‘I started my business to inspire others’ says handbag designer – Sharon Agwunobi

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I first connected with the founder of “Aura by Alaye” Sharon Agwunobi at the AWP Network business pitch event at Afe Babalola University in Ekiti State, Nigeria. She was one of the student entrepreneurs who received financial support from the AWP Network. I became interested in Sharon’s company when she showed me samples of her designs. Not only were her bag designs beautiful and impressive, she is also a savvy entrepreneur who sells her products to students on her college campus. Students who purchased from her raved about the quality of the bags and its unique designs. In addition to this, Sharon has a wide social media presence on Instagram and other platforms. In this interview, we learn more about Sharon’s company, what inspired her to start and the next steps for her company.

How did you come up with your business name?

My brand name is “Aura by Alaye.” My brother inspired the name. He always said to me, “Embrace Your Aura,” and this has now become the slogan of the company. You see, I am quite jovial and creative; my brother always encouraged me to hold on to this part of myself. The other half of the name, “Alaye” means chairman or boss, and this is like an ‘oriki.’ When I was in secondary school, a close friend began referring to me as “Alaye,” because I was interested in and participated in almost every club and after school program.

This name and reference has stuck until date and many even think that “Alaye” is my last (sur) name. Putting the two words together was suggested to me by another friend, Isaac. I think the combination of the words describe me perfectly, considering that I am proactive and I believe in creating, innovating, and improving upon existing ideas.

What inspired you to start your business?

I was finally motivated to start the brand when I got tired of being cajoled into carrying handbags. You see, I do not like carrying bags, however, when I go out with my mom, she makes me carry them. It is important to note that I am not a ‘bag girl.’ Bags that I carried at the time, were either too plain, too big, or too small with little or not enough room for all the things that make up a good bag. As a result, I decided to master the art of creating and designing various fashion items and began making what I always wanted to.

The other side of the story is that I wanted to create a brand, a product that would inspire other people and help to bring their talents and skills to an audience.  When I started my business, I hoped that my customers would appreciate my designs and so far, I can say that the feedback has been amazing.

Who is your target market?
Anyone who can afford the product. I plan to start making items for children soon.

How have you financed the business?
I used my savings to finance the business. My mother has also supported me. She paid for my training program in fashion design and assisted me in sourcing for quality fabrics by connecting me with the best fabric distributors in Lagos.

What is your competitive edge?
The high-quality fabrics; also, the shapes and sizes of my products differ from existing brands.

What is the long-term plan for your business?
It is my intention that my business becomes a “one stop shop for African fabric and new designs.” My goal is to change people’s perspective on the use of African prints and fabrics and more importantly, contribute significantly to the fashion industry.

What challenges do you face?
No challenges yet, just experiences and lessons in running my business.

What key things have you learned since starting your business?

The first is to understand that starting a business is a risk.
Secondly, is to keep trying, keep failing, and keep going at it until you meet your goals.
Thirdly, after taking a risk and not getting your expected result, work harder and figure out better ways to do things.
4) Know that not everyone will appreciate your growth and your work. However, with time they will come to take interest in it and even if they do not, keep working to inspire others.
5) Remain focused on your goals. Remember that ideas die or may become outdated. Find new ways to do things, to innovate, stay consistent over time and apply it to the type of creations you intend on making.

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What five (5) things do start-up entrepreneurs need to know?

  • Always pray and commit your works to God.
  • When you get some attention, do not get too excited. Focus on your mission and continue to create.
  • Always find the time to check on your goals and achievement lists. Sadly, many people jump on new trends and what people like rather than what truly inspires them.
  • Keep your circle small. People will gravitate towards you because of your success and will begin to make all types of suggestions, then they want to become advisors when they themselves do not have the required experience. Then they want to tell you what you should and should not do with your brand. Do not get carried away by these characters.
  • Do not forget and always remember that you are doing this to inspire others and not to prove anyone wrong.

