The Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) encourages and supports young entrepreneurs through its Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), EO's premier competition for college and university students who own and operate a business. In 2013 as a studentpreneur, Cynthia Mene won the GSEA National Competition in Nigeria and competed in the GSEA Global Finals while running her company, EverGlow. We caught up with the serial entrepreneur to ask how her entrepreneurial journey has since progressed. Here's what she shared:
Tell us about your journey since the 2013 GSEA competition.
When I competed in GSEA, I was operating EverGlow, a company that filled the niche for a non-toxic, plant-derived and biodegradable liquid dish soap in Nigeria. We employed two full-time and three part-time staff members until we sold the company in 2015.
Now I'm a social entrepreneur, with two different companies: Inspire Africa for Global Impacts Initiative is a non-profit social enterprise focused on entrepreneurship and leadership education for young people. Kadosh Production Company is a for-profit social enterprise that improves the livelihood of women farmers through processing and packaging of cassava consumable products while recycling cassava peels for animal feed.
What motivated you to become a social entrepreneur?
Growing up in a village in Nigeria, I experienced the economic struggles facing millions of people who live in poverty across Africa and the developing world. A lack of necessities was the norm.
As a young girl, I suffered the back-breaking pain of growing cassava crops and waiting patiently for the harvest so my family could earn enough to keep a roof over our heads, eat occasionally, pay for medical expenses and maybe buy some books for school.
As a teenager, I realized the bitter truth of life: While billions of people are trapped in poverty, millions live in extravagance. Why wouldn't they help the poor? Five years ago, I found a stunning answer--and along with it, my life's purpose and mission. I realized that people live their lives based on their vision and spend their resources based on priorities.
Today, my life's mission is to help people escape the claws of desperation and empower them economically. I am fulfilling this mission through social entrepreneurship. That's the reason I become an entrepreneur.
What's your favorite memory of the GSEA competition?
In the Nigerian national GSEA competition, I competed alongside eight other semi-finalists in Lagos. I was the only woman. I was the last to present; I had a cold and felt very tense. I knew that only one person would be selected to compete on the global stage, and if I won, it would be my first time in America. The idea of making my first trip to America for a noble cause made joy leap inside of me.
I still remember how it felt when my name was announced as the winner, with an all-expense paid trip to Washington, DC. I met my first international friends at the GSEA Global Competition, and we are still in touch now, six years later.
What was it like engaging with studentrepreneurs from around the world?
During the workshops before the final competition, I found the wealth of knowledge shared by the student entrepreneurs and their intelligent perspectives, high-level thinking, and quality of questions remarkable. At first, I didn't feel very confident. But as the training went on, I let go of my timidity and got along with everyone. That day birthed a whole new level of confidence in me.
GSEA was the first time I felt like people believed in me and supported me. I was at an early stage in my journey--as a student trying to balance academics and entrepreneurship with the hope of not looking for a job after graduation but rather creating jobs for others even while in school. The GSEA competition offers a unique opportunity to encourage student entrepreneurs.
What's the coolest thing you've done as an entrepreneur?
The fact that I get to support other young, aspiring entrepreneurs through teaching, mentorship and providing access to opportunities that will bring out the best in them feels great. My goal is to help others realize their full potential as my mentors did with me.
What opportunities arose from participating in GSEA?
My participation in GSEA connected me with MicroMentor, through which I met my first global mentors, Dave Stein and Gary Mastro. As a retired vice president of brand and product marketing at United Parcel Service, Gary's extensive experience and willingness to mentor me enabled us to tackle significant challenges. He showed me the joy of sharing and teaching. As Gary says, "When you build up others, you build up yourself"-- a belief that stays with me as I strive to build up others. My mentorship with Gary brings out the best in me as an entrepreneur. Without GSEA, I would never have connected with him.
How are you making your mark?
Through my social entrepreneurship work, I've helped improve the livelihood and cassava farming experience for 3,000+ farmers in Niger Delta, provided nutritious products to 5,000+ families, trained and empowered 2,500 youth in entrepreneurship and business development, helped create 200+ jobs and raised more than $200,000 while providing support to others.
This has led to my receiving both local and international awards for social entrepreneurship. And, I still have so much more to accomplish--this is just the beginning!