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Monday, October 15, 2007

TAN Conf 2007: Is Entrepreneurship Teachable?

From L-R: Peter Ojany [Intel], Chinedu Echeruo [], Gordon Williams [Co-founder & CFO of TAN], Sade Sobande [TAN Con 2007 Chair], Yemi Lalude[Founder and Managing Director Adlevo Capital], Front: Uduak Oduok [], Bolaji Olutade [President/CEO of TAN]

Palo Alto –CA, October 16th, 2007, “Is entrepreneurship teachable?" Can we really teach Africans how to manage and run successful companies? This was the provocative question asked by one of TAN Conf 2007’s attendee; who was a former ambassador to the USA for Rwanda during the Clinton administration.

TAN Conf 2007 held at the sleek Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto, answered the question via dynamic speakers with a wealth of experience in and out of Africa and a very interactive audience. Kicking things off, in a room full of aspiring, new and established entrepreneurs, was Jack Holden who was the morning’s key note speaker. Holden, a veteran entrepreneur and current Founder/Director of Gold Star, a Biodeisel company head quartered in Ghana, spoke largely about his experiences and doing business in Africa. Holden expressed the difficulty of getting the West to see Africa as a great investment opportunity-- he has spent over 27years trying to do so. Nevertheless, he encouraged all interested in investments in Africa to not give up.

Jack Holden with TAN Conf 2007 guest

Following Holden was what would be intermittent breaks and networking opportunities sprinkled throughout the duration of the conference. Shortly after one of such breaks, a panel consisting of Chinedu Echeruo [], Nosa Omogui [Director of Strategic investments with Intel Capital [ICap], Ike Eze [Entrepreneur and Private Investor] and Yemi Lalude [Founder and Managing Director of Adlevo Capital] convened to discuss how aspiring entrepreneurs could transition from their 9-5 to full fledged entrepreneurs. All emphasized it began with the idea. “Most people have the ideas but [d]o not believe in their ideas enough to quit their 9-5
jobs,” said Eze. “[B]elief is important,” said Echeruo. “Added to belief is research and the time to research because only at that point is where you are able to process whether it is a full time job,” added Echeruo. Echeruo provided even more pragmatic steps. He suggested budding entrepreneurs put their ideas on paper, create a 20 page slide, if possible, for presenting to team of investors and get the word out via a clear marketing plan.

Lalude offered his take on doing business in Africa explaining that actual formal market research process might not necessarily work. “I had a hypothesis, went to Africa and confirmed it with the people,” said Lalude. “There are things we take for granted that we can not do the same in Africa [e.g.] infrastructure, resources and human resources and these things must be considered if you decide to start your new venture in Africa,” said Eze. “In Africa, it is tougher to find people who can invest in your projects or venture.”

Eze stated that in case you just decided to quit your big firm in the USA to move to Africa to start your business, there are some key things you needed to do. First, evaluate the industry you are in. Second, understand that if it is an industry that requires capital, you might need to be there locally on the ground. Third, he further advised the need for sincerity and honesty with self. Ask, is there a market? Is there a product? Do I have a good team?

Needless to say, after you quit your job to become an entrepreneur, it is only a matter of time before you start screaming Jerry Maguire’s “Show me the Money!” Moderated by Doug Kelly, Partner at Alloy Ventures, the panel on “Raising Capital” explained you could find money from family, friends, banks or a Venture Capitalist. “Go to a Venture Capitalist with the idea that he/she is looking for a reason not to invest,” said Eghosa Omoigui, one of the panelist. You should be prepared to truly say, “I have a product that matches the problem, it is a big problem, I have the right people to execute the vision, my product can be differentiated in the market place and I can make you lots of money.” The panel also stressed the importance of due diligence, especially when it came to finding the right investors and their motives for investing in your business.

Of course whenever there is cash-money discussions, lawyers are a necessity. As such, the panel consisting of Olatunde Simoyan [Associate at Wilson Sonsini, LLP], Barry Kraemer [Partner at Fenwick & West, LLP]and Khoa D. Do [Partner at DLA Piper] got together as they picked up from the previous panel to discuss legalese. Keeping it lively with a skit, sorry there was no dancing, Kramer along with Bisi Akinola [Associate at Fenwick & West, LLP who played the role of a soon to be entrepreneur], addressed intellectual property issues—making sure you own your work and not soliciting current employees of your ex-employer for your new venture [depending on employment agreement in place]. Like an engagement that has been called off, they stressed that you are expected to give the ring back! So, do not take the business customer list, list of employees, technical information, laptops keys and phones of your ex-employer. The panel also touched on the right legal structure for your new venture [C Corp, LLC and S Corps], allocating shares, termination clauses, roles/expectation of the founders among the many issues they covered to avoid landing in murky legal waters.

With all that legal drama and issues to ponder, it was time for lunch, provided by TAN, and more networking! After lunch, the event resumed with an inspiring speech from another key note speaker Kenneth Coleman, Chairman of Accelry’s. "Understand you [a]re in the people business and that no matter how great a vision you have, you will not understand it till it is in the hands of the customer,” said Coleman. “Talk less and listen to the marketplace, [the]consumer.” Coleman encouraged TAN Conf 2007 attendees to have strong work ethic, “self confidence and the ability to stare down the possibility of failure.” He concluded his speech by saying, “[While] you work hard [and] have achievements, it is important to make time for family, friends and community.

TAN Conf. 2007 concluded with Holden and his team at Gold Star sharing their success stories in Africa and other success stories such as Kunle Olukotun [Professor at Stanford Univeristy] and Abi Adeoti [Director of Finance and Startegy at Intuit Inc]Matt Flannery, co-founder and CEO of also sharing their success stories.


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