I’m Adjoa Adjei-Twum, founder and CEO of EBII group. My company is an independent specialist compliance and risk management consultancy firm with a global offering. EBII offers education and expert consulting services to entities outside Africa who are seeking opportunities for diversification and growth in emerging markets and especially Africa. Also, we offer support to African entities and governments with their risk management and compliance requirements.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I spent the last 13 years working in the banking sector here in the UK. Throughout all my roles, I noticed something in common around the risk perception of Africa. I felt the Western world didn’t quite understand Africa – and that impacts how the banks conducted the risk assessment on African entities or business activities that relates to Africa. Due diligence in Africa traditionally involves on-site visits and in-person meetings, which is not the case for companies in Europe and USA where this can be done remotely. There can be challenges around finding credible information when you’re doing due diligence in Africa digitally – a lot of information is paper-based. A lot of countries in Africa don’t have a Companies House equivalent. The limitation in site-visits poses a challenge to the validation of data used in conducting due diligence. When you are unable to validate the information found, you can’t tell what the risk is – so most banks would rate African companies very high. High risk equals high interest – so when an African company secures a loan, the interest rate is very high. It can be difficult for these companies to pay back…therefore adversely affecting investment decisions.
I believe I have the solution to this problem. I felt burdened and restless. Therefore I decided to pursue my entrepreneurial journey by launching the EBII Group. I knew I would need some more education if I was going to succeed in this pursuit, so I went to Saïd Business School at Oxford University and studied Financial Strategy. Whilst at Oxford, I pitched my business idea to the Oxford University Innovation (OUI), and it was accepted. I launched the EBII Group, and it’s been incredibly fulfilling ever since.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Firstly, you don’t need to have a company to be an entrepreneur. It’s a mind-set. It’s about looking at the world and its problems and finding ways to solve what you see in your unique way. It’s about being a leader and being creative. Even if you’re working a full-time job, you can still think outside of the box. Come up with ideas; pitch them to your CEO – that’s what I did before I started EBII Group.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
I never wait for validation from anyone. I identified a problem, and I was convinced that I had what it takes to solve it. As mentioned earlier, when I first thought about EBII, I thought about what I would need to make it a success. I realised I probably needed to increase my intellectual capacity if I was going to be heard, so I went to Saïd Business School. If you don’t have the right certifications, no one is going to listen to you – especially in Africa, where they really value education. At Saïd I found my next opportunity – there was an incubator programme, so I just went for it and sought support for my ideas. I realised I was the first black person to be on the program.
If you’re just waiting for the right time or waiting until you think your idea is perfect, you’ll never start. But if you start and it doesn’t work, then you shape it and change it and move forward: you keep tweaking until you get it right.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
You have to be passionate. You must genuinely care about the problem you are trying to solve – otherwise, you’re not going to survive. For the first year, you may not make any money at all. You may go without a salary for a year or two. You need to love what you’re doing to keep going; otherwise, you’ll throw it away when the next opportunity comes. No one can convince me to stop what I’m doing. I love it.
Secondly – have a mindset of a learner. There are a lot of mistakes an entrepreneur can avoid if they surrounded themselves with the right people. When I first started, I looked within my network and reached out to all the people I could learn from. Use all the resources you can – learning from other people’s experiences can help you avoid a lot of mistakes.
Finally – the ability to build, nurture and negotiate your network. Your network is your net-worth. I have learned how to make my business platform by taking advantage of relationship-building insider secrets. The right network can open great business doors that would immediately put you far ahead of your competitors. Make it a priority to build quality relationships. You are not an island and cannot do it alone. Every successful person has had many helpers.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
The flexibility. As a parent with a very young child, flexibility is essential. I can fit things around family life, and this gives me the right balance between family and career. When I was working full-time, I felt so restricted – although I was a rising star, I felt like I didn’t have enough room to explore.… Now I do.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Several companies inspire me. I couldn’t name them all. However, the Saïd Business School is very special to me. I served as a class rep as a student and have gone on to develop business relationships and partnership with them. I’ve had the privilege of writing for Oxford Answers. They weren’t just some university I attended – they have been an essential part of my journey.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Even just talking through things with someone helps get so many new perspectives.
How have you funded your ideas?
There has been a mix of sources – my savings, sponsors, a loan, and some funding from Oxford University Innovation.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
In all honesty, the name adds an extra layer of credibility.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Explore the Oxford Foundry! They are an excellent first point of contact. Oxford University Innovation is also a good option.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
I’m from Africa, and in our culture we give people who are older a lot of respect. When you’re doing business with the older generation, it usually takes extra skills and wisdom to build great working relationships, giving them the necessary respect without compromising. If you think being a woman limits you, then it will limit you. You are really the sum total of your thoughts. My advice is to always provide value and that value will speak for itself.
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
I think they’re already doing a good job. Oxford has played a major role in my entrepreneurship journey. They could do more in promoting the support which is available for women so more people can become aware of it.
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
Go for it. Don’t focus on yourself as a woman who might be discriminated against, and instead focus on how much worth you bring. Yes, there are challenges, but that makes it exciting, because once you find the solution, you could be on your way to writing the next best-selling book to help many others facing a similar challenge. I say every challenge has monetary value attached to it. It’s exciting looking behind me and thinking how many women I can positively impact.
Any last words of advice?
Take ownership- The best day of your life is the day you decide your life is your own: no apologies or excuses, or blame. The gift is yours… Your life is the most precious resource, so steward it well by making an impact on the earth.
Be authentic – Be true to your spirit, personality and character. If you don’t define what makes you authentic, people will define it for you and mould you to their plan.
Know your why – Why do you do the things you do? Why do you want to start a business or be an entrepreneur? Defining these and aligning your actions with your core values is essential to not only living with integrity but to living with greater authenticity.
EnSpire Oxford is a University of Oxford initiative to help connect people to the entrepreneurship resources they need, and to promote entrepreneurship across Oxfordshire.
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