Saturday, 21 October 2017

“I want to make 100 Million Naira in 5 years” says Benue-born virtual artist who won financial grant from the Tony Elumelu Foundation


It is often believed that Nigeria is not bereft of talents and men of abilities. What many believe is that the country lacks the political will to put structures on ground to support youths who are willing to drive the economy with their God-given talents and abilities. The Tony Elumelu Foundation, TEF, is therefore an answer to the age-long prayers of many a Nigerian youth who needed a push to launch themselves off the entrepreneurial pad! From 2010 when it was founded, the Foundation has empowered thousands of youths who are already making impacts in their respective endeavours across the African continent. With its vision statement of “developing the next generation of business leaders for Africa”, the foundation is set to do more in years to come.
The 2017 edition of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, TEF, Entrepreneurship Programme as usual sought to identify 1000 budding talents who eventually benefited from the $5000 grant. Over 93000 applications were said to been received by the philanthropic organization out of which 1000 were deemed qualified.
Indeed, Benue state is blessed with talents, and they are everywhere making the state proud! For instance, one of the lucky winners of the 2017 edition of The Tony Elumelu Foundation Grant for Entrepreneurship is Benue-born Ver Ikeseh, a virtual artist who won the grant to kick-start the expansion of his art works with his innovative technology. Ver Ikesseh who hails from Kusuv, Buruku Local Government Area of Benue state spoke exclusively to The Journalist Blog. Read the interview below.

Professional background
I am Ver Ikeseh from Kusuv, Benue, Nigeria. I am a trained visual artist with a BA (Fine Arts) from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and two master degrees from University of Ibadan, Nigeria and Leiden University, the Netherlands. I have participated in several national and international art exhibitions. I am the CEO of Abeda Etcetera, a spatial design company that builds gabions. I have executed spatial designs in public places, some are commissions while others are my community development service as my way of giving back to the community.
What exactly do you do as an entrepreneur?
I am a spatial designer and I build gabions. I learnt about gabions while I was living in the Netherlands and decided to come start a brand with it Nigeria. 
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Some of Ver's works
Why is spatial design?
I am trained visual artist who used to paint conventional ‘oil on canvas’ paintings. I used to organize gallery exhibitions with my paintings and drawings but I decided to change my mind and create art works in public spaces. This is because I felt I was limiting my art and creativity, galleries constrained my reach.
I changed because I asked myself these questions? Why crawl when I can fly? Why use just small canvasses when I can use massive extended walls. Why constrain myself to exhibiting in small galleries when I can exhibit on permanent public structures which can last ‘forever’.
I decided to maximize the opportunity of walls as a medium because most walls are constructed by architects, builders, engineers or masons and as such they construct it basically from a very technical perspective. I take it further because I see a wall as a medium to express myself, add colour to life, edify spaces, and explore principles and elements of design.
What motivated you to apply for the fund?
Life in Africa is very hard. It is quite difficult to save money in bits and end with enough capital especially for someone like me who is into a capital intensive sector like construction. Applying for the funding was a sure way to skip all the hustle of saving and or bank loans.
What motivated you into entrepreneurship?
I decided early on in my life that I would rather live out my dream than live all my life helping other people realize their dreams for peanuts in return. I have seen several civil servants work 35 years or retire at 60 with nothing to show after working tirelessly all their life. I am a trained visual artist with lots of exhibitions and awards to show for. This was a sign I could be great so why go hide under someone else’s shadow? I decided to use my art background and diversify into spatial design. So for me building beautiful structures (gabions) in public spaces is a way to reach out to the community and inspire the world. I am an independent person so being an entrepreneur is really the only option.
What are the huddles you faced growing up?
No hurdles really apart from setting high standards for myself so I can be outstanding and relevant in the visual art industry.
What were the huddles you faced during the contest?
I really did not face any specific hurdle because I sent my application and the next time I heard from TEF it was “Congratulations you are winner”. However that does not mean a lot of work did not go in. Competing for a slot of 1000 out of 93,000 is really a fierce fight. For me the secrete was that as soon as I decided to come back to Nigeria and start a brand I spent sleepless nights trying to come up a comprehensive business plan so I would not only be eligible to apply but outstanding for funding. So when TEF came I walked through effortlessly.  
How do you intend to utilize the fund?
To expand my brand and build a quarry in a strategic location.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
My gabion projects in public spaces would have reached out to an audience of at least five hundred million people.
I would have trained and mentored about 100 practicing artists who would also mentor others and made a profit of 100 million Naira.
I would create about 100 projects in public spaces dedicated to selfless philanthropists to honor their achievements.
I would be the most outstanding gabion company in Nigeria.
Why do you think young people are afraid of entrepreneurship?
Most young people are scared of the hard work. Being an entrepreneur is cool but it comes with hard work, pain and sleepless nights (for outstanding entrepreneurs). For instance if you have no jobs or clients then it means no income. So how do you pay bills? However those who work regular jobs are sure of pay after 30 days whatever happens.
Again some do not have the capital and are yet to find a way to raise cash.
What is your advice for young people?
Entrepreneurship is not everyone however if you feel working for others is not your calling and you feel motivated to be your boss then wait no longer. Get up and go start something. Again let capital be the last reason why you have not started. Mark Zuckerberg and Aliko Dangote did not wait for all the cash, they started small. Zuckerberg started small with his tuition while Dangote started with few bags of cement, they kept on pushing and things began to happen. Remember success attracts and even luck is created.
On a lighter note, what is your relationship status?
I am married to Awa Agber. She is the CEO Awastudios. 
What other thing would you want to tell me?
The life of an entrepreneur has no final destination of arrival. It’s on and ongoing.

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