What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
I would say, start from somewhere. Do not merely conclude that “there is no money.” Seek assistance from reliable family members; if you have none, which is very unlikely, there are companies that give out loans to small businesses. Banks also give loans to small business owners. The process is strenuous but I think it is worth a try.

How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
By supporting each other’s businesses. The sad reality is that people do not want to see you doing better than them. African youths need to understand that supporting others will not make them any less of themselves. I find that strangers and outsiders tend to show more support than those who are close to you.

How many jobs have you created so far?
I have created two (2) jobs. A company director and a social media promoter.

How has technology enhanced your business idea?
I use social media to promote my brand. The technology is fast and I can reach more people.

How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
We can support and improve innovation in Africa by (1) providing more financing options to entrepreneurs and (2) organizing more networking events, and seminars for startups.

Contact Sharon here:

 Twitter: Aura by Alaye 

Instagram: Aura by Alaye 

Email: aurabyalaye (at) gmail.com

Phone: +234 09060006499















Entrepreneur Set To Launch Innovation Hub for African Girls In STEM

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Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin, Founder of Pearls Africa Foundation will launch the ‘Lady Labs Innovation Hub,‘ created to function as a collaborative centre for young women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

The hub will serve as a co-working space for women in technology and offer an avenue to drive their businesses. In turn, it is expected that these women techpreneurs will serve as mentors to young girls interested in developing their skills in STEM.

To date, the Hub has trained 143 girls who live in underserved communities and has connected these girls to 30 mentors who then provide various levels of mentorship and guidance. This launch will not just be an opportunity to become acquainted with these talented young women but will be an opportunity to unveil plans towards harnessing potential and increasing impact in the technology ecosystem.

To learn more, visit: www. pearlsafrica.org or the centre at 55 Moleye Street, Off Herbert Macaulay Way, Alagomeji, Yaba, Lagos.























Meet Rahmon Ojukotola – Founder of Fintech Startup Working To Boost Financial Inclusion in Nigeria

StartCredits, Rahmon Ojukotola

I founded this business to address the low market penetration rates of financial inclusion products in Nigeria and to help promote financial inclusion throughout Africa. I truly believe that greater access to credit will foster sustainable economic growth and it is my intention that my company becomes a major catalyst for change in Nigeria’s growth, recovery and prosperity.

Founder of fintech startup StartCredits is the person to meet if you are seeking a loan in Nigeria. His company has created a unique search engine for Nigerians seeking a loan and has developed an innovative proprietary risk model that measures the borrowers’ probability of default.

Ojukotola is a well-accomplished finance expert with work experience at the Bank of England and UBS. He earned a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southampton. He is a chartered accountant, a member of the chartered institute for securities & investment, the institute of chartered accountants in England and the Royal Economic Society.  In this interview, Ojukotola discusses why he started his business and his plans for the future.

How did you come up with your business name?
The term ‘StartCredits’ was historically used in the movie industry to indicate the start of a film production. I was also inspired by a track from the music duo ‘chase & status.’ ‘StartCredits’ is an impactful name. My company provides information to customers exploring various financing options and helps them to reach their financing goals.

Who is your target market?
StartCredits services are freely available to all Nigerians who wish to get a loan to finance their business, education, mortgage and more. The free loan search engine helps users find the best interest rates in their chosen loan category, whilst our easy to understand alternative loan providers’ review helps borrowers to identify the provider most suited to their needs.

How have you financed the idea?
I started the company with my savings, accrued from working in the banking sector. I also raised funds from friends and family.  I wanted to launch the company without the delays associated with external seed funding. Currently, we are in talks with a number of tech-focused VCs for the next round of funding.

What is your competitive edge?
We are the first and only business in Nigeria offering this service. We developed innovative proprietary risk models that accurately measures the borrowers’ probability of default. This improves loan providers’ ability to assess risk and enables them to disperse more loans to qualified borrowers.

What is the long term plan for this idea?
It is our goal to revolutionize the way borrowing is done in Nigeria and then Africa using innovative technologies and strategies.

