News + Resources

Entrepreneurship and the Igbo

Randi Craigen - Thursday, May 11, 2017

By Peace Udechukwu and Randi Craigen

It is an historical fact that the majority of African Americans descended from the people in the Western part of Africa, though it's not particularly taught in schools from what possible tribes. Through my personal research, however, I've discovered that the Igbo (pronounced E'-boo) people were a common ethnic group found amongst enslaved Africans in the United States. This is interesting as it relates to historical characteristics of the Igbo people, the topic of business and entrepreneurship, and the characteristics of many African Americans today. I believe entrepreneurship is "in their genes."

A true entrepreneur is a person who is able to generate income for themselves through some sort of service or invention. The very culture of West African people is driven by the notion of entrepreneurship to support their families, but the Igbos are known to be some of Africa's most energetic and entrepreneurial people. In fact, they are known as "hustlers," a term that has also been associated with African American men—often called street hustlers—who are in essence just trying to produce a living for themselves and their families. The term is often viewed negatively in American society, but I'd like to give it an unbiased definition. A hustler is an aggressively enterprising person—a go-getter. In fact, a hustler is someone who knows how to make money by several different means. There truly should be no shame in hustling done the right way.

Olanreqaju Akinpelu Olutayo, in his paper, "The Igbo Entrereneur in the Political Economy of Nigeria," wrote that "the Igbo, when compared to other major ethnic groups in Nigeria, are in the forefront of entrepreneurial activities, especially in the informal sector."1 He also states that "one major and unique trait of the Igbo entrepreneur is the courage, perseverance and determination with which they carry on in spite of … bad experiences and losses."2 The latter statement refers to the perseverance of the Igbos to reestablish themselves after the Biafra war in Nigeria. While there was much about the slave trade, colonialism and the migration of the Igbo due to land hunger that had an impact on their entrepreneurial development—it wasn't just a result of their ethnicity—their ability to generate and maintain a communal civic spirit was also key to their entrepreneurial success. Olutayo noted "their communal spirit is the life-blood of the entrepreneurial ability of the Igbos."3

Currently, Nigeria is the world's largest producer of shea nuts. The country is literally situated on a shea butter goldmine. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Shea Origin Nigeria project, Mrs. Mobola Sagoe, is a budding entrepreneur committed to building a sustainable shea industry, which is why she implemented a pilot project to help women gather the shea nuts and process them into butter. She has since taken over the shea processing centre in Saki, Oyo State to train villagers, mostly women, on how to pick and process shea nuts and make a living from them, in order to lift them and their families out of extreme poverty. Sagoe intends to ensure that companies source products directly from producers in the villages, where villagers are involved through manually collecting, sorting, crushing, roasting, grinding, and separating the oils from the butter and shaping the finished product. The raw nuts collected from them are processed into unrefined shea butter. The villages also make money by selling the raw nuts to companies that extract, refine and export the oil abroad for cosmetic purposes.4

StartingUp Now had the privilege of participating in a Shea Butter Conference with industry leaders from Nigeria and helping them with the development of their business plans.

With the expanding opportunities in the shea butter industry, the growth of the shea nut production throughout Nigeria, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the people, Nigeria is in a position to improve its economy and, according to the Director General of Niger State Commodity and Export Promotion Agency, Mohammed Kontagora, “Shea butter has the potential to eradicate poverty."5

The same trait of courage, perseverance and determination of the Igbo people is often highlighted regarding many African Americans due to their resiliency seen over the years despite the suffering that has occurred due to slavery, Jim Crow and other forms of racism and oppression. Despite bad experience and losses, like their Igbo ancestors, they carry on. In working together, generating and maintaining a "communal civic spirit," African Americans can also increase their entrepreneurial success.

Over the years, I have observed many similarities between the Igbo people and African Americans. I encourage my African American brothers and sisters to explore their ancestry and if you discover you are Igbo, embrace your natural gift in entrepreneurship.


1 "The Igbo Entrepreneur in the Political Economy of Nigeria," p. 150, Olanrewaju Akinpelu OLUTAYO, Department of Sociology, Faculty of the Social Sciences, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, NIGERIA. 

