Businessday Ng –
BRITTNI ABIOLU is an entrepreneur, investor, and advisor with 17 years of experience helping aspiring entrepreneurs start new businesses, obtain capital, acquire new customers, and get connected to the resources they need to grow and thrive.
The average startup or small business she has worked with obtained $50k to $250k in loans or lines of credit to start or grow their business. She also spent this time working at management consulting, marketing and advertising agencies such as Accenture, CDK Global, and Campbell Ewald.
She assisted these organisations and their clients with different business functions such as business transformation, strategic business planning, business development, capital sourcing, SEO, digital marketing, and lead generation.
She has a Bachelor of Science in Computer & Information Systems from the University of Detroit Mercy and a Master of Entrepreneurial Transactions from Central Michigan University. She has certificates in SEO, social media management, business plan writing, business loan packaging, and credit building as well as a life insurance agent license in Michigan.
She has served on boards (as an Appointed Commissioner) for local municipalities including the Inkster Downtown Development Authority and Inkster Economic Development Corporation.
In addition, she served as a Senior Fellow for the National Minority Technology Council and is currently a member of the Global African Business Association, serving as Director of Digital Marketing & Entrepreneurship
How has your childhood influenced who you are today?
My childhood was a unique experience that has really shaped my life as an adult. For as long as I can remember, my parents have always influenced me to work hard and do what it takes to win. They met as college students in the United States. My mom is African American. My dad came to America from Nigeria in 1984 to attend medical school. Both of my parents have always been strict disciplinarians. They also pushed me to focus heavily on education and aiming high. This mind-set has stayed with me.
My father was an entrepreneur. He owned several businesses when I was a teenager. I decided that entrepreneurship would be my career focus at 19 years old. It’s been a tough road but I’ve stayed committed to it and I continue to rise. This is part of the reason I built my business around helping other entrepreneurs by offering them services like fundraising, business planning, and digital marketing. They need a support system to help them grow and progress.
17 years experience of helping aspiring entrepreneurs in generating funds and growing their businesses. What have you observed and what would you want to correct/advice?
Firstly, I need to be honest with aspiring entrepreneurs. You will need capital. There are programs out there that offer free support. However, free support will only take you so far. You will need to have some funds of your own to get started. Many businesses are started by borrowing money from friends and family (or getting them to invest in exchange for equity). Funding from your friends and family (or your personal savings) should enable you to get started, get customers, and generate revenue. If it doesn’t, it means you are doing something wrong. I’ve noticed this with many entrepreneurs. They often start a business without knowing how to fully operate and build it.
The number one way for entrepreneurs to raise funding is to have traction within their business. Traction equals paying customers. If you can build traction, you have a better chance of raising capital from investors or lenders.
Entrepreneurs that have a hard time building traction likely don’t know the business well enough (or have a large enough network) to get customers quickly. Investors (and lenders) focus largely on the background and experience of the management team and how well they can scale the business without capital from venture capitalists, angel investors, or lenders. My advice is that entrepreneurs who want to raise capital must focus on fully understanding how the business should operate and getting sales first. Hiring an industry specific business coach or startup advisor and consultant (like me) can help.
How do you help in fund generation for businesses, and how have you been consistent with this?
Yes, I have worked with many entrepreneurs helping them obtain business loans, business lines of credit, and grants for their businesses here in the United States. I’ve been doing this work for 17 years and have been consistent throughout. I recently started angel investing and participating in angel investor groups where we pool our funds together to support underrepresented and overlooked founders.
What are your challenges in helping to generate funds?
I find that many entrepreneurs don’t have the personal credit history or traction required to raise capital. A lot of entrepreneurs believe they can raise capital just because they have an idea. But that isn’t realistic. Investors and lenders don’t give money to people because they have good ideas.