What challenges do you face?
StartCredits is disrupting traditional consumer credit decision processes in Africa with innovative ways to measure credit risk. As such, it will take educating loan providers and borrowers to overcome the resistance to change and to understand the benefits of increased access to credit.
Another key challenge is internet penetration especially in regards to the high cost of data for Nigerians to access the internet. This limits the pace at which our potential users can reach our services.


What key things have you learned since starting this idea?

Whilst our digital marketing has been productive, we find that our targeted direct marketing has proven the most successful. Our marketing and innovative products are helping to shift the borrowing habits of Nigerians online, where there is greater price discovery and transparency.

What do you think startup entrepreneurs need to know?
Startup entrepreneurs unfortunately and for a while need to be the ‘jack-of-all’ trades. They need to learn marketing, sales, finance, legal, and the process of developing an idea. These are the key skills of most successful entrepreneurs. You need them especially when you cannot afford to pay experts.

What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
My advice: develop the idea first, gain some tangible traction and then investors will come to help you scale your idea.

How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
African youths can support each other by creating networking groups that facilitate collaboration and ideas sharing.

How many jobs have you created so far?
StartCredits has directly and indirectly supported over 50 jobs in Nigeria.

How has technology enhanced your business idea?
As a FinTech company, let’s just say that technology is symbiotic with the business.

How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
We can support and improve innovation in Africa through education and an ecosystem of investors, incubators, universities and government policies tailored towards Africa challenges and opportunities.


Contact Rahmon here:

Website: Startcredits

Twitter: Startcredits

LinkedIn: Startcredits

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Interested in Contracting? 5 Things You Should Know About Doing Business With Nigeria’s Private Sector

(1) Access to information: Find the opportunity, know where they are. Many business owners are pessimistic when it comes to finding prime and sub-contracting opportunities with private and public entities in Nigeria. The lack of transparency has fueled this notion. We can acknowledge that technology to an extent has helped to improve transparency on transactions and processes. Tools and platforms such as tender.ng among others, are some new innovations in the procurement space helping to foster accessibility and ease. Tender.ng, for instance, is an online tender notification platform that allows individuals and businesses find and respond to tenders. The platform publishes daily tenders from federal, state and local governments, private businesses, publicly listed companies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academic institutions. Interested? You may sign up for a free trial.

(2) Have a marketing strategy: Shade Ladipo, Executive Director of WeConnect International in Nigeria, an organization connecting women entrepreneurs to corporate purchasing organizations states, “procurement officers need to be able to find you easily.” This includes being present on relevant social media channels, having an active website, being responsive through emails and phone calls. As a business owner, you need to be accessible and not difficult to find. The easier it is for people to reach you, the better it will be for your business.

3) Cold Marketing Works, Just Do Your Research: “Cold marketing” involves being proactive by either calling or visiting procurement officers at random. However before taking this step, do your research by finding out the goods and services the company you are interested in doing business with needs, and how that fits in with what you provide. Do not just pitch your company but ensure that your services are relevant to their business needs.

(4) Ask the right questions: As an entrepreneur, it is crucial that you learn active listening skills so that you can ask the right questions. The company that you are interested in doing business with, do they have a vendors’ list? How do you get on this list? What is the process for getting on this list, what are the pre-qualification requirements? Who is the company’s supplier diversity officer? Do not be afraid, take the first step and be sure to ask all the right questions.

(5) Can you deliver? What is the point of going through step 1 thru 4 if you cannot deliver the required service? Make sure that you have your ‘ducks in a row’. Ensure that you have access to the financing needed to execute on the job; the staff and the skills required. Is your business registered? Have you filed your taxes? Do you have all of the necessary certifications and licenses? Are you insured? What does your capability look like? Is this your area of expertise?