2 Ibid, p. 169. 

3 Ibid.

4 "Making Nigeria a Global Player in $10B Shea Industry," Posted By: CHIKODI OKEREOCHA and DAN ESSIET, The Nation, 

5 Ibid.

Contexture Media Network

Randi Craigen - Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Lesley Martinez Etherly is a Chicago native with a passion for grassroots community development through the support of Strategic Marketing and Technology Resources. Lesley is the Founder and Executive Director of Contexture Media Network, a nonprofit media, web and tech organization working to support, grow and sustain economically challenged communities through digital education, production resources, and capacity support services. Contexture is Lesley’s direct answer to the ever-widening digital divide in low income and under-represented communities. Contexture’s team develops, trains and supports community development through the creation and strategic use of media, web and technology resources. Contexture is partnership focused and operates as an impact booster for organizations who are already committed to eliminating digital and economic gaps worldwide. Lesley believes in the ability to work together to sustain a 21st Century workforce development model and create a global media platform that is sustainable, inclusive and empowering.


Randi Craigen - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Renita Alexander believes we each have a God given assignment--a purpose for being here on this earth--that we've already been given the raw capacity to fulfill according to Ephesians 2:10, and that we can build a life around that purpose that's uniquely fit for each one of us. Renita's enthusiasm for helping people discover that purpose according to their own unique passions, concerns, experiences, personalities and values makes her an excellent leadership coach and inspirational guide.

Renita is passionate about leadership. With a desire to help leaders at every level unlock their power and passion in order to become truly transformationalRenita founded Leadership Unlockeda leadership coaching, development and training service committed to unleashing effective, influential, powerful leaders who consistently exude energy, positively impact their workplace, are surgical in making decisions, and inspire energy, loyalty and commitment in their employees. 

retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, Renita is an expert in the extensive leadership training and experiential leadership development unique to the military, as well as in the practical management skills characteristic of her leadership coaching practice. Renita has a coaching certification from the Institute of Professional Excellence in Coaching (or iPEC)a rigorous program accredited by the International Coach Federation (ICF)and more than 26 years of inspirational and transformational leadership experience. 

Renita recently brought that wealth of experience and expertise to SUN and Entrenuity clients via the mox.E Speaker Series with a December workshop on Leadership Equilibrium: Leading in a Way That Allows You to Achieve Balance in Your Life. With a focus on the need to "lead yourself first before being able to lead others effectively," the highly reflective and interactive workshop included several exercises designed to help participants identify their unique passion and purpose in life and how to create a life flow that allows them to be who they were truly meant to be—their most efficient, most effective, most productive selves.  


With an insightful look at the BRAKES—the Beliefs, Reality, Assumptions, Killers, Expectations and Systems—that serve as internal obstacles to keep people from living out their purpose, Renita engaged participants in an exercise to help them identify some of their own internal obstacles. Renita's entire workshop was packed with wisdom, practical insights and valuable tools for reflection, including soul searching questions, Biblical truth, and Renita's own positive, encouraging energy. 

Stay tuned for more mox.E Speaker Series Events at 


L. Brian Jenkins, MA - Monday, January 09, 2017

Business ownership is both a privilege and an opportunity. 

As we enter 2017, a year that will undoubtedly be filled with both challenges and opportunities, are you prepared for the growth, setbacks and disruptions business owners face daily? 

Will your business crumble at the slightest challenge, negative review or comment on social media? 

Will a dispute with a business partner lead to a shutdown? Will an unexpected set back cause you to call it quits? 

As I am privileged to work with new entrepreneurs, I often stress to them that it's not just knowledge of their business that leads to marketplace success, but also strength of character. 

This past weekend my family and I went to the movie theatre to see “Hidden Figures.” The movie focused on the lives of three extraordinary African-American women who worked at NASA—Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson. Each of these women played a pivotal role in one of America’s greatest moments—the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. This was a HUGE and PIVOTAL event in 1962 that revamped America’s confidence in the Space Race with our rival, the former Soviet Union. Their brilliance was astonishing, as was their resolve to persevere against the intentional sexism, racism and Jim Crow legislation used to oppress so many bright, creative African-Americans. They had the support of their families and churches and solidarity with others in similar circumstances. They were highly skilled in their field. They also had the strength of character that serves as a model for business owners and entrepreneurs in the coming year—they didn't quit in the face of obstacles, doubt or discouragement, but perseveredTheir legacy and contribution provides a model and foundation to build on, despite being ignored by history for more than fifty years.

