Nkem Uwaje is Managing Director of Future Software Resources Nigeria Limited and winner of the 2012 Etisalat Nigeria Prize for Innovation. Her company created the iConnect project, focused on making ICT and education more accessible to youths in Nigeria. In this interview, Uwaje talks about how she got started and gives advice to young people interested in starting a business. Uwaje also discussed her thoughts with AWP Founder, Mary Olushoga on gender equality, and accessibility in the ICT sector in this Huffington post article. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-olushoga/african-women-in-tech_b_2728195.html
How did you come up with the name Futuresoft ?
Actually I didn’t. My dad came up with the name in 1999 when he first incorporated the company. He always told me that he created the company for me, so when I was ready to start my own business in 2008, I inherited it.
What inspired you to start your business?
Two things inspired me to start. The first is my dad. He runs his own business and for as long as I can remember, I have always admired that. I have always wanted to be like him – he inspires me. The second is that I once worked for a startup and realized that I could run the business better than the founder did, and that gave me the confidence needed to take the bold step towards leading this company.
Who is your target market?
Our target audience are small to mid-sized companies (SMEs).
How have you financed your business?
I initially invested $600 dollars into the business and grew it from there. I then began to re-invest back any profit that I made. Since then, I have recovered my investment and I find that very encouraging.
What is your competitive edge?
My team is able to produce high-quality web solutions at an affordable price and in a timely manner. We stay true to our core values, which are: quality, integrity, mutual respect, professionalism, efficiency, team spirit, honesty, and attention to detail.
What is the long-term plan for your business?
The long-term goal is to launch various projects like iConnect and grow them into self-sustainable business units. This will position us as a leading ICT company in Nigeria and West-Africa. All our projects can be easily replicated in other countries.
What challenges do you face or have you faced thus far?
I would say that my team faces the usual business challenges of operating a business in Nigeria. No light, traffic congestion, low employee skillset, tedious processes and structures, clients not paying on time, slow internet, the lack of understanding and value of technology. Anyone doing business in Nigeria will face these core challenges, and the sad part is that they are not going away any time soon.
What five key things have you learned since starting your business idea?
1. Be bold
2. Be patient
3. Never give up
4. Stick to your principles
5. This sounds funny but I find that it’s true – when people say your ideas won’t work, dig them up again two (2) or four (4) years later and suddenly people think that they are innovative.
What five things do start-up entrepreneurs need to know?
1. Understand that being an entrepreneur means living a few years of your life the way most people won’t, so that you can live the rest of your life like most people can’t.
2. Be prepared to sacrifice, and to work harder than you’ve ever thought possible.
3. Be prepared to work around the clock.
4. Be prepared to be laughed at and be called a dreamer, and to be told several times that your ideas will not work.
5. Always, always find your passion and LOVE what you do.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
• Start small and grow big.
• Try to fund your business yourself or ask your family and friends.
• If you really want something, believe in your product or business model and you will succeed. It’s just a matter of time and how long you can endure.
• Focus on your goals and don’t get distracted.
How do you think Nigerian youths can continue to support each other?
Collaborate – Partner – Support – Mentor – Empower; those are the key words that describe what youths need to do for each other. Youths need to understand that no one is going to come and help them, so they need to help themselves.
How many jobs have you created so far?
It’s quite hard to measure, as our development team grows and shrinks based on the number of clients and projects that we have. We usually hire about 3 to 40 developers, depending on upcoming projects.
How do we support and improve innovation in Nigeria or Africa?
We can start by supporting people with innovative ideas and promoting them. Competitions are a good way to increase visibility so I think that the government and the private sector need to launch more competitions that focus on innovation. Furthermore, innovation needs an enabling environment. This means creating hubs where innovators can meet, share ideas, and collaborate. In addition, we need a space where ideas can be incubated and where prototypes can be developed. Without this, we are bound to fail as a nation and as a continent.
Lastly, ICT development is very important to me and the youth population throughout Africa. I strongly believe that ICT is vital to ensuring that Nigeria and Africa will not be left behind. Everyone keeps talking about the digital divide, but instead of bridging it, it keeps on getting bigger. We need government policies that ensure that technology is not a privilege but a basic amenity.
Futuresoft is playing its part in making ICT more accessible through our iConnect project. I am even more excited about building an actual prototype and proving that our concept will impact the lives of young people in Nigeria.
Learn more about the iConnect Project:
Nkem Uwaje is Managing Director of Future Software Resources Nigeria Limited, a company that won the 2012 Etisalat Nigeria Prize for Innovation. Nkem is an active board member of the World Summit Youth Award (www.youthaward.org), a global online e-content contest focused on the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (UN MDGs). Uwaje is also a graduate of Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) & Technical University Munich (TUM) in Germany, where she received a Bachelor’s degree Bioinformatics.
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