Much of what occurs in the procurement space, either as a prime or subcontractor still takes place informally; much of it is built on personal relationships. As a business owner, it is important to learn the steps of how to obtain contracts with public or private entities globally. Again, remember that establishing relationships with key individuals within a company is crucial. Consider that access to public or private contracts could diversify your company’s earnings. Leveraging on technology tools for your business will enable accessibility and transparency, which may be good in promoting business competitiveness and growth.

Have more tips to share, email mary (at) awpnetwork.com










Founder of AWP Network, Mary Olushoga Featured on TV Show ‘On The Rise Africa’

On The Rise Africa by Femi Agbayewa is a sit-down television interview with a twist where African innovators, collaborators, and entrepreneurs engage in an off the cuff round table discussion about their visions and journeys.

Listen in:












WEConnect International, Tender.ng, join the AWP Network to discuss Procurement Opportunities in Nigeria

On Wednesday, April 26, 2017 – The African Women Power Network together with WeConnect International in Nigeria and Tender.ng led an engaging conversation on how to find and secure procurement opportunities in Nigeria.

The panel discussion titled, “Bid To Win: Learn How to Find and Successfully Bid for Procurement Opportunities with Top Companies in Nigeria,” focused on procurement opportunities available in the private sector. The discussion was led by Reginald Bassey, former Chief of Staff at the Office of Rep. Robinson Uwak of the Oron Federal Constituency of Akwa Ibom State along with Shade Ladipo, Executive Director, WeConnect International in Nigeria and Temitope Longe, co-founder, Tender.ng.

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The AWP Network Hosts Leading African Women in Technology in Lagos

On Tuesday, April 25, 2017 – The African Women Power Network hosted leading African women in technology to an engaging conversation on what it means to be a woman in technology. The conversation explored the challenges and the progress made so far in the STEM fields with regards to women and girls in Nigeria.

The following stakeholders were invited to join the conversation, which was led by Mary Olushoga, Founder of the AWP Network. In attendance were, Saudat Salami – Founder, EasyshopEasycook.com, Tolulope Adeyemo – Program Director, The WAAW Foundation, Nkemdilim Begho – Founder, FutureSoftware Resources, Abisoye Ajayi – Founder, Pearls Africa and the honorable Ubong King.

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The AWP Network Honors Itoro Eze-Anaba, Founder of the Mirabel Rape Crisis Center

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Thursday, April 27, 2017 – Itoro Eze-Anaba, Founder of the Mirabel Rape Crisis Center was honoured at the AWP Network ‘Get Connected’ Forum for her dedication, service and commitment to women and girls empowerment in Nigeria. Founded in 2013, the Mirabel Centre is a sexual assault referral centre established to provide free holistic, high quality medical and psychosocial services to survivors of sexual assault and rape. The centre is managed by Partnership for Justice and is located at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital.

Mary Olushoga, Founder of the AWP Network states, “In 2015, Itoro Eze-Anaba was listed as a ‘AWP Network Power Woman’ for her work. That same year, her organisation was recognised by the AWP Network as one of 14 leading organisations changing the lives of Nigerian women and girls. I am indeed honoured to have established a platform that recognises African women and girls serving their local communities. My team and I were very excited to put this Forum together, as such conversations are needed in a society that does not fully recognise sexual assault, harassment, and violence as crimes against humanity.”

Olushoga continues, “We are glad to establish a platform that allows us to hear directly from those doing the ground work. Those who do this work are usually not recognised. These organisations struggle with everything from funding to staff recruitment. We hope that we can continue to shed light on their work so that the government, private organisations and volunteers can continue to support their efforts. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to provide a platform for leaders, for women, doing amazing work in their various communities, and especially to Itoro, thank you for all that you do and for inspiring the next generation of African women and girls.”

Eze-Anaba stated as she received her award, “Thank you to the AWP Network for honouring me with this award. It is really a pleasant surprise. Thank you to AWP Network founder, Mary Olushoga for the opportunity to speak about my work, my passion and commitment providing hope to survivors of rape and sexual violence. Also, thank you to my staff for all of the work that they do.”