How can you improve your knowledge of your own business in 2017? How can you learn more about your target market? What can you do to improve your skills or the skills of your team to better serve your customers? These are all important questions to ask in the coming year. Starting strong requires an honest assessment of where your business is at and how your business can be improved.


But starting strong, staying strong and finishing strong requires more. It requires strength of character. What are you doing to pursue excellence at all levels? Are you modeling excellence for your team? If there are those on your team that do not share or value your commitments, it may be best to help them depart. Sideways energy is often wasted energy; it doesn’t move you towards improving.  

The brilliant skill and strength of character of three remarkable African-American women working at NASA may have been hidden from public recognition for much of fifty years, but their impact was profound. Just as a business leader's strength of character will  have a profound impact on the business, whether publicly recognized or not. 

Intern Update--Karin Woodhouse

Randi Craigen - Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Internships are a valuable way to gain real-world work experience, expand skills, build a resume, and explore career paths. StartingUp Now has been pleased to host interns from various colleges and universities, including North Park University in Chicago.

Former intern Karin Woodhouse, from Stockholm, Sweden, joined North Park through an exchange program in 2012 and learned about StartingUp Now through North Park’s Career and Development Department, which led to an interview with Brian Jenkins. Karin instantly liked Brian's drive and work ethic toward meeting his goals and appreciated how he was constantly thinking about the next thing. Karin understood that the direction wouldn't always be obvious when working with Brian, but was confident she would have a great learning experience! Karin joined the SUN team as a Finance Intern Fall 2013 and did indeed learn a lot, but also used her exceptional skills and abilities to equip SUN to better serve our constituents and provide them with quality tools for reaching their business dreams.

Karin was instrumental in developing an interactive financial template for SUN Skillcenter members to utilize in the build-up of their business plans, as well as in their everyday operations. Karin assisted in other smaller projects as well, such as to build-out a variety of Excel templates, as well as reviewing and analyzing various business plans. She credits Brian for teaching her how to become a business professional rather than a student, by encouraging her and pushing her to take on work challenges, as well as providing her with opportunities to creatively problem solve by working on open ended projects. She says, “Brian is a great mentor who really cares for his employees and makes sure everyone gets what they need. He will always listen to your conclusions and will include you in processes that are interesting to you.”

Karin graduated from North Park University in December 2014 with Bachelor’s Degree in Business and Economics with a Concentration in Finance. She’s currently working as an Associate for BDO’s Corporate Finance Department in Stockholm. Her goal for right now is to keep working and learn as much as she possibly can. She’s not certain what her future business pursuits will be, but believes that as long as she keeps learning and developing both professionally and personally, she will find her purpose along the way.


Randi Craigen - Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Often the best ideas for products are born out of genuine need. Someone confronts a problem, cannot find an adequate solution, and so comes up with a solution of his/her own. Sounds simple enough, but the road to getting that solution off the ground and into the hands of people who need it can be long and filled with obstacles. Sticking with it and seeing it through requires determination, perseverance and a genuine belief that the product can make a difference. Those qualities, along with a lot of prayer and a strong support system, helped Angelique Warner develop Nurse 'N Go—a soft-sided baby carrier that allows nursing moms to breast feed their babies while keeping their hands free.

Angelique knew by age 8 that she wanted to be a mom one day and specifically wanted to have four children. That dream stuck with her throughout her childhood, teenage years and into her college years. She met her husband, Bryan, at work during the summer while a student at Wheaton College. They were married 6 months after graduation. Not long after that, they became parents … to 8 boys of varying ages with varying emotional and behavioral challenges, who were wards of the State and living in a residential facility outside of Chicago. Angelique and Bryan loved being parents and dedicated many years to nurturing the young boys in their care. Their first child was born during that time and Angelique quickly discovered the challenges of breastfeeding an infant while having many other needs to tend to. Their journey then led them to another residential facility where they became house parents to 14 boys, while also adding 3 more children to their own family, including a set of twins. As a mom of four children under the age of four--one being a baby who refused to take a bottle--and 14 other children of varying ages, Angelique found there were countless times when being able to breast feed privately while keeping her hands free would have been a tremendous asset. It was while still nursing her youngest and trying to toilet train her twins with a house full of boys running around that Angelique first had a vision of a baby carrier that would allow her to breastfeed privately and hands free.  All of her research online and going from store to store yielded no results. She couldn’t find anything like what she had envisioned. Finally, her aunt told her, “Maybe you’re supposed to invent it.”

