October 18, 2021

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Entrepreneurship: Mapping the environment for opportunities (II)

Today we conclude what we started last week with a few more ways on how to come up with business ideas:

Search your areas of interests: It can be tricky trying to turn ‘passions’ into a business and I don’t encourage it unconditionally. Instead, I insist that as with all other business opportunities, you should only go into your areas of interest as a business if all the economic fundamentals indicate commercial viability. I also tell people that for most entrepreneurs, the love and passion for what they do tend to increase as the success in their businesses increases with time. I, for one, never had any ‘passion’ for any computer parts when I saw an opening and commenced the business. But the money I started to make, the travels, the negotiations, the highs and the lows all made me love the computer and its parts! The point is we can stumble upon opportunities ‘by accident’ and the love and passion for them will grow when we begin to enjoy all that their business entails.

Having said that, some of our personal interests can pass the tests of feasibility. Microsoft was started by the duo of Bill Gates and Paul Allen on the strength of their passion for coding. But their commercial success was made possible only by the emerging possibilities for the common use of computers. So, you too can list down your core areas of interests and dispassionately assess the viability of each.

What are your areas of competence? The same way we can get viable business ideas from our areas of interests, we could also from our areas of strengths and competence. For instance, a brilliant agricultural engineering graduate can consider going into the design and local fabrication of agricultural implements and equipment to substitute for their importation in an unfavourable exchange rate regime. In the previous 60 years, great comedians have entertained Nigerians on television and at theatres nationwide almost for free. In the last two decades, however, young people with the requisite talent and skills have created a working model of entertaining people as stand-up comedians and masters of ceremonies with resultant financial benefits to them.

As with areas of interests, you must ensure that your areas of competence, in which you want to go into business, will be commercially viable.

Understand trends: Most successful businesses are about some ‘new’ things coming up, either on the demand or supply side of the market. On the other hand, many faltering businesses are about some ‘old’ things dying out. So, understanding specific trends can give you clues to emerging business opportunities as well as where threats lurk in existing ones. For instance, over the last few decades, there have been growing global concerns in the use of ‘dirty’ energy sources. But in Nigeria, beyond their use for environmental purposes, ‘clean’ energy sources such as solar have been relief alternatives for the supply of electricity to households, offices and even to public assets. The entrepreneurs that saw this trend ahead and acted on it have been doing reasonably well.

Open your eyes and mind in the markets: All products end up at some markets where they are sold. Being alert in markets can expose you to various products and their current limitations as well as the customers and their current frustrations. Market information on prices, volumes, quality requirements, deliveries, etc, are empirical proofs of the success or failure of any product at any point in time. In particular, customer complaints are pointers to assured ways of getting initial basic information about possible opportunities.

Search the internet: Information has never come easier. Surfing the internet is another way of coming up with ideas. Online marketplaces offer a lot of reasonably dispassionate information about goods and services that brick-and-mortar markets may not provide. Product reviews and trends, market statistics, etc. that are on the internet can all give you a sense of what is happening to specific products in particular markets. But as with all other idea sources also, they must be analysed in the context of your local situations through tests of feasibility.

Other options: Other options of going into business are simply by buying into licences. For instance, many franchisors in various services offer franchisees the opportunity to buy into a working business model that has been tested and proven. Becoming a franchisee is a quick way to enter a market and learn several things to do with running a business under the guidance of an experienced franchisor. Similarly, Uber entrepreneurs with a fleet of vehicles and agency banking are ways of getting into businesses on the platforms of principals that offer opportunities.

Business ideas that could turn into positive opportunities are usually about some growing trends, solving some problems, improving less-than-ideal circumstances, etc. Converting a positive opportunity into a commercial success is about observation, thoughtful analysis, innovation, creativity, and persistent execution. So, after coming up with a seemingly brilliant business idea, your next challenge will be to test its commercial feasibility. Next week, therefore, on this Column will be ‘Entrepreneurship Development: Testing the Feasibility of a Business Idea’.