Ugwunna Ehi Comfort almost lost hope when she wanted to start a school in 2004 due to lack of funds. All efforts to get a loan from development and commercial banks failed. But she refused to give-up.
With her savings and some financial support from family and friends, Comfort began Global Model Academy in DeiDei, an Abuja suburb.
“The beginning was rough. We started with four rented thatched classrooms; four pupils and two teachers.
“The major challenge I faced as an entrepreneur was finance. My finance was very limited and most people did not have confidence to give a woman any facility/loan. The banks asked for collateral and I did not have collateral to give though I had a genuine business idea. So, with my savings and little support from family members, I started out,” she narrated.
Comfort said having started; they made do with the little fees from pupils. “There were a lot of sacrifices. Then, I was not earning any salary. At the end of the term, any money we generated, we used it to build a classroom or facility that we needed. My husband then will use his salary to pay staff, just to keep the school going. And when another term starts, we started from scratch again.
“Along the line, however, we approached the Abuja Enterprise Agency for a loan. When they saw the efforts we have made on our own, the agency gave us a loan. They did not ask for anything. They only had confidence in what we were able to do and we have not disappointed them. Now we have over 20 teachers and the population of the school is over 250 pupils and students.
“We built more structures and have good laboratories and our school has been accredited to write WAEC, NECO and NABTEB,” she explained.
For Halima Abba, CEO of Malabis Lingeria, funding still remains a big challenge for female entrepreneurs.
“Most times, more men tend to get loan than women. There is just the perception that women cannot manage finances. But funny enough, women are better managers. Most women you give loan will repay the loan, but men will take-off. Before, when you go to the banks asking for loan, they just look at you but now they are changing. Some banks have programmes geared towards women. First Bank has FirstGEM geared towards women, Access Bank has its W initiative too. But then, they will say come and take loan but when you get there, it’s a different ball game,” she said.
However, Halima said she found an alternative way of getting fund for her business.
“In my own business, I found another way of sourcing for funds. We do ‘adashe’/ contribution. There is specific time you get your own money; it works and you plan towards it. You could do N10,000 or N100,000 and get N1 million. It is an independent way of sourcing for your own finance,” she explained.
Jolly Nnenna Abani, CEO of Spices Lounge, a division of Mother of Models Fashion, Video and Audio Production, said getting financial support for business has not been easy, adding that most times her movies are self-sponsored.
Accessing loan has been a herculean task for her as a result of lack of property to offer as collateral. “I have not been able to take loan because of collateral attached to accessing loan. I don’t have a house in Abuja to use for collateral or landed property. That is all they always asked for when you are processing loan.”
However, speaking on the issue of funding for women and small businesses at the recently concluded Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) Clinic in Abuja, the Deputy Director , Development Finance of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Osita Nwanisobi, said the N220 billion MSMEs’ loan could be accessed through microfinance banks, financial cooperatives and finance companies.
He said: “To empower the women, and women in particular, because we recognise that women have financing challenges, we targeted about 60 per cent of this funds to go to the women folk,” adding that “112,000 women have accessed the MSMEs loan.”
Nwanisobi, said statistics from SMEDAN and McKinsey & Company showed that Nigeria has 9.6 trillion financing gap for MSMEs.
“When you see this, you begin to see the enormity of the challenges that we have. And when you borrow this money, you need to pay so that others can get it,” he added.
Similarly, the Technical Adviser to the Vice President on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Mr Tola Johnson, while speaking during a visit to some small business owners prior to the MSMEs clinic, said the government saluted the courage of Nigerians doing small businesses. “Given the harsh challenges/conditions some of them face, they try to live above the waters. Government will try and perform its own role. Were government can support, were the private sector can support, let them try and support.
“The truth is that sincere Nigerians who start up businesses will always grow. Like this woman (referring to Comfort) who owns this school, she has been given several loans by AEA and she has not defaulted in any. Now she is going to get school buses because she has collected funds which she has paid back. If you collect a facility and don’t pay back, then you cannot go back to that place,” he said.
The Project Officer, FCT at the Bank of Industry (BOI) said for small business owners who have invested in their businesses already and have generated employment, BOI will assist and encourage them.
However, Mrs Ekaette Umoh, founder and MD/CEO of Business Support Microfinance Bank, Abuja, a Chartered Accountant, while speaking on why some women found it difficult to access loan said some people were not able to access loan because they were not qualified.
“There are some qualifications you must have. You can be asked of your bank statement, business name, what your business goals are, your business plan and how sellable your idea, product or service is. There has to be some evidence that you are interested and serious. An evidence that your money is in the business. Not that you want to start business, and you want a bank to give you loan to start and you have no idea how the business works. When you start with your working capital and they see how it works, the bank will give you the loan. ”
Umoh stressed that sometimes , some people didn’t even need a loan. “Again, some of them don’t even need loans because they have not done the ground work they need to do. And for some of them, the money they think they need as loan, they already have it but didn’t look in that direction.
So you have to look at yourself first. There are some things we have that we don’t need. If we sell such things we can raise some money,” she said.