Overwhelmed at the thought and having no idea where to begin, Angelique didn’t do anything until her youngest turned three and started pre-school. After further research proved there still wasn’t anything on the market that fit her vision, Angelique shifted her research to how to invent something. It was in January 2008 that Angelique first began journaling about her idea. Eight years later she had her first sale—to Brian Jenkins of StartingUp Now. Brian and Angelique met while she was an undergraduate student and he was a graduate student at Wheaton College. They kept in touch over the years, and Brian became a trusted friend and business advisor. The ensuing eight years were filled with prototypes and revisions of both her product and her business plan. Countless people offered encouragement and help along the way, including sewing samples, giving legal counsel, writing patent applications, introducing contacts, etc. Finally, Nurse 'N Go became a reality, passed government inspections and is now on the market—a product nursing moms everywhere will find especially helpful when the phone’s ringing, the kids are screaming, the dog’s scratching at the door and the baby needs to be fed. Congratulations, Angelique, for sticking with it and launching Nurse 'N Go. CLICK HERE for more info on Nurse-n-Go. Angelique and Nurse-n-Go will also be featured in an upcoming issue of Inventor’s Digest and on the internet radio program The Love Perspective, April 13, 6-8 pm.

Ryan Tolbert_Lively Booth

Randi Craigen - Monday, January 11, 2016



If a picture is worth a thousand words, than entrepreneur Ryan Tolbert has a lot to say. Ryan is the founder of Lively Booth (launched 2015)—a rentable photo booth based on the classic model of providing event guests with enthusiastic photos, but with a modern twist. While photo booths are nothing new, having been around since the 1920’s, Ryan’s innovative ideas for Lively Booth makes it relevant for today.

Unlike the typical photo booth that has room for just an individual or perhaps a few guests at a time, Lively Booth functions as an open standing kiosk that can be placed in front of any backdrop to fit many guests comfortably and move lines through quickly. Instead of printing instant images on site, Lively Booth sends the images immediately to a website, where guests can download them to a computer or mobile device to be shared via social media, or printed as they like. Lively Booth adds value to event hosts by offering an effortless way to document or commemorate an event, and excites guests by providing them full access to high quality images with their friends or other guests. With digital files, the use of social media and hashtags, Lively Booth can be also used in marketing contexts. It’s the perfect solution for celebrations where a lively photo of guests both communicates brand personality and brings awareness to the event at hand.

During college, Ryan used to shoot photo booths for events manually with a camera and lights. People really enjoyed the photos, so overtime Ryan researched ways he could scale and streamline his service, and discovered companies on the West Coast that were doing something similar with an open-style kiosk and a printer. As Ryan saw guests from events posting his photos on social media to share with friends and family, he began researching ways to make his photo booth idea digital. Sometime after he began prototyping and building Version 1 of Lively Booth, which is what he’s using today.

After graduating from college in 2013, having studied Content Creation—photography, video, and graphic design in communication applications—Ryan was connected through a mutual friend to chaperone at an Entrenuity Business Camp, as well as shoot a promotional video for the camp. The theme of the week was around App Development and Ryan had a blast learning, as well as connecting with young entrepreneurs. While at the camp, Ryan was introduced to the StartingUp Now (SUN) 24 Principles to Launch Your Own Business.

Ryan found SUN invaluable as he developed his own ideas for a business. He says SUN’s system for “laying out bite-sized goals and principles to plan and execute is a blessing when starting a business, because there are many moving parts that can fight each other if not approached strategically.” Ryan considers SUN to be a sort of short-cut to starting a business, stating that while “you are still responsible for executing the steps, SUN guides you in a trajectory that helps eliminate and troubleshoot some of the common hindrances” to growing an idea into a viable business. While launching a business always includes some minor hiccups and things to modify, the SUN process of actually writing out his business plan allowed Ryan to “live outside my head concerning my ideas ... take advantage of opportunities … and test my assumptions based on live data.”

