Nearly a decade ago, Osazoduwa Agboneni got a fancy job as a Maintenance Engineer with a popular telecoms company in Lagos, just a couple of years after graduating from the University of Benin.
Even as she worked with vigour while enjoying the perks of her job, Neni’s inner entrepreneurial spirit craved more. In between work and studying for a postgraduate degree in Geoinformatics Information Technology at the University of Lagos, she started doing online ticketing and reservations for friends and family to earn extra income. Then, she enrolled in a diploma course for the aviation business and setup a travel agency, which slowly began to pick up steam.
By January 2014, the serial entrepreneur had switched from aviation to terrestrial, setting up her own car repair shop in the bustling Yaba district of Lagos, with female clients as the early primary focus.
“Growing up, I had an exceptionally curious mind. Wanting to ‘see’ how devices and gadgets functioned, or ‘How stuff works’. This may explain how a lady like me developed such a passion for engineering and ventured into an industry dominated by men,” she said.
In 2015, a chance application – and later selection – into the inaugural edition of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) set the ball rolling for her Neni’s Auto Care to gain more momentum. For this, Agboneni is glad.
“TEEP provided premier education on business management – it was focused, simplified and very practicable”, she reminisces. “Having a mentor in the start-up phase of my business was very instrumental in making quality decisions and getting useful information on how to position my company.”
Her network has also swelled to include other participants in the 2015 round of the programme and the seed capital came in handy. “I acquired useful equipment and expanded my services as a result of the seed capital investment. Having seed capital meant I could focus on business growth rather than being under the intense pressure of loan repayment.”
Today, with 25 employees, business is booming.
Neni Autos offers auto diagnostic services, auto and body repairs, car wash & detailing, paint restoration, vehicle inspection, fleet maintenance services and more to a number of clients across the city, including exclusive contracts with Uber Lagos and Cheki Nigeria. With these two firms, her mechanics perform necessary maintenance checks and test-run new vehicles on a large scale.
It has also gotten referrals from the Foundation for more patronage and a push onto the global stage. Last September, Agboneni was interviewed by PBS News Hour, New York – “it boosted our brand”, she says happily.
According to Neni, the business’s competitive edge is its convenience and most importantly, customized services for women.
“We cater for women who deserve a car care center that is in a safe, enjoyable atmosphere at the best price around. They are treated with the utmost respect, honesty and with clear information on the issues at hand. But we are nice to men too” she says with a smile.
The shop trains local undergraduates in tertiary institutions at no cost every now and then and also pays them monthly stipends. In her own way, she’s institutionalizing luck and giving back to the society, just like Tony O. Elumelu.
As one of very few lady mechanics in a male-dominated industry, Agboneni knows she has done very well, but her resolve is to push further while revolutionizing the practice.
“My intention is to grow Neni’s Engineering Limited into a successful green technology automotive service company. I want to be part of a global green technology network, helping to revolutionize engineering practice in Nigeria.”
Her goals for Neni’s Auto Care are equally clear.
“I want us to increase the customer base by 30% per year, maintain a modest, steadily growing net profit margin and expand to two locations at the third year of operation.
It seems like a tall order, but Osazoduwa Agboneni breaks barriers for breakfast.