They invest their money into proven business models. There are funding programs out there geared towards new technology developments and businesses that have never been done before. However, these opportunities are extremely limited and difficult to access if you don’t have an innovative idea that has never been done before. Entrepreneurs will have a better chance of raising capital if they have a good credit history (i.e. pays their bills on time) and actual sales in their business.
Share your experience working at Accenture, CDK Global, Campbell Ewald and lessons learnt
One of the things I realized by working for large companies like these is that, company culture is important. If one is to have a long and successful career, they have to fit within the company culture (or build a company culture that will make employees want to stay committed to the business). My experience with companies where I liked the culture made me feel comfortable and included. Ultimately, I learned more while being there and I use that knowledge to build a better business of my own.
Share with us on working on the boards that you do and why?
I was appointed to be a commissioner on several boards in my local community. As the Chairwoman of the city’s Economic Development Corporation and Downtown Development Authority, I was charged with helping them launch a Cultural Arts District. In the United States, Cultural Arts Districts are a great way to attract new people to a city.
It encourages them to patronise the businesses there. It helps the local businesses get new customers and generate more revenue. This is one of the main reasons why I served on these boards, to help support entrepreneurs in the community and encourage people to come to the city so it can grow and build a more positive reputation.
Tell us about serving as a Senior Fellow for the National Minority Technology Council, and being a member of the Global African Business Association, serving as Director of Digital Marketing & Entrepreneurship
Again, I held these positions to help entrepreneurs. Both positions are focused around providing support to businesses in the areas of my expertise– business development, fundraising, and digital marketing, etc. As the Director of Digital Marketing & Entrepreneurship and a member of the Global African Business Association, I advise other entrepreneurs within the organisation on fundraising and getting more customers through digital marketing.
While serving in my position as a Senior Fellow for the National Minority Technology Council, I played a key role in helping the city I represented as a Commissioner get selected for the Envision Center demonstration, an economic development program created under the leadership of President Donald J. Trump. EnVision Centers were created to provide communities with a centralized hub for support in the following four pillars: economic empowerment, educational advancement, health and wellness, and character and leadership.
In your array of businesses you have helped to raise funds, what percentage of Africans have you helped?
I helped mostly African Americans in the earlier part of my career. About 8 years ago, I joined the Global African Business Association which exposed me to a larger network of African immigrants in the U.S, U.K, and on the continent in countries like Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana. Since then, I have been committed to helping more Africans raise capital and get more customers through digital marketing. Currently, the majority of my clients are African immigrants based here in the United States (and they also conduct business in their home countries as well).
Is it true that the tech space is an industry where non-competes are essential? Please shed more light on this.
Non-compete agreements are essential in the tech industry because founders and investors want to protect their investment. They need confirmation that employees won’t become competitors too soon after leaving the company. New competition is always a threat to a startup business. Start-ups have been put out of business because a new company entered the market and dominated the industry. Founders and investors want to minimize the chance of this happening and that’s why non-competes are essential in the tech space.
You just became a recipient of a $10,000 grant. Tell us in detail what it is about including the issuers and what the grant is intended for
I was awarded a $10,000 grant from Comcast and Ureeka. Comcast is a communications company and Ureeka is an online platform designed to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses in the United States
Nigeria has already started replicating conferences like Invest Fest. A good example is Lagos Startup Week. It’s the top conference for tech entrepreneurs in Lagos and enables them to network and learn from each other. Conferences like this are very educational and keep entrepreneurs informed on the global tech and business landscape. It helps entrepreneurs stay up to date with what’s happening in the tech space around the world. Being “in the know” helps entrepreneurs build better, more profitable businesses. This is good for a country like Nigeria because it exposes the country’s entrepreneurs to new revenue streams and creates jobs for its citizens.
Black-owned VC firm Cornerstone Partners launched its first-ever investment fund to help support entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. Tell us more on this
That particular organisation invests in black owned start-ups in the U.K. However, there are other organisations that invest in and provide support to Nigerian entrepreneurs. For example, Enrich.Africa is a dedicated community for African start-ups to gain access to resources, news, stories, jobs, investment support and opportunities available to enable them to thrive and compete on a global scale. This is an organisation that Nigerian entrepreneurs can look to for support.
