PUNCH INTERVIEW: Everyone can be an Entrepreneur — Bamgbelu

In this interview with MOTUNRAYO JOEL, Tomi Bamgbelu, 26, talks about how she started her business and misconceptions about the interior design industry among other things

Tell us a little bit about your business

The name of my business is Spazio Ideale Interior Design; it’s an interior design consultancy firm that provides interior design services for residential, commercial, hospitality and institutional projects. We also create bespoke furniture and products.

We work with architects, engineers, and others. to bring out uniquely tailored interiors that reflect our client’s personality or brand.

Our interior design services are broken down into concept design, schematic design, implementation and project management.

We work holistically on every aspect of the interior from wall finish, floor finish to ceiling finish, color scheme and paint selection, lighting design, furniture, fixtures and equipment. We consult, design and also help our client procure items. Our aim as an interior design company is to create an interior that is holistic in its function and form, so all the elements of the space are united as one. This aligns to our company’s vision which is creating transformational spaces through design.

How did you get trained for the type of business you are involved in?

I got formally trained in interior design at the Florence Design Academy, Italy. I decided to take a formal course in interior design as it is the core of my business. Interior design, which is closely linked with architecture, requires some form of formal training. I also discovered from research that the major players in the industry, home and abroad, had some forms of formal training in the field. Apart from the formal training I received, I have worked in a few design-related capacities in Ghana and Nigeria. I’ve learned on the job, working under highly experienced Italians as well as one of Nigeria’s topmost interior designers.

Have you always been entrepreneurial?

In some way, yes; I did not grow up in an entrepreneurial environment, but I’ve always had a flair for solving problems and seeing the business opportunity in these problems. My first encounter with entrepreneurship was at the age of 17. I noticed that our general lecture halls were always filled to the brim and stuffy, and if you take a look around you’d find a bunch of students fanning themselves with their notes or some form of object. I had a fancy fan that was given to me at a family function earlier in the year, and every girl I knew wanted one. On seeing the opportunity to sell this fancy item to almost all the girls in the University, I proceeded to order a large amount of this item, and sold them. Although this one-off business didn’t last, I truly believe that it was my first introduction into the world of business and entrepreneurship.

What inspired the creation of your business?

I have always had a passion for designing and I’m a disciple of the school of thought that says, ‘Follow your passion’, so I did. It just happens that creating a business became the only option for me if I wanted to truly follow my passion; regardless that say I’m a very independent person and a free spirit. So, it wasn’t an option when I decided to quit my 9-5 job and follow my passion. I have always admired strong women in business and the corporate world and I have always aspired to be like them. Going with the dogma that says, ‘Find what you love and Do it,’ I knew immediately that it would have to be business.

What are the main challenges you faced early on in your business? And do you still encounter them to this day?

Well, there are a few challenges we have faced as a business and we do expect a few more as we grow. However, our major challenge as a business would be awareness. The interior design industry in Nigeria is still growing and there’s little or inadequate information on what the role of an interior designer is in the society. Majorly, I would say people are unaware about why they need a designer and are largely misinformed that interior design is a luxury service. While this is true in some cases, it is largely false. I believe everyone can afford some form of interior design service and in a society where we do have our own peculiar design problems like space and storage management to mention a few, a designer is definitely what you need to help kickstart your design project.

How much did you use in starting the business?

Interior design as a business requires almost nothing in start-up costs. So, aside from the funds I used in acquiring knowledge of the discipline, I started with roughly N100,000, which was practically all I had left after spending my savings in getting trained as a professional designer.

I had to strategically plan how to utilise the money I had to last me for about six months till I got my first job as a designer.

Do you offer Trainings?

We currently do not offer trainings but we do hope to look into that line of business in the nearest future.

Are young entrepreneurs in Nigeria receiving enough support?

I do believe there has been adequate support for young entrepreneurs in Nigeria, but I also think more can be done to support them. I have seen numerous awards and grants for young enterprising Nigerians, even though I think most of the time they are largely tailored to some specific industry like IT and Agriculture.

What is your best piece of advice for unemployed graduates?

Find something to do and do it well. There are millions of opportunities out there to explore. I believe that man’s (in this case an unemployed graduate’s) mountain is not unemployment but his ignorance. I’d advise that they seek knowledge, get understanding, but most importantly find something, anything at all to do and do it well. Success begets more success.

If you could go back in a time to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?

Well, if I could go back in time I would most likely pay more attention to the running of an organisation or the organisational culture from my previous work experience. I would advise myself to learn more organisational and business skills.

Do you think that entrepreneurialism is something that is in the blood? Or is it something that can be learned?

I think you can argue this both ways, and for me it’s both ways. Some people grow up surrounded by enterprising people and naturally follow that path. However, I believe everyone can be an entrepreneur or rather everyone can have an entrepreneurial mindset. For example, top executives in organisations are entrepreneurs regardless of how they got there, because only an enterprising mind can lead or manage a large organisation. I definitely think entrepreneurship is a thing of the mind as entrepreneurs are basically problem solvers. The basics of entrepreneurship are problems solving and risk taking. Problem solving can be learned, it’s what children learn in school every day; it just depends on the way you look at it. Risk taking can also be learned; actually risk taking becomes easier when you eliminate fear and doubt which can easily be done by reducing our level of ignorance through knowledge and deep thinking.

What are your plans for the future?

As a company, we plan to launch our product line, while partnering with other entrepreneurs in other industries. We also plan to establish ourselves as a known and trusted interior design firm alongside other interior design companies we look up to.

What do you think about the state of unemployment in Nigeria?

Well on unemployment, 7.5 per cent of the labour force is unemployed (2012 statistics from The Economist) which is in some way better than the statistics in some countries in Europe. However I believe that Nigeria’s problem isn’t unemployment but rather education. I am of the strong opinion that a majority of our graduates aren’t properly equipped for the labour market. I believe entrepreneurship should be taught in all universities as it was taught in my undergraduate university. Rather than seek employment, graduates should instead seek to create employment for other graduates and all this needs preparation and structure. I also believe the government should create more platforms that support innovation and small businesses. The solution to unemployment lies in the hands of the unemployed.

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