By Sunday Ani

The director, IKI Nature Services, manufacturers of a wide range of air-fresheners for homes, offices and cars, Chinenye Esther Mebo, has revealed that she had always wanted to be a self-employed person, even while she was still in school.

A native of Anam in Anambra West Local Government Area of Anambra State, Mebo noted that her venturing into the world entrepreneurship was informed first by her passion to be self-employed, and secondly because there were no jobs in the country. In other words, apart from her vision, which she said was conceived as far back as when she was still in school, the unemployment crisis in the country gave a further boost to the actualization of her life-long dream.

In this interview with the Daily Sun, the Food Science and Technology graduate from the Imo State Polytechnic, Owerri, spoke on issues cutting across the initial challenge of raising the seed capital, how she overcame that, how the products are doing in the market, what government can do to support small businesses, and advice to the teeming unemployed youths in Nigeria, among other issues.

How did you envision this business idea and what was your initial driving force?

Well, I had always wanted to be on my own, not working for people. I wanted to be an employer of labour even while I was still an undergraduate, and that was where I started nursing the idea of establishing my own business. Although I did not immediately set up the business, my vision of providing jobs for other unemployed graduates became stronger and my determination to achieve that singular objective more than doubled when, after graduation and the compulsory one-year National Youth Service Corps programme (NYSC), I came face to face with the stark reality of the unemployment crisis in Nigeria. I saw what Nigerians, particularly graduates, were going through in the employment market.

As a young woman who always wanted to be an entrepreneur, I had to think of the next direction of engagement to be able to make ends meet, as well as contribute to humanity. I had an idea to be a self-employed person. So, after school and the NYSC programme and there was no job anywhere, I remembered my vision. I then decided to go for a little training to gather more ideas, after which I started putting the ideas together. I later realized that I had something that could add value to people, earn good resources for me and create jobs for the unemployed. Having raised the seed capital and having carefully done my feasibility studies, I immediately swung into action with the establishment of the brand Proud Nature, which started production in October 2022

What is the uniqueness of these products or reasons people would prefer your brand to others in the market?

The product comes in various types and sizes. For now, it comes in two sizes, namely, the sealed can and the paper one. But the company will still develop more sizes as time goes on. As for the fragrances, we have three different fragrances of strawberry, tangerine and amber.

However, as regards its affordability and durability, I can assure our customers that it is affordable for all classes of people, including the high and low classes. The paper ones that are mostly used in cars can go for as low as N200, but the one in sealed cans sells for N1,000 and above; that is for the retail price. You can also get it for N1,200 or N1,500 depending on the retail outlet where you get it from.

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The quality of the product is also topnotch and that distinguishes it from others that have been in the market. It is very good and people can get value for their money. The fragrance is friendly and it lasts for a long time.

On the availability of the product, I can also assure our customers that the company is trying to expand the market across the nation. We are currently looking for interested distributors so as to build solid distributor networks across the country. Right now, we have it in Kano and the International Trade Fair Complex, Lagos, and we are also inviting interested distributors to come and partner with us. We equally have customers in Ghana, because it is a friendly and unique product that can be exported to other countries outside Nigeria.

Many young graduates would equally want to venture into one self-employed venture or the other but they are always constrained by insufficient funds. How did you raise the initial seed capital?

That has always been a major setback and discouragement to many people who would want to be self-employed, but I think the only way out is for one to always persevere and be resolute. For me, I got my initial capital from my little savings, plus the support I got from friends and people who believed in me. One thing is to believe in your vision and be able to convince people to buy into that vision so that they can support you. So, my little savings and financial support from those who believed in my vision did the magic. That’s how we started and I thank God that we have been growing from stage to stage. Now, we have crossed the hurdle of what to present to the market. We have also crossed the hurdle of the quality of the product. The next hurdle is how to make the product available all over the country.

Between October 2022 when the production company effectively took off and now, we have grown the staff strength of 10 workers. We have a registered factory with the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). The product is fully certified and aside from the 10 workers already on the payroll of IKI Nature Services, we also hope to increase our workforce through the engagement of sales representatives.

Where do you envisage this enterprise to be in the near future, say, in the next one year?

Well, I have big dreams for the business and that simply means that I should be projecting into the future and building an image of where the business should be in the near future. It is my dream that, in the next one year, we shall have expanded the business not just in Nigeria but also across Nigeria’s borders. We equally hope to attract revenue to introduce more products to the market, particularly in the line of perfumes, as well as go into the production of perfumes and body spray fully.

In what ways do you think the government can assist small and medium-scale enterprises like yours to survive and contribute to the growth and development of the nation’s economy?

First, we all know that there is no electricity anywhere in Nigeria, and this is greatly affecting entrepreneurship in Nigeria. We are spending so much on diesel. So, if the government can improve on power supply to make it more regular, it will go a long way in helping small and medium-scale enterprises in Nigeria. Again, if the government can provide soft loans, maybe through institutions like the Bank of Industry, in such a way that such loans come with single-digit interest rate so that we can also manage our overhead, I think that will equally help greatly. Another area where government can help is in the process of clearing raw materials from the port. There are so many bottlenecks in clearing raw imported materials and the duties are also very high. If the government can look into some of these factors, I bet you, many young Nigerians who go into entrepreneurship and will be able to survive and contribute their own quota, no matter how little, to the growth and development of the country’s economy.

What is your advice to unemployed youths?

My humble advice for unemployed graduates, who roam about the street searching for nonexistent jobs, is to see how they can equally build a business for themselves, instead of sitting down at home and looking for jobs. They can as well sit down to think of how to develop the latent skills in them to fit into the emerging economy; who knows, they may become big players in their chosen sectors.