Ryan’s future plans are to create a “content creation ecosystem,” as he likes to call it, of which Lively Booth is just one of three parts. Creative media that is tailored to a brand or an individual’s persona and is strategized to fascinate a customer or add value to a customer is an area that Ryan finds exciting—an excitement he wants to share. The kind of excitement felt when your favorite sports team wins a championship or the way you feel after watching a really great movie, is how Ryan wants people to feel about the stories of people in their communities who are doing great work. He believes that content has the ability to inspire and challenge, by platforming messages and in turn reflecting the infectious and unique personalities around us.

Ryan’s advice to future entrepreneurs is to write down the ideas that keep reoccurring in their mind and set mini-goals to reach them. “You know what will happen if you don’t take action; however, you don’t know what will happen if you keep pursuing those ideas to fruition. That’s exciting.”

Teen Trep Esther Renee Jewelry

Randi Craigen - Monday, September 21, 2015

Sometimes the seed for entrepreneurship gets planted early … very early. Esther was just five years old when she created her own little business for a Kindergarten project—Esther’s Pretty Stuff. She envisioned herself selling things like earrings and necklaces with prices from $999 to $9,999. She still has the piece of paper with her business name and ideas. That was over 12 years ago, but the concept wasn’t that far-fetched, even though the original price point may have been. Esther now has a growing business making custom, hand-crafted jewelry, grossing over $300 at her very first sale. Esther’s always been creative and enjoys making things with her hands, so learning to make jewelry seemed like a really good idea. She started teaching herself to make earrings in 4th grade, eventually getting some help from other family friends and contacts who knew the craft. She fell in love with wire-wrapping and enjoyed using the technique to make jewelry for teachers, family members and friends. The more she made, the more her craftsmanship improved, and her appreciative “clients” encouraged her to keep designing. Signing up for a craft fair at a local park was out of necessity more than anything. She had to find a way to reduce the growing pile of jewelry in her bedroom and to acquire the funds to buy supplies to make more. She was definitely hooked.

Using the 24 principles of StartingUp Now, Esther is working on her business plan for Esther Renee Jewelry, learning about costs and pricing, evaluating her opportunities and competition, and learning about legal structure. Her parents have been a huge encouragement, taking her shopping for materials, helping her set up at sales events, and traipsing across the city with her to apply for the appropriate business licenses and permits. Her dad even got permission for her to set up a table at his job site—a high rise condo building where he works security--and that turned out to be one of the best investments of all. One of the residents—a professional personal shopper well-connected to high end customers—took a look at Esther’s jewelry and was very impressed. She purchased jewelry for herself, sold some to friends, and got orders for several more custom pieces. She had Esther make her a necklace to wear to a celebrity fund-raising event and is personally working to connect Esther to buyers and future sales events. It’s a lot for a 17 year old to take in, but Esther’s learning fast, making the most of the opportunities before her, and even earning some math and business class credit while she’s at it. And most importantly, she’s delivering beautiful, one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted jewelry to happy customers.

Vision, Purpose and Service Behind Bars

Randi Craigen - Monday, September 21, 2015

Troy Rienstra is an artist. Using only hand-held chisels, cutting and tooling stamps, he creates beautiful, custom leather briefcases with exquisite detailing and hand stitching. It takes over 40 working hours, start to finish, to complete just one briefcase. Troy hand dyes, treats, cuts and punches all of his materials, without the use of machines. The result is a beautiful, yet functional, high-quality work of art that will last any business person a lifetime—guaranteed. A lifetime is also the sentence Troy is currently serving in a Michigan correctional facility.

Though he grew up in a Christian home and attended Christian schools, in his teen years Troy rejected his family and the faith they represented. By age 19 Troy had a juvenile record and was facing a five year sentence with the Michigan Department of Corrections. A year and a half after being granted parole, he returned to prison--this time with a life sentence and the label “habitual criminal.” Troy racked up numerous violations during the early years of his sentence, resulting in years of “no visitors allowed” and eventually an entire year in solitary confinement. It was during this year of isolation that Troy finally began the journey back to the faith he had been taught, embracing it as his own and becoming a different man.

