I have seen the empowerment project by the federal government; YOUWIN. I said yes, that I’m writing something on it. So he asked if I was going to apply. I said that I’ve downloaded all the questions and I’m not really keen about it. So he said why not, let’s go and apply. That I shouldn’t ask for something too much. That if I ask for something big they will say, “this one is here to collect the money and run away”. “Something like 500,000 naira was good enough” he said. By then, I didn’t know that the least amount you can ask for is one million (I,000,000) naira..

Ikenna: The least amount, one million naira?

Utibe: Yes. You can get between one million to ten million naira business grant.

So I was not keen about it. But later I said I will go for it. Then we discussed and I told him that if you want to apply you don’t just go and send information. You know, this project, World Bank will not want to partner with a project that is bound to fail. This is a World Bank partnership project. And this is a project that some, may be, private banks too are partners. So it’s going to be a project they will be serious about. So I said since we are into web design and web development, you need to show them that there is a market for this niche. So what I would do is go online, know the number of Nigerians online and facebook and show them.

When I went on to apply it was a day or two to the closing date. That was when I said let me use this opportunity. So I devoted a day. It took me at least eight hours to submit my application. That was when I researched to know that Nigeria is number one internet user in Africa. And then number 10 worldwide… I also gave them statistics. I didn’t want to just shun out figures. I also mentioned Globacom submarine cable they just launched… And emphasized that in future the internet usage in Nigeria will be so high. So it means the future is very bright for my business.

It was then I gathered those information and it took me almost a whole day to submit.

Ikenna: Just in one day you where able to get the whole thing together? With that you wouldn’t say it was a tedious application then, since you were able to do the whole thing in…

Utibe: It was tedious. For me, I applied as existing business. So I already know what I wanted and what to include in my business plan. So if I had applied as web design or Software Company, I know this is what I need. So I only had to add some real information about my business.

Ikenna:  So that contributed in making it a bit easier for you unlike someone who is starting from scratch it would be a lot more tedious for them to work it out.

Utibe: Yes. Exactly

Ikenna: What would you say, on a personal note, what really made you successful. You know the internet cliche, secret of this… secret of how to… And all that secret things. What would you consider the ‘secret’ behind your success in the YOUWIN business plan competition?

Utibe: The secret, I would say is the zeal. And the mind set. The zeal for me to succeed and then that mindset that yes I can make it, that really helped me. Another thing that made me successful I would say is the internet. Because the internet, there is no information you want you cannot see on the internet. So since I understand what should be on my business plan I will just go and do research on it, get those information, put them in my business plan and submit. So the internet really helped me and then the zeal and determination for me to make it also contributed.

Ikenna: You’ve already talked about the business plan which you wrote in a day; 8 hours or so. Did you have a prior experience in writing a business plan or.. to someone who is to participate in the coming YOUWIN competition, what advice would you give them in terms of writing their business plan?

Utibe: Writing business plan is not like writing a letter. Sometimes you might be very good in writing good English and you can speak fluently. When it comes to writing a business plan, it’s a different ball game. You don’t just write irrelevant stories. You need to put the relevant things first; the facts and statistics. If you put something that is boring, write stories, the judges will not have that time to read through long stories. This is a competition. You don’t have to write 500,000 words just to get the point. When you are writing your business plan you need to give them the fact. For instance, may be you are going into agriculture; the government has a good plan like giving loan. Like if you are into poultry they will give you some incentives. Show them those incentives, and say this is what I stand to gain if I go into farming. So give them facts. Proof to them that the environment is conducive…

Ikenna: In other words, just go straight to the point.

Utibe: Yes. Try to lay emphasis on important information and to the point.

Ikenna: Do you think the completion was transparent? The selection process. Because you know, a lot of people will be having that doubt with things like this that has to do with Nigeria. Can it be transparent enough that a common person can emerge a winner?

Utibe: I will use myself as example. When I saw the advert, I said this is the same government thing. You know if you are in Nigeria, if you don’t know somebody, you can’t get to any good position. So that was what made me not to apply initially. But when I applied and saw the process we were subjected to, and the screening process, it was then I believed that it’s real. There is nothing like, the Nigerian word, ‘Mago-mago’. Nothing like that. Like I said before, it’s a World Bank partnership project. Many reputable organizations partner with the federal government. And this is a President Jonathan project. So they wouldn’t want to go into a project that will bring bad name. He’ll want to say while I was in power this is what I did for the common Nigerians. And tomorrow they can look back and see those people they have empowered.

So the process was; submit your business plan. They review it. Six thousand people were shortlisted. And the reason for that 6000 was to train them. So even if they are unable to make it to the final 1200. Because it’s 1200 that was selected. So if you are unable to make it, you have the skill. Because they train us on how to manage your business and discover products and research your businsess, target audience and market. So many skills that with that you can even look for fund elsewhere and start your business without federal government grant. They want to make us understand that even though the business environment is rough, there are so many businesses that are successful. So you can also build your business with these skills. The program was good.

They said the whole thing was to end in December but they postponed it till January, then to May. The reason for the delay was that after marking in Nigeria, they didn’t want to realize those names immediately. They had to send the names to UK. So they sent messages to us that they’ve sent those names to UK; for them to verify that the process was transparent. That was one of the things that delayed the list of the winners from being released.

The program was transparent. Because for someone like me to be among the winners, then I would say it’s really transparent. Because I don’t know anyone who would have helped me.

