Tony Elumelu

The article was first published by Tom-Chris Emewulu on LinkedIn.

As an entrepreneur myself, I understand what it feels like to yearn for a lifeline, to hope for a ‘big break’, to look forward to enjoying some luck. – Tony O. Elumelu (CON)

Many entrepreneurs (and aspiring entrepreneurs) have reached out to me for advice on how to put their stuff together for The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program. Consequently, I want to share few tips that answer some frequently asked questions, in hope that it might be useful to a larger audience.

Before we get into it, I want to quickly mention that this is not an attempt to speak for or represent the Elumelu foundation. The tips below are my views on how you might improve your chances of having your business selected.

Again, be aware that the program is competitive. Previous editions have seen about 10% of all applicants selected. This is not to discourage you, however, it is to help you plan to put your best foot forward.

With that in mind, let’s begin, shall we?

Q1: What is The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program about?

A1: Launched in 2015, The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program is the largest African philanthropic initiative devoted to entrepreneurship and represents a 10-year, $100 million commitment, to identify and empower 10,000 African entrepreneurs, create a million jobs, and add $10 billion in revenues to Africa’s economy.

Q2: Who is qualified to apply?

A2: Anyone above the age of 18 and is a legal resident or citizen of an African country, with a for-profit business that is based in Africa, and is 0-3 years old can apply to the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program.

Q3: What’s in it for me if I’m selected?

A3: If you’re selected, the programme provides you with the following tools for your business success:

a) 12 weeks of intensive online training which guides in creating and managing your business

b) Access to mentors to guide you through the early stages of your venture

c) $5,000 in seed capital to prove the concept, with access to further funding

d) Access to a formidable network of other entrepreneurs

Q4: How can I ensure that my application is accepted?

A4: The Foundation has structured the application to test for various key elements:

i. Who you are and the reason behind your decision to be an entrepreneur

Here they want to see who you are and what made you choose entrepreneurship. Who you are do not really mean what you’re called (i.e your name), but what you have achieved before this time. So this is your self-pitch – keep it nice, precise and focused.

ii. Your leadership skills

Business involves leadership – leading your team, leading yourself, managing interests and so on. Ensure to highlight what leadership abilities you have that makes you the person to succeed in this venture.

iii. The story that brought you to this very moment

Every entrepreneur has a story. Maybe you have built something so good that people fell in love with or you have produced services that everyone you know loved, tell it here. Like begets like; if you have achieved something impressive before, chances are, you can replicate that success again.

iv. Your understanding of your business or idea and the market

This is the core aspect of your application. Firstly, you must know your business to describe it in 50 words. The reason is that if you can’t deconstruct whatever complexity that’s involved in building your idea or business, and communicate that in simple, understandable language, you don’t have a business.

Also, you have to understand how the parts (process) of the business/idea work to describe it fully. Paint a picture of how the service starts and ends.

Furthermore, you need to know who your customers are and how to access them, how the business is going to make money, what you are willing to ask for each unit of service or product, and when you expect to break-even (the point at which cost or expenses and revenue are equal). Additionally, be clear about the amount of expenditure you expect to incur each month.

Finally, you must know your competitors and what differentiates your business from theirs.

v. The scalability of your business

They want to see that your business can grow to serve many more people at minimal incremental cost (the increase in total costs resulting from an increase in production or other activity). And so you must be able to show that your business can actually grow in authority to serve clients in other regions or countries. Good market research comes in really handy here.

Suffix: Remember to identify how much money that’s been invested in the business or idea so far, and how much revenue the business/idea has generated in return. Remember also to keep your responses within the given word count. Keep your responses straight to the point. Don’t be in a hurry to hit submit; review and spellcheck/proofread your work before submitting. But ultimately, endeavor to start early so you don’t have to rush. Above all, don’t lie in your application.

Even if you have no entrepreneurship experience, you can still apply for the Tony Elumelu entrepreneurship program. Click To Tweet

Q5: Where can I find the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program application?

A5: The application is located at

Being an alum of the foundation is a great opportunity for me. The lessons from the online training and forum have been fundamental in this new phase of our work at SFAN, and I cherish the network of entrepreneurs I’ve been immersed in. I wish you well in your journey and look forward to seeing you on the alumni platform soon!

Click here to begin your application now.

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Tony Elumelu is one the most influential business leaders on the planet, with a net worth of over $700M according to Forbes(2015). Five young professionals from the United Bank for Africa had an opportunity to be invited to lunch and ask him various career questions over the weekend – and he was generous with his insights.

Below is Tony Elumelu’s success tips for young professionals as shared by the man himself on his Facebook page (minor edit by Tom-Chris Emewulu):

As I answered their questions around my childhood, my days as a young banker, the merger experience between STB and UBA, and how I balance work, family, faith, exercise and my love-hate relationship with food 😂, I recognized in their eager faces myself thirty years ago, keen on beginning my career and buying my very first car. That familiar streak of ambition and passion to succeed against all odds. Spending this time with these young ones is always worth it. Leaders who do not do so are failing in Leadership 101.

