In this interview, Ezinne Nwokafor, Head, Business Banking at Sterling Bank, speaks on how startups and growing businesses in the Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) can leverage The Business Hub to achieve sustainable development and growth.
What is the problem The Business Hub was created to solve?
The Business Hub was created to solve problems of access to information, access to market, mostly by being a hub for Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises. It is irrelevant whether the business is just starting or still growing, as long as it is an MSME, The Business Hub is a place where the owner can access resources and information, he/she needs to grow the business.
One of the major challenges that we noticed through all the trainings that we had done and through all the various engagements we have had with MSMEs – over 8,000 of them – in the last two years is that information is actually not easily accessible as people think. It is scattered all over the place and they can exploit only the ones they have access to.
So, that is one of the major things that we sought to accomplish. But aside that, every other thing they need to easily start a business or grow an existing one and every advisory they need for survival and to grow that business or stand the test of time are available in The Business Hub. Those are the things we want to help them do as a business in the hub.
Can you tell us the type of businesses that are using the hub and how the hub is meeting their needs?
It is strictly for MSMEs or Micro Small and Medium Enterprises across different segments of the economy. Although, we have our strategic focus areas at Sterling, this platform is available to all MSMEs irrespective of their industry. The Business Hub is all encompassing – it accommodates businesses in entertainment, fashion, agriculture, consulting and much more.
The Hub also supports businesses based on their growth stage. We have specific solutions for startup businesses and solutions to meet the needs of growing businesses.
The Business Hub provides access to a marketplace for anyone anywhere across the country to make extra income by sharing their Spaces, Offices, and Equipment with others. Shared spaces are usually fully equipped with Wi-Fi and training resource and a whole lot more to create convenience, security and comfort for users. Equipment are also available for rent at discounted rates to support startups and aspiring entrepreneurs, who do not have all the money they need for the equipment. That is one of the important needs being met by The Business Hub.
We were prompted to create The Business Hub based on feedback from our customers regarding the problems confronting them. When we interviewed them in the last two years, three primary things came up: Access to finance, high cost of equipment and cost of rent and power. The Business Hub is solving the challenges associated with running and making a business to survive beyond the first five years.
As you know, over 65 percent of businesses do not survive beyond the first five years. That is why we have made it our mission to deliberately focus on startups. We are helping them with everything that they need to stand in terms of access to market, mentors, cash flow management, training and corporate registration. We are taking away all the complexities in starting and running a business
How old is the business hub and what is the operational model given the endemic nature Coronavirus?
We launched The Business Hub in December 2020 to a few customers. Right now, we have moved a lot of the services online so they are easily accessible for countless customers regardless of physical location. I’ll encourage you to visit the platform via https://thebusinesshub.ng/ and thank me later.
Have you by chance met any entrepreneur using The Business Hub? What was the interaction like?
I will give you two examples. One is a startup and the other is a growing business. So, for the startup, it was a case of hyper-excitement over the benefits that come with being part of The Business Hub. That user was so excited, he even asked, ‘Are you saying you are going to give me a professional email and free banking for three years and all these for the same amount of registering a business?’ I said yes and that is what we do.
In less than a month, he did everything and introduced two people to us without our asking – that is the power of what we have at The Business Hub. We are taking our time to make sure that we are really solving problems, not just being a partner in words but in action and in taking out time to solve the problems that have been identified by various businesses.
For growing businesses, the major area is that they want loans, and they want to expand. They have issues. Their businesses are not doing well. So, when they use our business diagnostic tools, they get some totally new insights which they were unaware of. Of course, our engagement afterwards will further drill down and provide advisory, especially in the area of tax and finance.
Can you tell us about the TBH value preposition?
It is premised on free banking for startups and businesses that are not up to five years old. This service and business registration could potentially be transformational for them.
We have different packs on the business hub – starter pro and starter plus. So, each pack has a bundle of service offering from us and the least of the packs includes business name registration, professional email, and a professional custom domain that they can use for their corporate websites. They also have free banking for three years. We will open a business account for them as well, all bundled in at the exact cost that they will typically pay a lawyer to register the business for them.
Everything is done and delivered to them at their doorsteps. That’s one of the transformational things we have for startups. We also give access to mentors because we want to make sure that they survive as a business for more than five years. So, we have a resource pool of seasoned entrepreneurs that have been in business, have seen different economic cycles and are doing extremely well serving as mentors to startups.
The mentors will assist them to understand and survive challenges and issues that the economy might throw at them. We also organise training sessions and provide advisory services. They can call us anytime. We have people that will provide any information that they need whether about business idea, how to do research or what they need. We are on call to receive their calls and to respond 24 hours of the day. These are some of the very peculiar things that The Business Hub supports SMEs with.
And for businesses that are above five years, they have experienced both success and hardship and are looking to see how they can grow or expand rapidly.
First, we will take them through a health check to see where they are in their businesses and they really appreciate it. Then, we tell them where the leakages and the challenges are. Advisory support follows and they are provided with all the resources that they need to move their businesses forward. If their businesses require a loan, we will also make that available for them and when they apply for the loan, they can get it in less than five minutes at a subsidised rate.
In the last few months, is there any achievement or contribution to the SME sector that you are most proud of?
The Business Hub online platform is still a baby that we started in December. But one of the things that really gets me excited is what we have for startup businesses, especially helping them to remove the complexity of registration and making it so easy for them to solve their problems at the click of a button. I think convenience, comfort and security that comes with automation is the big deal for me in the recent.
Are there any other plans in the works for the sector? Anything new, any innovation?
We are keen on innovation because it has brought us this far. There are exciting and value adding propositions coming up for SMEs in the advisory, payment and lending space.
We are ramping up advisory capacity this year such that if an SME is facing any business challenge, they do not need to think twice about who to call. Even if it is a legal or tax issue, they can call The Business Hub hotline and we will help solve that problem by directing them to the right places. That is what we are going to achieve this year and we need SMEs to be on that journey with us so that we can get this going.