Venia Business Hub has come to life on a model known across the world. Its founder tells IFREKE INYANG why it will succeed
“We are the breeding ground for the ideas of today which will become the realities of tomorrow.”
“It wasn’t different in my case. We have a banking sector that does not lend. They have a phobia for startups. They believe you are doomed to fail.”
It is possible to get an air-conditioned office space, complete with Internet connection, a front desk receptionist, a conference room, telephone access and more for about N50,000 a month in Lagos today. That’s what Kola Oyeneyin’s Venia Business Hub offers, but it is hardly all.
Minding your business
Venia is not just a business of serviced offices; it is establishing itself as a hub for entrepreneurship; a kind of incubation space where young businesses get access to state of the art infrastructure, mentorship, networks, and other tools necessary for business survival.
“It’s the product of a lot of thinking,” Oyeneyin says, a proud smile playing on his face. “You probably must have heard about it and I’m sure you probably seen something similar around. But it has never been done the way. This is where you can just walk in and take a desk. What we are actually trying to do is to combine a number of things while creating a stimulating work environment. We are the breeding ground for the ideas of today which will become the realities of tomorrow. We are there with the business from incubation to help you start your business. Apart from all that, we also give you a platform market to come in and test the market.”
He traces the history. “It is easier now that everything is on ground and they can see it,” he says. “It was a lot more difficult when we first started. All they could see was wood and aluminum partition everywhere. At that point, unless you could see what I was trying to tell you at that point in time, you wouldn’t believe in the vision. And you know Nigerians. They will never let go of their money until they see something on ground. “Another thing we had to break through is sharing space. Nigerians don’t like to share and this is about sharing. This is about having businesses in a shared facility.”
Interestingly, it is these challenges that, he says, have hindered a lot of entrepreneurs from birthing their businesses. “The problem with every entrepreneur in Nigeria even before you start, is the idea of starting itself. It is a challenge on its own,” he tells me. “We don’t have a support network, there is no government advisory, there is no electricity, the roads are bad and there is no equipment. When you think about all that, you would rather stick to your 9-to-5 job. Even after you overcome all of that, you now have to get capital to start up. We have a banking sector that does not lend. They have a phobia for startups. They believe you are doomed to fail.”
It is a conclusion he has arrived at from personal experience. “It wasn’t different in my case,” he confesses. “It was pretty difficult getting a loan from any bank and we really needed a lot of money for what we had in mind. If you look around, everything you see is not cheap. But the banks didn’t buy the idea. They said nobody will take it from us. They asked for all manner of collateral and evidence of landed property. It’s really a big discouragement in these parts.”
On your marks
As if that wasn’t enough, Mr. Oyeneyin was faced with the issue of getting the right skillset for a new idea. “Another challenge was getting the right workforce. We needed people with the right skill. Our educational system has been abused to the extent that our graduates are not employable,” he says.
On 4 September 2011, Venia Business Hub became a reality. “It’s been very good,” he says of the response. “In two months of operation, we are almost full capacity and this is something that a few months ago, banks told us it was foreign and Nigerians will not like to get involved.”
On entrepreneurship in Nigeria despite the challenges, he is hopeful. “I won’t say there is a decline,” the graduate in Computer Science from University of Nottingham opines. “Rather, I would say there is a boom. I also run Venia Consulting and I speak to business people. I meet people that are stuck in a job they don’t like in the banks and oil companies. These people have passion for other things; things they love doing but they don’t have time to. 2012 will be an exciting year for entrepreneurship in Nigeria.
“The only problem is that I don’t see uniqueness in the things we do. A lot of people have come to me and said that other people will copy this idea, but I’m not worried. I know my vision will speak for itself. No matter how much you copy it, we will always be ahead in the game because we started it and we know where you’re going.”
He hammers home the point on uniqueness. “Most of these things we have in Nigeria are foreign,” Oyeneyin insists. “Or how do explain the fact that we live in a hot climate and people still wear suits? It doesn’t matter whether it is foreign or not. It depends on how you model it. If you get an idea from the UK, you have to tailor it to meet the market in Nigeria. If I was going to do run this business in UK, I know that people coming to pay will be able to afford the rate yearly. If you ask people to pay yearly in Nigeria, it will be a challenge. An average Nigerian entrepreneur will not be able to pay N2.1m a year but he can afford N120,000 a month. So you have to tweak it and it will work.”
“When you come into our hub, we try to be different things to be different people,” he explains as he takes me around the facility. “We want you to be able to come in and work in a place you identify around the world and its economy. For example, we have the Silicon Valley in California where you have Apple, IBM, Microsoft – where you find a lot of technological startups. In the hub, we have an open office area called Silicon Valley, where you have the work stations. It is where your small business can stem up. We have ‘Wall Street’ where you have the prestige and executive offices that go for N150,000 – N170,000 and N80,000 respectively. We also have the Canary Work stations. We have boardrooms, a games room, etc.”
Mr. Oyeneyin moved back to Nigeria in 2009 armed this idea. “When I came back, I had this idea in my head,” he shares. “I have used similar facilities abroad and I felt it was time that entrepreneurs in Nigeria started benefitting from the concept. Before then, I was running a family business. After I left I started a consulting firm for start-ups. I helped people reposition their businesses. From business consulting, we then set up the business hub.”
Even when the banks refused to lend him money and he had to rely on family and friends to raise the huge capital, he zeroed in on what he calls the secret “One word sums it all up: passion,” he says. “Passion goes hand in hand with vision. It has to be powerful enough. Ask a young entrepreneur where do you see this business in five years? If they can’t articulate it, there is a problem. If you have a plan for the next five years, your passion will carry you to the sixth year when it gets tough. The problem is when everything is centred around money. Most entrepreneurs want to drive their range rovers in the first six months of business, move from one level of accommodation to another. That’s why they pack up.”
He is focused, for 2012, in building more hubs. “We are going to have new hubs in Ikeja, Surulere, Apapa, etc. and plans are already ongoing on that,” he discloses. “It’s going to be a membership thing. I have a strategy and that includes expanding from Lekki to Victoria Island. We are hoping it will change the landscape of business and entrepreneurship in Nigeria once we can have several offices in Lagos. We know it will create such a buzz. Right now, there are businesses running from homes, hotel lobbies, cars and basically anywhere they can get power. We want to put them on our platforms so that appear credible and begin to grow. They will be there for a while and then we push them out.”
And his vision is even wider than the eyes can see. “Venia will not only be a name in business hubs only,” he promises. “We are building a brand. In the next few years, we will be into entertainment, technology, property, clothing and fashion, etc. You will find us in every industry there is to be. We have already shown the Nigerian market that is possible to have a world class facility that is affordable. What Venia wants to do with our brand is give people value for money.” Y!