Being unique and innovative is the only way to rapid growth for SMEs

Nigeria’s economic landscape is overwhelmingly dominated by Small and Medium Scale Businesses (SMEs). Over 37 million SMEs, spread across the entire spectrum of the socio-economic industries, account for about 44 million jobs, or 80% of the country’s labor force, according to data from the Small & Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN). Yet, their contribution to the GDP (well below 50%) is largely trumped by a handful of larger corporations.

The reason for this is not far-fetched. Historically, their inability to blossom into efficiently managed, profit-making businesses stems from their incapacity to navigate through the web of challenges peculiar to the sector. Access to finance is unsurprisingly the most popular for their poor showing, but the infrastructure deficit, scarce mentorship, stereotypes and varying levels of education contribute heavily to their stagnation.

Over the last decade, the rapid infusion of technology into business has eased the challenging growth phase and provided an alternative, cost-effective tool for many SMEs to expand their marketplace and deepen footprints. As a result, managing a comprehensive online presence, inclusive of a trading website that allows smaller businesses sell conveniently across global markets, has become a requisite. Unfortunately, less than 10% of Nigerian SMEs own functioning websites. According to Optimisa Research, of those that do, a significant number lack the capacity to incorporate a trading platform.

“Being innovative will help startups and small businesses to grow sustainably in spite of environmental challenges that every business faces” said Bidemi Ladipo, Head, Enterprise Marketing, Etisalat Nigeria. “When you are starting a small business, you have to be unique and innovative. Don’t copy other people’s business ideas; if your idea is based on an existing one, then you have to go the extra mile by adding something unique”, he stressed.

Realizing this gap, Etisalat Nigeria, the leading innovative and customer- centric telecommunication network in the country, has reiterated its commitment to the development of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) in Nigeria as the engine of economic growth. “We are proud to be associated with small and growing businesses in Nigeria because we share a similar story. When we came to Nigeria, the market had been thoroughly saturated by existing operators. Though we came into the market as a small player, today our story is different; we have over 23 million subscribers and we are on our way to becoming the number one player in the industry. This tells us that every small business has a potential to grow into a big corporation, which is why we associate with small businesses,” added Bidemi.

There is enormous potential inherent in the SME space. According to Yasmin Belo-Osagie, Co-founder of start accelerator, She Leads Africa, smaller businesses are capable of generating over 70 million jobs locally and more than 200 million across Africa, provided they are properly courted till they become sustainable profit-making entities.

Initiatives like Market Access are certain to boost networking and grow capacity for the fledging number of SMEs not just in Nigeria but across Africa, says Bature Umar Masari, Director General of SMEDAN. “The platform will boost the capacity of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) in Nigeria to grow faster.” He encouraged participating entrepreneurs to take advantage of the platform to connect with other entrepreneurs relevant to the growth of their businesses.

The Market Access platform has seen tremendous success since its inception in 2011. Market Access has aided Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) in networking and developing productive relationships with larger organizations. Last year, the platform toured the country to regions including Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt with a combined total audience of over 2,000 people for the year.

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