Meet The Women in Business Challenge Finalists, Starting With Kiki Kamanu In Nigeria

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Kiki Kamanu wants to assist female entrepreneurs in Nigeria gain access to the market. By Joëlle Payet (Marketing & Communications Coordinator, BiD Network)

Since 2009, the Women in Business Challenge has provided support, coaching, visibility and finance to over 600 entrepreneurial women in emerging economies. This year, five outstanding applicants were selected from almost 300, and chosen on account of their potential for growth and the overall quality of their business plans.

During the final stage of the Women in Business Challenge, the five finalists will be coached by professionals before having the opportunity to meet face-to-face with high end investors at the Growing SMEs event at the Hague in November.

Every week, we will be focusing on one of these five women, whose experiences are as varied as they are inspirational. Get to know them and their stories.

This week’s finalist is Kiki Kamanu, the Nigerian fashion guru, who left her job as the Education Program Coordinator of Neurosurgery at Harvard to pursue her passion and launch her eponymously named fashion label.

Establishing a business in Nigeria presents considerable struggles, especially for women. In some societies, women are not allowed to own fixed assets, which creates considerable barriers to the acquisition of capital and while organizations exist which aim to develop, train and facilitate the entry of women into business, much work remains to be done.

It is in this regard that the Kiki Kamanu entered her fashion label in the Women in Business Challenge with the hope of addressing these issues and assisting female entrepreneurs in Nigeria gain access to the market. Nor is maintaining a business in the Nigerian fashion industry an easy task, the absence of basic infrastructure such as electricity, in addition to an ongoing "brain drain", as well as continually changing styles and interests, all need to be dealt with.

As Kiki Kamanu states, "one has to repeatedly strive to be relevant without losing sight of one’s core design integrity."

It is hoped the participation of Kiki Kamanu in the Women in Business Challenge will enhance the Nigerian fashion industry’s capacity to develop the necessary pool of well-trained tailors and other professionals, required to support the emergence of a large domestic retail distribution network. The desire to be the first globally recognized fashion label based exclusively in West Africa epitomizes Kiki Kamanu's commitment to increasing jobs, a point further extenuated by the 10 employees at present that Kiki Kamanu hopes to more than quadruple by 2015 with an investment of capital.

Born to an American mother and Nigerian father, Kiki is quick to acknowledge the enormous impact her parents had, and continue to have, on both herself and her business. Her father was entrepreneurial and she considers herself lucky enough to have inherited some of this know-how.

While Kiki credits her mother with teaching her, "that it is never too late to switch careers to pursue what you love." A lesson she herself followed when leaving her position at Harvard to establish her own business in Nigeria. That is what Kiki Kamanu is, it is as much the result of a pursuit of passion as it is a business.

When asked what advice she would offer to aspiring female entrepreneurs, Kiki replied; "Always be humble enough to continuously learn from those who have gone before. Your passion and drive create a platform on which you must build knowledge. Take advantage of every opportunity no matter how small; draw on the emotional and mental resources of those close to you, and finally, when disappointments come, do not lose sight of the dream that brought you thus far."

For more information about Kiki Kamanu or the Women in Business Challenge, click here. The Women in Business Challenge is run by BiD Network, ICCO and ING.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Joëlle Payet is Marketing and Communications Coordinator at BiD Network, contributing to sustainable economic growth by stimulating entrepreneurship in emerging markets. With over 42,000 members and 10,000 business plans, bidnetwork.org is the world's largest online community for emerging market SMEs, coaches and investors. Since 2005, BiD Network has launched 490 businesses, created more than 3500 direct jobs, and mobilized $12 million from investors.