Onaseye Onabolu is starting a new business alongside a full-time MBA. He has a lot on his plate. But for Onaseye, it’s nothing new.
Originally from Nigeria and brought up in the UK, Onaseye has juggled projects simultaneously throughout his professional life.
In 2010, he set up Nigeria’s answer to Ticketmaster – currently the biggest events ticket selling platform in Nigeria – alongside full-time job at Citibank in Lagos. He’s studied for a number of financial qualifications – including CIMA and CFA – alongside his work and business.
And after eight years in corporate banking – across Africa, the Middle East, and then in the UK – he chose Aston Business School over Oxford Saïd for his MBA.
Now, he’s using the MBA to develop his new business idea; Africa-focused investment consultancy Sona Capital. He wants to scale his business, drive impact investing and support growth in the region.
He’s well placed to do so. Aston works closely with Innovation Birmingham Campus, a huge startup hub located on the school’s doorstep. And Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program, which supports early-stage startups in the UK, has an office on campus.
How did the idea to start up Sona Capital come about?
I spent several years working in Nigeria and Ghana, and I gained a lot of knowledge, contacts, and experience in the region. When I came back to the UK two years ago, I was exposed to a lot of projects that were going on based in Africa in terms of project finance and infrastructure finance in different industries like mining, power and agriculture.
There were a lot of opportunities that I had the right skills to pursue. I started off by consulting for companies in London with an Africa focus, and it made sense to go it alone. It was a bit of a risk but something that I decided to go ahead with.
What do you hope to achieve?
I want to make a social impact to aid development in the Africa region. I’m very passionate about the region and the potential for growth is huge.
China has a dedicated fund for the region. It’s earmarked $5 billion for investment into Africa over the next 20 years. Throughout the western world, in developed markets, there are a lot of investors looking to invest in Africa. What they are lacking are the right platforms and infrastructure to guide those investments across.
It’s something that we as the next generation have to take ownership of. I want to develop business. Africa is the next real emerging market and with the right leadership and guidance, the region has a great future.
How have you been supported by the Aston MBA?
There are a number of platforms within the school that help new and early-stage businesses. Innovation Birmingham Campus is a two-minute walk from Aston University campus. I’ve been put in contact with people from there. I’ve been offered space in the building and access to facilities and resources.
An MBA is not about the academics specifically. It’s about leadership training and teamwork. It’s about networking within the group and with the school’s alumni. All these experiences have already come in very useful for my current business.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Aston?\
Aston is a triple-accredited MBA program with a good reputation. They support students very well. There are many different scholarship packages on offer, and the school is ranked as one of the best in Europe for value for money.
I went into the MBA with the intention of using this year to develop my business. And Aston has great links in terms of entrepreneurship.
Plus, Birmingham an up-and-coming hub for entrepreneurs. It’s fantastically located; it’s very affordable while still having a large customer base. Because it’s a slightly smaller city, there’s more of a community feel than in London where you can feel lost.
What advice do you have for MBAs looking to start their own business?
Perseverance is key. It does get tough; sometimes you have to face a lot of obstacles. Believing in what you’re trying to do, and being passionate about it, will hopefully lead to success.
What should applicants think about when deciding to do an MBA?
Look at business schools that specialize in the fields that you’re interested in and that have a good reputation. The rankings are a great place to start. Employers do look at these things. And a good school looks good on your resume.