Olasupo Abideen grew up watching his mother run several businesses. At the time, she was a local trader who sold soft drinks (amongst other provisions) and managed an alternative drugstore that catered to their immediate community. It was this proximity to that enterprising spirit, sometimes manning his mother’s shops, procuring inventory, managing finances, and even hawking some of the wares, that led him onto the path of entrepreneurship.
In 2016, Abideen came across a call for applications to the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme. “I was just this guy who was always surfing the internet for opportunities, especially in the development space and entrepreneurship space, because I’ve always had a passion for business [for as long as I can remember]” Abideen says.
When Abideen came across the call for applications, he remembered that it looked like an unrealistic opportunity. It seemed, to Abideen, highly unlikely that any individual or organization would willingly part with as much as $5,000 alongside the other life-transforming opportunities just to empower African entrepreneurs without asking for endless documentation and expecting nothing in return. “My thought was that this would be a loan, and people are going to be paying back,” Abideen remembers thinking. But he applied anyway.
“I thought it was a dream.”
Although he didn’t get in on his first application, he would try again two more times before finally getting selected for the programme. It was in 2018 and it was made possible due to one of the Foundation’s numerous partnerships – this time, with GIZ – the Foundation entered at the time. And of the moment when he learned he had been selected, Abideen says, “I thought it was a dream.”
Before getting selected to the programme, Abideen had started a small business, where he provides LPG, Liquefied Petroleum Gas to college students in and around Kwara State, his hometown. “What I do is I buy gas and liquefied petroleum gas in bulk. So, I resell to majorly student communities who want to refill their cooking gas,” Abideen says.
The training, funding and rich network of like-minded business networks was a huge catalyst for the growth of Abideen’s business.
“The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme was like a mini-MBA to me, because every aspect of running a business; from business communication, business ethics, HR management, business financing, documentation etc, all the things a young SME needs is what the training encapsulated. We were given a case study and that case study analysis helped me picture my business and where I needed it to go,” Abideen recalls.
After going through the training and receiving funding, Abideen saw his business transform. He changed his business model, switching from a stationary gas station where people came to refill their gasses, to a mobile service named “Gas on the wheel” where students could get their gas filled right in their hostels by just making a call. The goal, for Abideen, is to introduce convenience to buying domestic gas and remaining economically friendly for the students who make up a large customer base for the business. “What we used to do before was, when we get called for delivery, we’ll come to your house or your house, we pick up the cylinder and go back to the gas station to fill it and then return the filled cylinder. Now, when customers call us, we have the gas ready in our bus to fill, saving them money on delivery fees.”
At the heart of it, it is about giving his customers value for money while also maintaining trust and integrity. The funding, alongside income from his business, helped Abideen move from two gas cylinders to buying 58 more cylinders. The business has expanded to five different locations, making it possible to serve more people, with sales reaching as high as 20million Naira annually on average.
Cooking gas is one of Nigeria’s most preferred cooking methods. With over 4 million cooking gas cylinders being used in homes across Nigeria, cooking gas remains a stress-free means of cooking that also reduces the risk of cooking accidents, while remaining economically compatible with most Nigerian mid to high-income households. Although it is preferred by many, cooking gas is not the most easily accessible cooking product in the country as it can either be expensive, retail prices continue to rise every few months, and for people who live in remote areas, like most of Abideen’s customers do, refilling one’s cooking gas also causes immense financial strains.
Therefore, businesses like Abideen’s take a thoughtful and intentional approach to bridge this gap and make cooking gas a lot more accessible. Abideen’s business utilizes data, drawn from customers, to better understand how to optimise their services. The data has helped his business figure out better ways to serve their customers and how to make their services more convenient. The data also enables the tech-addled direction Abideen is working to move his business into; with plans to create devices that will better inform users of cooking gas to monitor the usage of their gas either via mobile apps or through updates via SMS. This solution, which will immediately notice gas leaks, is a forward-thinking approach that will revolutionize the domestic use of gas in Nigeria and even across the continent, while also ensuring that the rate of gas explosions will considerably backpedal.
Although they are still a small business, “Gas On Wheels” is committed to passing on the Tony Elumelu Foundation ethos of impacting the community, by causing a positive effect on their immediate community. From encouraging and sponsoring young girls who are out of school and resort to hawking to survive, to resume their academic journey, to hosting Ambassadorial programmes that will enable their customers, who are mostly students with limited financial capacity, to earn money by amplifying the brand. The effect of the training and overall experience of the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme continues to be evident in many areas of Abideen’s life.
After getting overpaid for a consultancy job last year, Abideen made the decision to return the rest of the money, a move that got him public ridicule, but which he said came because of the ethics he picked up while in the Entrepreneurship Programme. Despite the public ridicule, Abideen was granted an award for his exemplary behaviour, and at the base of it, that moment affirmed his integrity as an honest businessperson.
Through the help of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Abideen is not only able to meaningfully contribute to the nation’s reputation, but he is also many steps away from bringing innovative means to everyday services and products. It is a clear sign of the Foundation’s commitment to investing in disruptive ideas with the potential to change the continent for good.