Troy’s genuine experience of repentance, forgiveness and restoration was transformational. He became a model prisoner, earning the respect of fellow inmates and corrections staff alike. Troy’s life became one of vision, purpose, and service. He took advantage of opportunities to educate himself, better his skills, and serve those around him. Leather crafting is just one of the skills he had the opportunity to learn and develop.

Once offered throughout Michigan’s 40 prisons, leather-craft programs are still available in three Michigan facilities where prisoners are allowed to teach other prisoners the craft. Troy worked regularly on smaller projects so that he could practice and develop his skill by giving attention to detail. Once he got started, he found that he truly enjoyed working with his hands and seeing the fruit of his labor. His first large project was a briefcase that he made as a Christmas gift. The response was so great, that Troy decided to continue making them with hopes of finding his place in the hand-crafted, leather briefcase market. He and a fellow inmate now work together making Zaken (a Dutch word for businesses) custom briefcases.

Using the 24 principles of StartingUp Now (SUN), Troy has developed a plan for Zaken Leather Works to become a viable business with a social conscience. His vision is for Zaken to employ, educate and economically empower formerly incarcerated individuals. He’d like to say they make bags to rebuild lives. Troy’s goal is to become a trained SUN Facilitator with hopes of having the necessary support to offer the program to other prisoners so they might be prepared to implement a realistic and well thought-out plan for business and life upon their release. He’s already helping develop a program called Citizenship Academy (CITAC), with the mission of offering a complete curriculum--which will include StartingUp Now--to address the academic, economic and restorative needs of incarcerated people so they might re-enter society as productive citizens. CITAC is in its infancy right now, but in time Troy believes it will make a major contribution to the push for prison reform, as prisoners begin to live as upstanding citizens during their time of incarceration. Troy’s natural leadership abilities and the positive example of his own reformed behavior encourages other prisoners that a life of value is still possible. Troy’s prayer is that an upcoming hearing before the parole board will result in the opportunity for him to re-enter society as a citizen in good standing and begin making the kind of positive impact outside the prison walls as he’s been making inside.*

*Update: Troy was granted parole at his hearing and has returned to society as a citizen in good standing! Troy is looking forward to developing his business, as well as teaching others to use their unique gifts, ideas and dreams to be productive citizens.

StartingUp Now: Facilitator Training in Action

Brittany Coleman - Monday, September 21, 2015

After our facilitator training in June, many of our participants have put the SUN method into action. One of those successful participants is Scott Turpin of Dallas, Texas. Scott is using the StartingUp Now (SUN) method to teach entrepreneurship to 11th and 12th graders at Uplift Peaks Prep and Uplift Heights Prep Charter School in Dallas, TX. Uplift's mission is to create and sustain public schools of excellence that empower students to reach their highest potential in college and the global marketplace and that inspire in students a life-long love of learning, achievement, and service in order to positively change their world.

From mowing yards as a teenager to teaching tennis lessons in college to founding a youth camp, Scott has been a lifelong entrepreneur. When Scott learned of the SUN facilitator course, he was impressed with the breakdown of the business planning process and how teachable the methods were. He knew that the method would be perfectly adaptable to teach high school students.

On August 11, 2015, Scott launched the SUN class to 19 students at the two high schools. The students were so eager to take the class, that many of them chose the class over an ACT Prep course. Scott keeps the class exciting for the students by connecting the lessons to current events, such as McDonald’s or Apple’s business practices and principles.

The students, paired in teams of two, prepared a “Big Idea” and are developing a business plan to be presented to their peers and faculty in December. The “Big Ideas” that the students selected were not only exciting but innovative as well. Student business ideas include pet sitting, molecular cooking/catering, virtual dining, a grocery delivery service for elderly customers, a blog that captures restaurant reviews through a teen’s perspective, and tech services that help the elderly and those in retirement communities make the best use of their electronics.

The class has generated a passion for entrepreneurship in the hearts and minds of the students and is inspiring a whole new generation of thought leaders. Scott believes the StartingUp Now facilitators training course has a great curriculum and is perfect for anyone looking to share the power of entrepreneurship with their community.

Recent Posts