I thought to share a few points from our interaction, particularly useful tips for other young professionals hungry for success.

1. Starting Out Right

Photo by: Benedikt von Loebell / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

Whether you are an aspiring entrepreneur, or you prefer to climb the corporate ladder, the importance of structure and working in a structured environment cannot be overestimated. It helps to cultivate discipline which is directly correlated with your productivity and ability to produce results. While the corporate structure is beneficial in helping to instill certain work ethics, your work environment should be one that is conducive for learning, growth, and opportunity. The best organizations for young people are those that:

  • Recruit objectively and transparently (not based on who you know or who put in a phone call)
  • Train and build the capacities of young professionals
  • Place round pegs in round holes, i.e. deploy talent to where it is best suited
  • Give people access to the right tools to execute their tasks
  • Keep them challenged, measure and appraise staff fairly, and finally,
  • Reward and commend results and sanction failures.

Any organization that follows this merit-driven chain will give you a great career start.

As a leader at the highest level, I often worry about hiring the right people, the induction process – whether it is comprehensive enough – and training and development mechanisms across associated companies. But meeting and interacting with these five young people, I am proud of the job that the UBA’s GMD, Kennedy Uzoka, and his HR team led by the Group Head, Patricia Aderibigbe have done. The recruitment team certainly identified some of Nigeria’s brightest talent, and the deployment and job posting was spot-on. I commend the UBA leadership for paying attention to the career progression of its young people and making sure that the next generation is being focused on and prioritized.

2. Your Dreams Are Valid

Photo by: USAID / CC BY-NC

Your aspirations and yearnings are normal. As a young analyst, I still remember my own feelings of anxiety — itching to know when I would rise through the corporate ranks and finally earn my first N100,000.

It’s okay to want more. But you must remember that you must deserve more to desire more. You must put in the hours, the long nights, the sacrifice, and the diligence. While it is okay to yearn for more, you must work hard enough to earn the promotion, the pay rise, the title change, the salary increases etc. Have a clear picture of the destination you desire but instead of letting frustration set in, let those desires become the fuel that drives you to attain your goals. In a merit-driven system; people are rewarded for their hard-earned results, and leaders never take credit for the work of their subordinates. You will rise according to your productivity, advance in your career, and be exposed to even more responsibilities. As you climb the ladder, remember that you owe it to those coming after you to train, teach and inspire them as well.

3. Strive To Be The Best Version of Yourself

The best-spent money is that which is spent on your self-improvement.

With the rising digitization in today’s world and the ubiquity of the internet, ignorance is no longer acceptable. Your generation has unhindered access to quality information, much more than those before you, so you should take advantage of it and develop yourself.

Tony Elumelu engages associates of the Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI) in an interactive session

Read, learn, feed your intellect, and strive to expand the horizons of your mind. Learning is a long-term investment and it never stops rewarding. I like to hear about leaders who walk this talk, and unsurprisingly, whose intellect and boundless knowledge fascinate their team members. For instance, the case of Muyiwa Akinyemi, one of our pillars at UBA. One of the young staff from my lunch meeting, Nnamdi, works with Muyiwa. When I asked about his manager, his face lit up as he exclaimed “Muyiwa!”. Muyiwa recently won an excellence award at this year’s UBA CEO Awards, so I was interested in hearing more. I commented that I had heard stories of Muyiwa likened to being an athlete on steroids, and before I could complete my sentence, Nnamdi chimed in, “steroids!”. The room burst into laughter as he continued, “Muyiwa is amazing. I have learned so much working with him in such a short time. He has taught me everything I know in corporate banking so far. He is a motivator and eager to train us. The breadth of his knowledge and his skill set continue to inspire me.” This is leadership. This is staying true to your craft and becoming the best version of yourself.

4. The People Factor

One question I’m often asked is how we got it right at UBA post the merger. And my response remains that we managed our people well. The people issue is extremely important and as Leadership 101 dictates, “if you hire the right people in an organization, they will fire the organization on to scale all targets.” In the same way, prioritize the people you work with. Never take others for granted. Nurture your relationships.

I was fortunate in my career to have a network of people who identified my potential early-on and created the right pipeline of opportunities for my growth. In the same way, as you start out in your career, build your relationships, seek to learn, don’t be afraid to understudy the experts, reach out to potential mentors and learn from them.

I shared with them how a former manager once wrote in my appraisal, “Tony can walk on waters.” Till this day, I have not forgotten and will never forget that. He wrote that because he recognized my interest in learning and getting things done.

Develop these relationships with managers and mentors while leveraging them as a springboard for more opportunities. And at the same time, don’t neglect your peers. Needless rivalry, cliques, office gang-ups and gossip in the workplace do not benefit anybody. Stay away from these distractions.

