By Victor Akuma
‘I can’ t continue anymore!’
The above is a very familiar line with some youths who have thrown in the towel on their career pursuits because they tried the first time and failed.
But not for people like Bentley Chukwuemeka, a passionate, dauntless youth, ready to defy the odds.
In this chat with CRISPNG.COM, Bentley, the CEO of The Footwear Academy (TFA), reveals how his passion for footwear making has led his company into beating competition in the vast industry in Nigeria by producing unparalleled quality shoes while carving a niche for themselves as an academy at the verge of training over 130 students free of charge before the end of 2020.
1. Tell us about yourself
My name is Bentley Chukwuemeka. I’m the founder of The Footwear Academy and at the academy, our mission is to enable individuals interested in Shoemaking, produce export standard footwear, provide them access to quality raw materials, mentorship and job placements.
I’m married to Chidinma, an amazing woman who plays the role of my business partner and my best friend.
2. There abound a number of entrepreneurial ventures out there, what sparked the idea of footwear making?
First, I’d say my love for good shoes and second, the passion to enable our youths and the unemployed get busy with a worthy course.
Bentley and his wife
3. What kind of service(s) do you render at TFA and can you tell us your value proposition.
At The Footwear Academy, we enable our students produce export standard footwear, We give them access to quality raw materials, we job-match and provide mentorship.
We have a high population of unemployed youths in Nigeria, at The Footwear Academy, we help tackle unemployment problem.
4. There’s been a thin line between youth and unemployment following the nation’s precarious economy. Do you think entrepreneurial skill is worthwhile or should these youths keep hoping for an employment opportunity?
I think both is fine. Entrepreneurship is good, paid employment is equally good. We are all wired to fit into either of the above. At The Footwear Academy, we encourage our students to acquire a skill, kick start something small with a big picture in mind and if along the line, a good job comes, the decision is theirs to make. My wife and I, in the course of running our business, have been offered big opportunities to work for other brands. We chose to stay back and keep building ours. It’s our choice and our decision to make.
5. How have you been able to keep up amidst competitions in the industry?
I believe all businesses have something unique to offer. My team and I focus more in our mission and the unflinching desire to offer value at every given time. That has been our biggest distraction from the competitions in the industry.
6. Can you recount some of your challenging moments and how you scaled through?
Almost every year, we face challenges strong enough to sink our business. The thing is, when you believe in your dreams, you’ll do all you can to keep it alive.
One of the challenges we had was finding a way to teach students who were interested in our training but couldn’t afford it. We began reaching out to sponsors since 2018. Just this year alone, 130 students will learn shoe making free of charge, courtesy of our sponsors.
7. What is the secret of your success which you think very many youths out there need to succeed in their choice of careers?
Richard Branson said, “Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.”
One key secret to success is PREPARATION. Be Prepared! Opportunities will always show up, how prepared we are to welcome them makes the difference.
8. What are some of the wrong things you see in our society presently that poses as a deterrent to SMEs which if fixed could help many developing businesses by youths in the country?
Let’s ignore lack of funding and Government policies that we most times seem to dwell on. I’ll pick just one, a vital one because a business can still shut down even with all the funding and government back up.
Young business owners need to understand the power in collaboration, getting the right team members and having a good partner because a business is as good as it’s team.
No matter how strong and efficient an aircraft is, if the pilot takes off without full knowledge of the aircraft, he will crash.
If we get team members or partners who are more knowledgeable than we are in some aspects of business management, we will be fine to an extent.
9. Not all youths have summoned your kind of courage to start up something they are very passionate about amidst doubts, what is your advice to such people and what do you have to tell other youths who feel nonchalant about life survival?
If you’re truly passionate about it, start!
Failure is actually part of the business journey. Remember, there are no guarantees in business, so failing is permitted. How we handle failure is what matters.
It’s better you start and fail than remain idle. I doubt if there’s any successful person that never failed at some point. What if you start and succeed?
Below are some of Bentley’s works: