GIVING BACK: HON. ARINZE CHILO-OFFIAH’S INNOVATIVE APPROACH TO MAKE ENUGU JOIN THE TOP 5 STARTUP ECOSYSTEMS IN NIGERIA
How did Enugu State go from being the “unnoticed” in the global market to making the global ranking as the 5th top Startup Ecosystem in Nigeria, leaving 31 states behind?
Following the recent release of the Global StartupBlink Ecosystem Index Report of 2021, there has been a whirlwind of multiple emotions; disbelief, shock, surprise, and happiness. But the common question on everybody’s lips is “How?” With the rise of Nigeria’s rank “fueled by its massive consumer market and more than 500 active startups, one of the largest in Africa,” very few expected that Enugu will make a huge contribution to this. More surprising is Enugu’s rank as the first Southeastern Nigeria state to make the list and the 978th globally.
Despite the wave of the pandemic shaking the very roots of businesses all around the world, Enugu has made an evolution to become a startup hub right in the very heart of Nigeria. This is tied to the essential role of the Enugu Small and Medium Enterprises (ESME) Center, led by Hon. Arinze Chilo-Offiah, the Special Adviser on SME Development. Starting as the Head of the Enugu SME Center in 2019, Hon. Chilo-Offiah’s major focus, under the Government of His Excellency, RT. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, was on Human Capital Development. “One of the key things I focus on is to define Human Capital as a sector that should be funded and invested in, just as it is done in the agricultural sector, manufacturing, the creative industries and all,” He explains. The mission to put Enugu on the global map led the Centre to embark on numerous projects that were specifically designed to empower the people of Enugu and provide them with the necessary skills to thrive in the advancing society.
Hon. Chilo-Offiah understood that there is no startup without skills, as startups thrive on the skills of the different individuals involved. Hence, he led many training programs that were tilted towards enhancing the skills of the people of Enugu, so they could become entrepreneurs. This also alleviated the challenges of unemployment in the state, among these programs were the Enugu Skill-Up Apprenticeship Project, Enugu Tech, Enugu Fenix Power Champions, Enugu Youth Empowerment Scheme, and the Auto Revamp Training Academy.
The Enugu SME Center partnered with private sectors known for their expertise, to ensure that the technical, professional, and vocational capacities of the Youths; unemployed and underemployed, are fully built. Enugu Tech, in partnership with Utiva, dealt exclusively with training on programming and product design. This was born out of the conviction that tech is the future, and for Enugu to thrive, it had to have a future in tech.
The presence of tech experts in Enugu can also ensure a place for tech giants like Google, and Microsoft to operate in Enugu State. Enugu Tech has graduated over 250 persons, with over 150 trainees still in the program. In a bid to guarantee that the challenge of financial inadequacy does not hinder the training of these individuals, Hon. Chilo-Offiah, in collaboration with the private sectors, subsidised the training fee from Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand (₦250,000) to Twenty Thousand (₦20,000). To those who still couldn’t pay this amount, a human capital development loan was made available.
The Enugu Youth Empowerment Scheme has also contributed immensely to the rank that Enugu currently holds. The digital marketing program has equipped and is still equipping the individuals of Enugu State with the skill through which they can promote their businesses, placing them on the global map.
The youths are trained on high income earning digital marketing skills. In November 2020, 300 of these youths graduated from the program, and have gone ahead to establish trailblazing startups, an establishment whose reflections are widely acknowledged presently. The cost of this training, alongside others, was also subsidised with the funding provided by the allocation of the state.
The vision of the Enugu SME Center, “To facilitate easier access to resources required by entrepreneurs, SMEs and players in that ecosystem to achieve sustainable development in Enugu State,” is gradually metamorphosing into its reality.
With the number of programs Hon. Chilo-Offiah has spearheaded in the Southeastern state of Enugu, the successes and development in Enugu have taken a fully positive turn, as the Enugu State Government successfully registered Business Names for over 6,000 Startups, a number which is key to the recent global recognition. For everyone asking “How?” Let them hear the stories of “giving back to the society,” the foundation upon which Enugu is weaving her tenacious garment.
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