Through his business E-Dis, Chibuike Maduforo plans to develop a dedicated online platform for the disability community, which he believes will act as a ‘gateway’ to a world of opportunities. Part social network, part “D-commerce” site, part online resource, Chibuike has his work cut out trying to make his vision a reality. But he believes passionately in providing disabled people with the same opportunities as the able bodied, and he certainly hasn’t let his own visual disability, a condition known as nystagmus to hold him back. As one of the members of the Intuit 100Up scheme – which supports inspiring young entrepreneurs – Chibuike has already been identified as a leading businessman of the future. He first met his mentor, David Thornton, at a “Meet a Mentor” event held at the MADE Festival last September to connect Get Mentoring volunteers and Intuit 100Up members. We spoke to both him and David to investigate why mentoring was proving to be crucial in the development of E-Dis.
Tell me about your business?
The business is focused around creating an online platform for the disability community with three core areas. The first is a social networking site for people with disabilities,and those who are connected to or interested in the sphere of disability. The second is a hub or database for people with disabilities – whether it’s to find a job, charities, specialist book producers, talent agencies or just local amenities and services that can cater for their needs. The final element is a hub for collaboration; a community built around the welfare of the disability community – it could be working with government on projects or people using the online resources to carry out research or study. I see it as being a virtual place that can benefit everyone from jobseekers to product and service providers, and even policy makers.
How did you come up with the idea for E-Dis?
I’ve always been a creative person, full of ideas and drive. I like to give things a go – whether it’s trying out new sports or entering poetry competitions. When I graduated from Coventry University in 2011 with a BA (HONS) in Enterprise and Entrepreneurship I started looking for a way to pursue my own ideas. I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to do something important and worthwhile because I’d regret it later in life. So when I came across the Intuit100Up prize for upcoming entrepreneurs I saw it as an ideal opportunity. I looked around and thought what isn’t out there at the moment? What is missing from the world? I came up with this idea for an online platform that could offer something to disabled people, energise them and give them somewhere to find opportunities of their own. I’ve spoken to venture capitalists at events and exhibitions that I’ve been to and one thing I’ve found is that the awareness of the disability community has grown hugely, and the appetite for providing the right resources and facilities is also growing – even more so since the Paralympics. I myself have a visual disability called nystagmus, but I don’t want something like being visually impaired to stop me or anyone else from achieving what they want to. That’s what E-Dis is about. It’s about creating something of real benefit, giving something valuable back.
You came to the Meet A Mentor event at MADE for members of the Intuit 100Up to meet Get Mentoring volunteers? What interested you in finding a mentor?
My view is that an entrepreneur shouldn’t be shy about getting as much support, help, advice and expertise as they can. I’m fully aware that I don’t have all the answers when it comes to this project. It’s going to be a long-term thing and I’m in for the long haul but there are so many people out there who have the technical knowledge or business skills that are needed to make E-Dis a reality. Mentoring is just one part of this, and I went along to the MADE festival thinking that this was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to miss.
How has that relationship developed with David since?
We met up in October and laid out a plan of what I needed to do next. The first thing has been to create what I suppose you could call a document of intent. After discussing the business with David I went away and worked on what I would need to present when meeting the charities, technical experts and organisations I’ll need on-board before I can get E-Dis off the ground. David and I had a detailed discussion in January to look through this document and together we talked about ways to refine it and ensure that it is fit for purpose. He has been very supportive through this time and his experience in the financial sector has already been invaluable. He’s helped me understand what will be expected of me as I look for investors further down the line.
Should businesses seek the support of a mentor?
Yes. As I mentioned before, why wouldn’t someone want to benefit from someone else’s experience. You don’t have to adopt every idea that is put in front of you, but gaining the perspective of someone who is more experienced and not bogged down in the business can be so helpful.
Do you think having a mentor has made a difference to the success of your business?
Even at this early stage I would say that working with David has helped me to stay on the right track – given me stability, if you like. With such a big project it is easy to get sidetracked by all the little details that are involved, and because I like to think of new ideas all the time I could go off down a different avenue and not make best use of my time. Even for someone who has all the necessary skills to get their business off the ground I think it’s worth getting that objective viewpoint to keep you seeing the bigger picture and focus your efforts in the right places.
Is there one specific thing that it's changed for you? Is there something you've done because you've had a mentor that you wouldn't have done otherwise?
The final document I’ve produced over the last month is quite different to the one I imagined I would create. But that’s because David’s support has really made me think about what the advantages of E-Dis are. He’s someone who asks why you would do things in a certain way and what the benefits are of building a certain type of business. I feel like his “outsider’s perspective” has given me that extra edge.
What next for your business? What are your ambitions over the next 12 months?
This isn’t going to be a business that is a quick win. What I’m hoping to do is quite ambitious and it will take time to get the right people in with the right expertise to develop a clear map for success. But I’d like to think that the next 12 months is about getting that expertise in place, researching what it is that people want from this type of online platform, finding out how willing charities and organisations are to be involved, etc. Then, once we have an outline for the financials in place, we will be at the stage where E-Dis can look to approach investors.
What part will mentoring play in the future of your business?
I think David will play a significant role in the future of E-Dis. His business background will help me as I begin to look for the right type of investment and get me thinking about the right way to present my business proposal. I’ll be taking every bit of expertise and help I can get over the next few months and mentoring will definitely be one of the most important forms of support.