5. On leaving Nigeria (Africa) for Overseas Pastures – You Don’t Have to Check Out

You don’t have to travel out of your country to become successful.

Tony Elumelu, Chairman of UBA

I hear of many young people traveling abroad as a way to escape the economic challenges. What I often say to them is that yes, challenges are real on the continent, but so are the opportunities. Of course, I did not always think so. As a young teenager, I also wanted to ‘checkout’ to America in pursuit of what was sold to us as “a better life”. Luckily for me, but unluckily for me at the time, my parents could not afford it. That seeming lack of opportunity opened me up to a future in Africa that I could not have had anywhere else. This is not to say there is anything wrong with aspiring to live abroad or relocating for studies, but never forget that there are immense opportunities available to you right here on the continent. If someone like me, from an ordinary background, could make it, what makes you think you can’t?

Final words… It’s all about balance

While it is true that you can have it all – a thriving career, robust relationships, a sense of purpose, a rewarding career and so on – you may not have it all at the same time. Life comes in phases and seasons. As a young professional, this is your season to sow. This is the time to toil to build the right foundation; to learn voraciously; to work hard and gain all the experience that you can. Now’s the time to put in the work! Reaping and harvesting will come at a later time. Some others may call it to balance, I call it prioritization. It means doing things step-by-step because, indeed, there is a time for everything.

Sequence things well. What is most important to you at this time?

However, your health should remain a constant priority, and any respectable workplace will give you time to refresh and recuperate.

Good luck in your career sojourn!!

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“Congratulations, you are now a 2018 Tony Elumelu Entrepreneur!”

If you received the above message a couple days ago, this article is for you. If you didn’t, use these tips to improve your chances for the next cycle of the entrepreneurship program coming up in 2019.

According to The Elumelu Foundation, more than 150,000 Africans from 114 countries worldwide applied to join the 4th ‎cycle of The Tony Elumelu Foundation’s 10-year, $100 million TEF Entrepreneurship Programme. If you saw your name as one of the African entrepreneurs with the most innovative, high-potential business ideas, your journey starts now.

Being selected is the first phase of the process, the next phase which is the determinant factor to getting your seed funding is the 12 weeks of intensive online training. I can assure you right now, it’s not a walkover and some entrepreneurs don’t make it through this stage. To help you avoid this nightmare, I am sharing a few lessons from my experience that might be of use to you in getting prepared and essentially get your funding.

  • Take All The Lessons As Soon As They Are Released

During the online training period, there will be weekly lessons and exercises on various topics – from team building to finance to marketing. They are usually concise but can pile up if you don’t take the courses just in time. Therefore, don’t wait until it’s too late before completing your exercises and more so, be sure you’re not just winging it. The lessons are carefully crafted to prepare you for growing your business; whether you’re already in business or just getting your ideas together, the contents are proven business development tools that equip you with the knowledge and skills to succeed in your entrepreneurial journey. For those of us that’s been through this process, it is like an entrepreneurship MBA!

  • Leverage The Mentors And Community Support

Another beautiful thing The Foundation has done is to pair candidates with mentors in their line of business. Be sure to reach out to your mentor at every stage of your training as they will help make your learning experience a great one. If you realize that your mentor is not responsive, reach out to the admins and request a change of mentor. Also, The Foundation has made provision for you to utilize your external mentors in the case there’s no immediate replacement. Learn how to make the best of your mentor-mentee relationship with valuable tips from this article.

Again, your fellow entrepreneurs can be very vital in knowledge sharing. Participate in conversations, ask for help if you need one and provide assistance when you can. The entrepreneurial journey gets lonely at times and having people of like minds in your community is a valuable asset and an important component of the program – to help you connect with innovators like yourself.

  • Craft A Strong Business Plan

Here’s another tough one, if your business plan isn’t approved by Accenture – one of the implementing partners – you won’t get paid. It could be a daunting process if you don’t plan for the task. So, the smart thing to do is to gather the business plan documents as you take the courses because, eventually, your business plan will be judged based on an application of the lessons from the 12 weeks online training. And, don’t ever miss the deadline for submitting your business plan for anything in the world! Although you might get a grace period afterward, the pressure can be incredibly overwhelming.

Ensure your financial projections are also telling the same story as the other parts of the business plan. You will be given some chances to rework your stuff if otherwise. But in the case that you don’t get things sorted out after the given period, you will be disqualified.

Don’t be afraid to ask for your mentor’s second opinion as long as they are not writing the business plan for you. And finally, ensure you submit the required documents like your business bank account and business registration details.

In the words of Tony Elumelu, entrepreneurship is not easy but nothing worth having ever is. This is a great opportunity to make your entrepreneurial dreams happen. Take advantage of it and create your empire!

If you need further assistance, reach out to us to request a meeting with one of our coaches via Get our bi-weekly email of inspiration, career and business insights. Subscribe here.

Image Credit: Tony Elumelu Foundation

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