Tony Onuk is the co-founder of The RootHub, currently at AKEES Plaza, opposite Ibom hall, IBB Way Uyo. In this interview, he reveals how RootHub has trained over 4000 Akwa Ibom youths in the past three years. He reveals that with technology he has been able to reach out to the world from Uyo and no longer has to worry about the market for his tech products. You may need to start a tech business in Uyo and I believe this interaction can arm you with the necessary information needed for your startup. Excerpt.
Can we know you Sir?
Tony Onuk is my name and a co-founder of the RootHub. I co-founded the RootHub with my twin brother. I am from Akwa Ibom State, Itu LGA to be precise. I am a young man passionate about entrepreneurship, technology and creative art and I strongly believe that anything in life can be made bigger once you leverage technology. Technology seeks to make life easier and more efficient.
What is the business concept behind The RootHub?
The concept of RootHub was quite simple. It was founded as a co-working environment where different business owners come together to share the cost of running their businesses but while we were implementing that, we went into business advisory issue because we found out that most businesses did not know how to start. After starting the business, we identified the need for proper training and decided to build a community around that. That is those who have business ideas and those who are doing business already, everyone co-exists in the same community and everyone becomes a stakeholder in that community and business process.
Are you training these young people so as to employ them?
We train, not employ directly but we attach those trained people to entrepreneurs. For example, a company may start and they want to do web animation but because we already have people who are pros in deploying web animation we easily attach them to be co-founders or employees.
How many youths have you trained so far?
In the past three years we have trained about 2000+ young persons in partnership with AKEES too and those are our short-term programs. In the area of internship and mentorship our span should be able to churn out 500 persons in three years.
How do you engage your trainees after their programs?
We do not just train and let you go, we train and then watch. We help you get your hands on something. We have come to realize that there was a particular trend in Akwa Ibom State, before now it was “after training what next?” We now added the entrepreneurship development component which means while they are being trained, we show them how they can use that training to make money for themselves which is entrepreneurship. The trend now is that people are becoming self-aware and reliance that they look at the skills they have acquired to make money for themselves that’s what it is. Now we have noticed that most of the trainees are looking for further training to enhance their careers. And basically, the world is moving into a service world where what you do could be of a service to another person. You can stay in the comfort of your home and offer services to as many people as possible in other parts of the world right here in Uyo.
You were initially based at Ibom e-library, why did you move to AKEES Plaza?
The move was strategic in the sense that what we were doing at the e-library was on a small scale. We started with 5 businesses and then 10 to 15 businesses within the e-library. But then due to dynamism of entrepreneurship the e-library was a bit constrained because the e-library was more for technology and technology oriented businesses, but the RootHub was covering a wide number of entrepreneurship field so we had to now seek for one facility that we can use and then deploy those things that we needed. It was strategic in the sense that we had to partner with the state government to reach out to more young people in the state. What we were doing at the RootHub was more of a private venture where it was just for a few people but since we have tested it over a period of time and it worked, then we had to get into doing it in a larger scale by fitting into the government’s plan of raising young people to a productive level to be self-employed or to be employed.
Now you speak of RootHub as a collection of businesses, how does technology come in then?
Most of our training had been centred on technology. What we do as an entrepreneurial hub is that our core focus is on technology. Even if you are doing other businesses, we show you the technological aspect of your business which will make your business grow larger. Most of our training is computer appreciation, application development, web development, graphic art, animation etc. basically those things that you need. Those things that are tech base.
How much do you charge for the training?
Initially there was a need for the training. Businesses within the hub needed some trained hands. We used to charge some people depending on what you wanted to learn. But since we partnered with the state government, the government upsets that aspect so that we can train more people since the training is now free. The number of people we’ve been training for AKEES alone is over 4000 in different area of ICT. Those training has been going on in different areas. Fish farming, Digital Skills, Graphics, Animations, Computer Appreciation, etc. So, what we do beyond the training for the state government is that after training those people, we retain them as intent that’s why you see so many young people around. There’s a conducive environment here where they can still further their training through online trainings and meetups.
Does AKEES programs conflict with your business plan in RootHub? Any friction?
Not at all. It’s in tandem. There is no friction between and AKEES and the original plan in RootHub. Our plan is in tandem and we are pursuing same goal. It is a general misconception that anything that has to do with the government does not work. But if you look at the RootHub from the inception, we were using government facility – the e-library that everyone was saying it was not working. The idea is not “it is not working” but how do we make it work better? So, we have been partnering with the state government and it is already working better.
How do see doing business in Uyo?
Business in Uyo is good and not to good in the sense that it is easier and cheaper to start business in Uyo but maintaining business in Uyo is more difficult because we don’t have that market. But because of technology which has broken down the walls and everything is now open source, you can stay here in Uyo and offer your services to a client in Abuja and Lagos. Technology is the game changer. It is no longer in the past where you produce goods and have to take it to the market, now with technology you can do them instantly. But one thing we hope for is that overtime the technology usage rate increases in Akwa Ibom State. There has been a remarkable difference in the past 3 – 5 years. At the beginning we did not have more people open up to technology but now we have more users, developers, etc. and even hubs. We have more trend and experts and are creating impact in the world showing them that Akwa Ibom youths are willing to change the mantle of leadership in the tech world.
Is RootHub Registered with Corperate Affairs Commission?
Yea. Roothub is officially registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission. It is a Limited Liability Company.
What is your least charge for your services?
Do we have any least charge? There is no least charge for our services. It depends on what you need. RootHub is more like a mall, you can walk in and have whatever you want depending on what your needs are. We have different companies within RootHub, so what you price depends on what you want and which company is servicing you. For instance, my brother is more of a visual artist. We do a lot of branding here. We brand for a lot of companies, even companies in Lagos, Abuja, Thailand, Ireland, UK, US, etc. We take jobs, execute them and send it to them online.
What is your Message to those in Uyo?
Technology is a ground leveler. We should all endeavor to make maximum use of technology and explore all opportunities technology has to offer. It gives you access to market, education, special skills, etc. Before, if you needed to know something you will have to meet people for explanation but now everything lies within a click. So we must make full use of technology for our common growth.