On this day, the AWP Network hosted a panel on ‘Sexual Harassment and Assault in the Workplace,’ it was at this event that Eze-Anaba received her award. Speaking on the panel were the following stakeholders, Jolaoluwa Ayeye, Representative of the Stand To End Rape Initiative, Iheoma Obibi – Ashoka Fellow, Feminist and Founder of Intimate Pleasures, Nigeria’s first online adult novelty shop, Blessing Timidi Digha-Omolere – Women Deliver Young Leader, Feminist, and girl-child/sexual reproductive health and rights advocate, who came all the way from Ondo state to Lagos for the event. This event took place at the JobMag Center in Yaba, Lagos.















The AWP Network ‘Get Connected Business Series’ – Meet the Speakers

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The African Women Power (AWP) Network will host the “Get Connected Business Series,” during the last week in April. The forum is created with the intention to provide insights and information needed to help entrepreneurs and employees grow and get to the next level. The event begins at 9:30am. 


Saudat Salami is the founder of Easyshop Easycook, a fresh farm produce and online delivery service. Her company helps working women meet up on their domestic responsibilities without putting stress on their careers.  Salami is a Vital Voices Grow Fellow, a United States IVLP Alumna, a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women scholarship recipient for the CEM (Certificate for Entrepreneurial Management) program at EDC and an Alumna of the Fate Foundation-Aspiring Entrepreneurs Program. She is an Associate Member of WIMBIZ (Women in Management, Business, and Public Service), WEConnect International, Institute of Logistics Management of Nigeria and she volunteers with various charity organizations. Saudat Salami is happily married to Mr. Abiodun Salami and they are blessed with two lovely girls.

Tolulope O. Adeyemo is program director at The WAAW Foundation, a non-profit organization with the mission to increase the pipeline of African girls in technology and engineering while ensuring that they are engaged in the technology innovation pipeline. Adeyemi holds a bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Prior to joining the WAAW Foundation, Adeyemo worked as a corporate communications officer at Oando Marketing Plc. She has extensive hands-on experience in program planning, project management, long-term strategy planning, marketing and branding, and fundraising.  She serves as a mentor and sacrifices her time to empower girls through education. Adeyemo is a firm believer that education and technology are essential to breaking the cycle of poverty and providing economic progress for any nation.

Femi Longe is the co-founder of Tender.ng, a tech solution for procurement opportunities in Nigeria. He is also co-founder and director of programs at The Co-Creation Hub. Longe earned a bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Electrical Engineering from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He is an avid traveler and eclectic consumer of books, music, and movies.

Nkemdilim Begho is the founder of Future Software Resources. Begho has successfully re-branded the company, thus changing its focus from a standalone solution to a web-based educational and business solutions enterprise. Prior to her appointment at Future Software, Begho contributed to various research projects to include: the wazobia linux initiative, the e-government interoperability framework, NITDA open standards framework, as well as the deployment of e-commerce and e-portal solutions in the Nigerian public and private sector. Her company, Future Software Resources is the winner of the Etisalat Nigeria Prize for Innovation. She is a board member of the World Summit Youth Award, co-founder of the Bake for Change Development Foundation, and co-founder of a clothing manufacturing company.

Abisoye Ajayi is a social impact entrepreneur and founder of Pearls Africa, a non-governmental organization promoting the technological advancement of vulnerable women and girls. Ajayi has over 12 years’ of experience in Information Technology Solutions Development. She is a Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) and an Oracle Database Administrator (OCDBA). Ajayi describes herself as a technology savvy data analyst with a passionate heart for change and a strong will to make it happen. She is a United States IVLP Alumna, a member of the United Nations Interagency Network on Youth Development, the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, and is recognized as a leading woman in tech by YNaija!

Reginald Bassey is a farmer at Janai farms limited. He previously served as Chief of Staff at the Office of Rep. Robinson Uwak of the Oron Federal Constituency of Akwa Ibom State where he led the team on policy and legislative research, and community mobilization. Bassey earned his Master’s degree from Baruch College in New York and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Covenant University. He is a Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI) Associate.