Why do you think tech companies find it easier to get grants?
Tech companies often find it easier to get access to grants (and raise other forms of capital) because technology has a reputation for changing and improving our world for the better. Technology helps businesses and people operate more efficiently. It also helps connect many people around the world at a fast pace. It produces a great impact in a short amount of time. Furthermore, investors see the largest returns from investing in technology companies. This makes funding tech companies more attractive for investors, lenders, and grant makers.
Would you say your company has lived up to your mission to help overlooked and underrepresented start-ups and small businesses scale up?
Yes. My clients have expressed to me that I have helped them tremendously with raising capital and getting more exposure for their businesses. I have several testimonials and case studies on my website from past clients and continue to get referrals from them because of the results they’ve received from working with me. I’ve helped startups raise over $1 million dollars in funding, generate thousands of new leads for their businesses and users for their websites and software applications. You can read the testimonials and case studies on www.VentureHue.com.
How strong is the involvement of Nigerian tech businesses in requesting and getting grants?
There are many Nigerian immigrants in the U.S that are seeking funding (and Nigerians on the continent). The number of them seeking funding has gone up significantly in the last 10 years, especially amongst millennials. Millennials are creating more tech focused businesses than ever before. That’s why you have so many of them, especially Nigerians, applying for grants and other types of funding. I expect this trend to continue in Nigeria as the tech space continues to expand in the country. Nigeria is a dominant force in the tech space and has consistently accounted for a majority of the funding that comes to Africa. Three of the top billion dollar tech startups in the United States were founded by Nigerian men.
Tell us more about being an angel investor
Being an angel investor means investing in entrepreneurs in the earliest stages of their business development. It means being a visionary and taking a chance on an entrepreneur when the business investment is the most risky. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Uber, Lyft, Flutterwave, and Airbnb received funding from angel investors to get started. These companies are now worth over $1 billion dollars today (some are worth many billions of dollars). This wouldn’t have been possible without angel investors. Angel investors are visionaries and innovators just like entrepreneurs.
How can you describe your life as an entrepreneur?
I would describe it as unique and challenging yet rewarding. Entrepreneurship is hard. You have to be willing to go through the struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I spend a lot of my time helping other entrepreneurs and receiving help. It’s like one big ecosystem of entrepreneurs working together to make each other’s lives better by building successful businesses that positively impact communities. It’s all about adding value to businesses and communities. I do both as an entrepreneur and I feel as though I am fulfilling God’s purpose for my life.
Are there many Nigerian female owners of tech start-ups?
In the U.S, there are Nigerian women launching tech businesses and raising capital. I am also seeing a lot of Nigerian women get into venture capital and angel investing in the U.S, U.K, Nigeria, and other African countries. However, women in general have a hard time raising capital in the tech space, so the number of them that own tech businesses are miniscule in comparison to men. The best way to increase the numbers is for more women in Nigeria to get into angel investing and venture capital. Women can win by getting help and support from other women. For example, here in the United States, we have non-profit organisations and angel investor groups like All Raise and Pipeline Angels that were created to help get more women into venture capital angel investing and raising money for tech start-ups. This can be replicated by women in Nigeria and in the diaspora. We must bond together if we want to see progress among women in the tech industry.
My best advice for young entrepreneurs, especially women, is to work for someone else before branching out on your own. The entrepreneurs that have the greatest success and impact gained significant experience by working at other companies before launching their own businesses. Many entrepreneurs want to launch a business without working for a larger more established company and I would say that this is wrong. Learn how to properly conduct business in your industry before launching a business of your own in that industry. Working with an industry specific business coach (before launching your business) can help with this as well.
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Businessday Ng –