Chioma Ikokwu: My family helped to start my company at age 18
Chioma Ikokwu

By Josephine Agbonkhese

She holds a first degree in Law from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in International and Environmental Law & International Commercial Arbitration from the University of London, UK. Although she bagged a Distinction in both, and a 2.1 from the Nigerian Law School, Chioma Ikokwu became a global figure for her entrepreneurial prowess—one which has earned her the nickname ‘Chioma Good Hair’.

The serial entrepreneur is CEO, Good Hair Limited, an international premium hair extension brand with a client base that’s spread all over the globe, including countries like the US, Russia, Sweden, Jamaica and the Middle East.  She is also head honcho at Brass & Copper Lifestyle and Next by Good Hair.

Ikokwu, who is famous for assisting female-owned start-ups with seed capital in collaboration with The Women International on the platform of her monthly ‘Fund My Start-up’ initiative, has clinched numerous recognition for her work and passion. She spoke with Sunday Vanguard on the importance of funding start-ups among sundry issues, as Fund My Start-up again funds three businesses from its April edition amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Why the commitment to funding start-up businesses?

I started my company at the tender age of 18 and was lucky enough to have received start-up capital from family (although not a lot). That initial investment led to the empire that is being built today.

On the other hand, I also mentor a lot of young women with bright ideas and have found their most pressing issue to be the lack of start-up capital.

In my bid to assist, I did some compound research and concluded that Nigeria is a really tough environment for budding entrepreneurs and doesn’t do enough to encourage its citizens. There is a huge lack in financial lending institutions, the bank interest rates are rather punitive and the infrastructural climate isn’t encouraging or conducive.

I’ve seen too many bright ideas waste away and so decided to do something about it in the little way I can.

One morning, I spoke to a few friends and my business partners in Good Hair Ltd, Brass & Copper and The Women International, TWI, about it and they all bought into and encouraged the idea—and that was how the Fund My Start-up program was birthed.

Any specific reason for limiting it to female-owned start-ups?

First of all, I’m a woman. So, naturally, I’m more biased towards women. That was a joke but really, I’m very much about female empowerment. I’ve always encouraged female enterprise and most of my mentees are female. So, I’m much more familiar with their struggles. I also believe that women have it a lot harder when it comes to raising capital due to the usual stereotypes and expectations of women. Some men also try to exploit their situation. Thus, we felt the urge to take on women first at least.

In addition, one of my partners on this project, TWI, is an organisation that assists in the personal development of women. So, funding female businesses was in line with their objectives.

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What do you look out for when you choose winners monthly?

I usually narrow it down to value-adding businesses; the ones that have thought and acted outside the box. Innovative, yet realistic or necessary solutions to society’s problems.

Although ultimately, the sponsors make the final selections because I believe they should have the right to decide what businesses they want to impact financially.

How has running your personal business influenced your decision to fund other start-ups?

It has been the backbone of my decision because I can tell you categorically that if we had access to reasonable funding earlier on, we would’ve been a lot further than we are now.

It is therefore imperative that we give the up and coming entrepreneurs the opportunity to flourish because who knows, we could be giving life to future multi-million dollar/game-changing businesses.

Do you consider funding key to the life of any business?

I think that funding is a necessary evil depending on the sort of business one decides to embark on. Some service-based businesses might not require start-up capital as it may depend solely on the person’s skill set. However most product-based businesses will require some sort of capital to start no matter how little. So what happens to that idea if one does not have the money or access to it?

What business nugget would you give to a start-up?

I would advice any start-up business to start small and grow organically. Most people these days want to fly before they can crawl and unfortunately, exposure to Social Media has led to a whopped sense of reality where people see a finished product or a 10-year journey and measure themselves against that business’ success. That isn’t a fair judgement on their own progress.

It’s important to know that most successful businesses started from ground up and if you’re not ready to put in the time and work, then greatness will remain distant.

There’s something called the 10,000-hour rule which simply states that if you aren’t ready to put in at least 10,000 hours of your time into a particular vocation, you won’t be considered a master of it.

I believe this is a metaphor for the need for patience and consistency in relation to success.

So yes, it’s important to take baby steps; reinvest some of your profit back into the business, grow your capital and watch that business bloom!

How can young business owners qualify to sit at the same table as you?

By staying focused, diligent and consistent. Don’t jump from business to business without giving any the appropriate time, energy and effort it deserves to reach its potential. Also, keep your eyes on the prize and don’t get distracted by “competition” or naysayers. There’s plenty of room for us all to win and if you’re focused, assiduous and resilient in your endeavours, you too will sit and maybe one day, head the table!

What lessons has running a business in Nigeria as a female taught you?

Resilience. I’ve always been a strong woman but running a business in Nigeria has toughened me up to the point that I’m officially made of stone.

But really, I’m so much stronger than my experiences. Every single day presents a different and more difficult challenge which you must rise above and as a woman, it’s even tougher because you have so much more to prove—from people doubting your capabilities to your integrity and so on. It’s been tough but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. I always say that if you can succeed in Nigeria, you can succeed anywhere else in the world!

As a lawyer and entrepreneur, how do you marry both caps and still be at your best?

It’s certainly hard but thankfully, I’ve been able to make it work. I think balance is key; dedicating a reasonable amount of time to the things that are paramount to you. I mean, I’m able to draw up legal contracts, train my employees, run GoodHair, Brass & Copper, the Good Hair Space and still glam up all in the same day. So, I like to think I’ve mastered the art of balance or should I say multi tasking! I’ve also been blessed with amazing business partners and that has definitely made the ride worthwhile.

Describe Chioma Ikokwu in three words?

Audacious, tenacious and kind.

When you are not working, what will you be doing?

Chioma will be eating, sleeping and bonding with family. I love to travel too and I’m getting into the habit of reading—and oh yeah, cooking! That’s my new found talent!

What advice do you have for young women struggling to find their voice and chase their passion?

I would advice every young woman to continue to push harder; the end is closer than you think. We have and will continue to pave the way for you all. So, your ride, hopefully, will be easier. Do not attempt to give-up.

What is your philosophy of life?

Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. This is the motto that I live by daily.


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