Shade Ladipo is the Country Director for WEConnect International in Nigeria. At the age of 25, Ladipo founded Avienti Limited — a destination management company. She has worked with the United Nations Volunteers and several advertising agencies where she specialized in events and account management, client services and strategy. Ladipo is one of the founding members of Global Shapers in Lagos and represents Nigeria at World Economic Forum events. She is also recognized as the co-founder of Enough Is Enough Nigeria, a platform for young people deciding Nigeria’s path to change. Ladipo was recognized by several platforms for her work as a change agent and businesswoman. She has been nominated for the Future Awards Africa Awards, chosen as 101 Young Achievers at the Africa Business Forum in Accra, Ghana, and selected as a Goldman Sachs fellow. She regularly appears on radio programs and at live events about everything she is passionate about including leading a successful business in Nigeria.

Itoro Eze-Anaba is the founder of the Mirabel Rape Crisis Center. A lawyer and women’s rights activist, Eze-Anaba is involved in the promotion and protection of women’s rights in Nigeria since 1999. She is a United States IVLP alumni and participated in the exchange program of the Law Society of England and Wales. She went on to set up Partnership for Justice, a non-governmental organization with the mission to provide an innovative range of services to promote and protect human rights in Nigeria. In 2005, she received a scholarship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) for her LLM-Masters in Law program at the American University, Washington College of Law, Washington DC where she specialized in Gender and the Law.

Jolaoluwa Ayeye is a representative of the Stand To End Rape Initiative. She is a senior writer and content creator at Zikoko. Ayeye graduated from the University of Durham with a degree in Politics and Philosophy. Ayeye is a social and traditional media enthusiast through which, she enjoys telling stories that have not gotten enough representation. Jolaoluwa Ayeye is passionate about women’s rights, poverty alleviation, and good governance. She joined the Stand To End Rape organization in 2015 and is a part of their communications team.

Iheoma Obibi is the founder of Intimate Pleasures, Nigeria’s first online sex shop. A feminist, writer and human rights activist with extensive experience providing training to rural and urban poor communities in Africa and to marginalized communities in London. Currently, Obibi is the Executive Director of Alliances for Africa an international non-governmental organization engaged in human rights training, legislative advocacy, public policy and community development.

Obibi regularly acts as a Trainer and Facilitator and has worked as a consultant for several international agencies including UN Women, British Council, OECD, DfID and the Commonwealth Secretariat. In 2005, Obibi was selected to become an Ashoka Fellow. She has published short stories in several online e-zines and anthologies including, “African Women Writing Resistance: An Anthology of Contemporary Voices” and “Pastor Saul Bottomsup” in the publication “An Anthology of Great Writing Volume 1.” She earned a degree from the University of East London and an MA with distinction in Communications Policy Studies from City University, London.

Blessing Timidi Digha-Omolere is a Women Deliver Young Leader, Feminist and girl child/Sexual Reproductive Health & Rights Advocate with 10 years of experience in the non-profit sector. The journey into advocacy started after her teenage pregnancy experience in 2005.  Digha-Omolere earned a Bachelor of Technology degree in Food Science & Engineering from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology in Ogbomosho, Oyo State, Nigeria and is now a Community Mobilization/Advocacy Officer at 9jaGirl – an organization advocating for the girl-child on all fronts with an emphasis on sex education, sexual reproductive health and rights, HIV/AIDS, female genital mutilation (and other harmful traditional practices), sexual violence, early child marriage, education and other issues affecting the girl-child.

Idongesit Harrison Umoh is the founder of Idong Harrie Limited, a handmade footwear & accessories company. Umoh founded her business with about 7000 Naira and with the support of former colleagues at Nokia Nigeria. She has grown the business to become a national brand and has won several awards and grants since founding the company in 2005.























































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