Ikenna: What nature of businesses would you sa; considering the people that were selected.. was there a pattern of the nature of businesses that  were selected or do you think it’s just the general business. Does it have to revolve around say ICT, Agriculture or any particular set of fields that are more favored than every other business?

Utibe: It depends on the number of applications from a particular sector and their knowledge of their business and the business environment. But I would say they favored agriculture more because over 20% of the awardees where for Agriculture and they are the largest, followed by ICT and then Manufacturing. So they laid much emphasis on Agriculture. You see, the largest amount you can win from the program is ten million naira. So most in agriculture where getting 10 million naira. The fund, they divide it into four tranches. So first tranche, second tranche to fourth tranche. So if you receive the first tranche you must meet some certain conditions before you get the second tranche. So that some people will not just collect the money and disappear. So people in other sectors, if you get 5million naira, they will give you 10% of the money as first tranche. For instance if it is 5million they will give you 500,000 as initial payment for you to go and start up. But those in agriculture, most of them where getting 10million grant.

Ikenna: Wow!

Utibe: Yeah. With that they were giving them 4million as the first tranche which is far more than the 10% other sectors are getting as initial payment. Because they know that this is one sector that will require much capital to start up. Some of them will need like land, tractors and so on. So they were getting 4 to 5 million naira initial payment while those in other sectors where getting 10% of their total money.

Ikenna: In essence, agriculture is a primary target?

Utibe: Yeah. They laid more emphasis in agriculture. They know agriculture creates more jobs. Government focuses more on agriculture, and believes that with agriculture they can create employment for a lot of people.

Ikenna: Good to know.. On a personal note, having started with something, how would you say this has helped your business so far?

Utibe: You know, like I said before. There is so much delay in disbursement of the funds. Even though I applied as existing business, so I got so many things in place before applying. Like my business was registered with Corporate Affair Commission (CAC), I have my corporate account. I also applied for tax id. So I had almost everything. But others that are startups, trying to get those business requirements take much time. Right now they only release first tranche which is not enough for me to rent an office, which is the major thing for me to do right now. There are others who have not gotten their first payment. Like 50% have. So the first tranche I collected, I used it to put a few things in place. Because they will come to monitor my progress to see how I mange the fund. And to see if they need to release the second tranche. So it’s only when I get the second tranche I can really apply it to my business. Then I would say it has really helped me.

Ikenna: Since you were one of the first set winners from the YOUWIN competition, and hopefully, this year, 2012 there would be a second phase. What would you say could have been done better? What do you think the federal government should have or should introduce to the coming competition to make things easier for the applicants and the judges too?

Utibe: What I discovered is that they don’t keep to time frame. If they say we are going to release names January, they keep postponing it. Most times up to three months. May be this is the first time, so there are likely to be problems. So the subsequent ones is going to be easier. The major thing is that most of the applicants have made preparations like pay for rent, or commit to payment agreement. They get disappointed when funds are not released within the specified period. So that discourages people, and weakens their morale. So what I would advise is that government keep to time frame.

Another thing is that the way they disburse the fund in tranches, they should understand that the first tranche should be an amount people can use to do major things. Not the kind the beneficiary will drop somewhere and be waiting for the second tranche to be released.

Ikenna: So on a final note, what advice will you give to Nigerian youths that are aspiring to apply for the next batch of the YOUWIN Business Plan Competition 2012?

Utibe: My advice is that. If you want to apply you should not say because you have your family or someone you know that applied and wasn’t successful in the first competition, and get discouraged. Or that you can write good English. You get to see a lot of professionals that will assess your business plan; from banks and participating partners. So when you are applying, sit down and make sure you gather as much information. Make sure you give them facts. Don’t write stories. Go to the point. Prove that you have good understanding of your business and the business environment, market, target audience and so on.

Also make sure you talk about budget. Because what really helped me was that I looked at the budget released for the past year by the federal government and how much that was budgeted for ICT and government incentive for ICT. So I listed them. I also listed the number of Nigerian on facebook and internet usage. We have SAT 3, Glo Submarine cable and so on. So with these, I proved that the internet penetration in the near future will be high. So there will be a sustained market for my business…

So, If your business is about fashion, show them a market trend; how Nigerians are spending on fashion. Or things that are being imported; if you can produce them here in Nigeria, there will be no need to import. So just show them that you have clear understanding of you business. You don’t just write long words. It wouldn’t do you much good. It’s better to write few words and give facts and points. Then you’ll be there…

Ikenna: This has been an interesting discussion with you Utibe. I appreciate sharing your experience with us. Hopefully, young Nigerians out there will learn from your experience. And be able to benefit from this opportunity… According to the federal government, they said this is going to be holding every year…

Utibe: Yes. At least for the next four years. They want to empower few Nigerians that would go on to empower as many Nigerians as possible by giving them employment opportunities. Though it’s not possible to have 100% success rate. But if we have 70%, it’s a very good result; even 50%. So with that rate they will go on to give employment opportunities to other Nigerians. So if you have one person employ like 3 persons in a year, you can multiply that by the number of beneficiaries. Which will also reduce the rate of crime. Because they say an idol man…

Ikenna: …Is a devils workshop. 

If you want to know more about Uti, visit his website at….

Utibe: You can check me out on my personal website www.utibeetim.com. So you get to know about YOUWIN if you want to apply. Then I will use that medium to share a lot more information.

Ikenna: That will be it Thank you.

Utibe: You are highly welcome

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