Blessing Abeng is a goal-getter– at least that’s what her life’s trajectory suggests. For years, she’s been stomping through Nigeria’s fast-evolving startup ecosystem, and helping companies in the space create a public image that makes them loved by the audiences they serve.
She’s a branding expert. Like everyone else who knows how brand communication works, she’s a professional aesthete. Her personal brand gives this away: an Instagram page and website with carefully picked, matching colours, and a word-weaving style that’s unique to her.
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Throw in a lot of top-draw work she’s down with well-known startups in Nigeria, and it becomes clear: she’s cut out for this job.
That’s probably what the organizers at a conference in Silicon Valley were thinking when they asked Abeng to speak at their event in 2019.
Climbing Into Prominence: A Short Self-Branding Story
Abeng’s professional journey is a lesson in value creation and making opportunities count. She started as a content creator at a local startup. But her drive was so strong she shot up the ranks in a short while.
“I was so in tune with the vision and I had a Ph.D. in taking initiative,” she recalls. “So I was quickly bumped to Assistant Manager even though I was the youngest and the only female on the team.”
In the years that followed, she racked up experience working with numerous companies.
But she wasn’t merely keen on spicing up her resume.
“In my industry, the experience is not just about years but the dynamism of industries, projects, and clientele,” she emphasizes. “It’s super important to be aware of what is going on in your industry… and constantly taking steps to be ahead of the curve, to be the go-to person.”
Abeng has become a go-to person in her industry. She’s worked with individuals and companies in the arts, events, entertainment, tech, and beauty industries, within Nigeria, and internationally as well.
This steady build-up of value and presence in the Nigerian startup and business scene put her in the sights of its chroniclers. Abeng opines that a list created by one of these bodies may have been seen by the organizers of the event at Silicon Valley to which she was invited.
At Silicon Valley: What She Said
“I got an email inviting me to speak at Silicon Valley in January 2019,” she recalls. “I was invited to educate them about African Startups, and why Lagos was the Silicon Valley of Africa.”
She remembers her excitement at seeing the email invite from Startup Grind, the organizers of the event.
“It was a super big deal,” Abeng says. “I was invited to speak at the capital of tech entrepreneurship and venture capital.”
And she got the job done at the conference. Besides making clear that ‘Africa’ wasn’t a monolith (she grins at this), she laid out the incredible story of survival and persistence of the continent’s startup ecosystem. The odds were hardly in its favour, but Africans were building and succeeding nonetheless.
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“I showed them how we have succeeded so far with little help and we would do so much better if they injected startups in Africa with funding. There’s a sea of untapped potential here.”
Bearing the torch for a whole continent on a Silicon Valley podium was a tough task, but she executed well. The investors in the audience seemed impressed.
The Challenges of Fashioning a Nigerian Startup Revolution
Abeng is frank about the drawbacks of launching and scaling real innovative solutions in Nigeria.
“One of the biggest challenges I have heard so many Nigeria startups complain about is access: access to funding; access to networks; and access to tools.”
Still, she thinks these apparent obstacles are opportunities. She also emphasizes the other forms of capital that people possess without realizing it, and says that we should be leveraging these forms of capital more.
“The beautiful thing about capital is, a form of capital can be converted to another form of capital,” she says.
“Beyond, money, other forms of capital include: network capital (connections we plug into), intellectual capital (wits, smarts, access to information and people with insights), physical capital (tools required for the production of goods and services), prestige capital (reputation and credibility), and instigation capital (the ability and guts to just start where you are with what you have).”
She also has a list of questions that startup founders and entrepreneurs should be pondering.
“Do you have a reputation that could be collateral enough to help you access funding? Do you have relationships you can leverage to start building? Can you sell your vision to someone, to get them to work with you on a project?”
The Future, According to Blessing Abeng
Abeng has a positive take on the future of the Nigerian startup ecosystem.
“I think there is a large opportunity,” she says. “We have a lot to learn and I think if we earn fast enough, we can make a great impact on the continent.”
She points to recent signs suggesting good movement in this direction.
“Since I spoke at Silicon Valley, combined with the efforts other ecosystem leaders are making, I have seen an increase in foreign investments,” Abeng explains. “More startups are daring to pitch to global platforms.”
“I am not a seer but I can say, great things are happening and even more will happen, startups just have to be prepared and position themselves, so when the opportunity comes, they will not miss it.”
Featured image source: Blessing Abeng on Instagram
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