The Journey of Chiebuka Itanyi: From Student Entrepreneur to Startup Founder

February 22, 2024

In the ever-exciting world of entrepreneurship and innovation, individuals like Chiebuka Itanyi really light up the stage. They're the kind of people who inspire us with their unwavering determination, their knack for turning experiences into life lessons, and their positive impact on the communities they touch.

Chiebuka's journey, from his roots in Nigeria to the bustling tech hub of London, and his impressive time at Amazon, leading up to his current venture, Mentord, is nothing short of an adventure in resilience and forward thinking.

Hi Chiebuka, can you share your backstory with us?

Backtrack to a few years back when I got to know Iyinoluwa Aboyeji; Co-founder of Itana, I started following his work at Andela, Flutterwave, and now, Itana Africa, especially given that he attended my secondary school.

I picked a couple of lessons from him and that got me inspired to launch my second company which is called Mentord (an equity-based mentoring platform for founders). This idea sprung up due to some of the challenges I encountered in my first startup, particularly with respect to “Guidance”. While running my first startup, there wasn't a lot of guidance, nobody wanted to help, and there wasn't any kind of information online or community that would be useful to me. I just thought about the idea of connecting experienced entrepreneurs with people who are aspiring and trying to start their entrepreneurial journey. So, that led me to the Itana Digital Residency Program, especially because I know that it's full of like-minded people on the African continent. A community of people who are trying to start something novel, people who are very entrepreneurial and very business-minded.

Your second startup led you to the Itana Digital Residency Program, can you walk us through your first attempt at entrepreneurship?

My entrepreneurial journey started in 2018. After my A levels in the UK, I launched my first company, a brand featuring Nigerian-themed accessories. I was really into fashion at the time and I thought about the gap I had identified in the market for accessories and I just thought to myself; “Okay, you know what, I don't have any experience in business or entrepreneurship, but let me just give it a go”.

AdaluNG was a testament to my belief in solving problems and addressing market needs. It was a success, but juggling business and academics presented its own set of challenges. We partnered with a lot of artists, a lot of musicians, etc. We sold our first collection, our second collection, and on and on and on. Unfortunately, I had to downscale on that because I got into university and things started becoming a little bit more hectic.

Images of some products from AdaluNG's studio

Running a start-up or other entrepreneurial activities right after high school looks like a very significant undertaking, especially at such an early stage. Did you face any challenges during this period?

First of all, there are a lot of challenges. The main problem I faced was “the problem of time” as I was constrained by time. I was studying in the UK, and it meant that I could only work on AdaluNG (my first startup) whenever I was back in Nigeria during Summer breaks and Christmas holidays. This limited operational window made sourcing materials, manufacturing, and distribution quite a puzzle. On top of that, being a one-person show made growth and scaling an uphill climb.

I guess another challenge, which was a big mistake on my part was that I was a one-man team. I didn't invest in a team because I thought to myself, “Oh, nobody's going to understand this thing I'm doing”.

Chiebuka as a student in the UK

In all of these, what has always kept you motivated?

Despite these challenges, my flame of motivation never flickered. It was fuelled by my passion for finding solutions and making a positive impact on people's lives. Seeing customers enjoy my products and hearing their stories about how these products met their needs kept me going. I also constantly drew inspiration from other successful founders, like Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, whose journey led him to discover Itana which I now aspire to be a part of.

Overall, the most important thing, which I've always been trying to do is: just solve problems. From my work experience and my academic background, I've learned that if I can identify a need, solve that need, and feed demand, then that's everything for me

Chiebuka as a student in the UK

You worked at Amazon as a Brand Specialist, and at a few other corporate organizations, how were you able to navigate and transition from the entrepreneurial side of things to the corporate side of things?

During my career, I've been privileged to work in so many different kinds and sizes of companies. I've worked with about three different startups, and I've worked in about three different corporate firms. I worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), in Abuja. I worked in a consulting firm called The Foundation, and more recently, I worked at Amazon.

The main difference between the corporate and startup sides is “bureaucracy” and “red tape”. Unlike large corporate firms, startups are very quick with execution and implementation. Things move faster and quicker, and I think that's why at the end of the day startups end up overtaking huge companies, just because they're so nimble and so easy to navigate sometimes, so I'll say that the transition wasn't actually that huge, though, maybe frustrating, especially because of my nature of “let's try to do something different. Let's think about what's the better way to do this”

What’s that venture you're currently working on, that you have also implemented these lessons into? 

I'm currently working on a venture called Mentord. It’s a mentoring platform that aims to connect early-stage founders with experienced founders, in exchange for vested equity and cash. Inspired by my journey and driven by my passion for helping others, this platform allows early-stage entrepreneurs to connect with and be mentored by more experienced entrepreneurs, which could be in the form of knowledge sharing, finances, moral support, resources, or other forms of support. 

Any last bit of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

The most important advice I can offer is that there's no such thing as failure, only learning experiences. Until you try, you won't know. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. I don't want to look back in a few years and regret not trying something. I'd rather take action. If it doesn't work out, that's okay; we learn and move on to the next thing.

In the world of entrepreneurship, Chiebuka Itanyi's journey is a beacon of resilience, adaptability, and a data-driven mindset. His unwavering commitment to problem-solving and positively impacting lives continues to drive his entrepreneurial ventures, making him a cherished member of the Itana Digital Residency Community and an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs across Africa and beyond.


The people behind Itana: Founders, Government, and Private Sector Partners

The concept of Itana was conceived by Iyin Aboyeji, co-founder of Andela and Flutterwave. His vision was to create a city and ecosystem where technology and startup companies could not only operate but also thrive, collaborate, and innovate.

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Itana is building Africa’s first digital zone — the ideal business jurisdiction for global and pan-African technology and service-oriented businesses to remotely incorporate, operate, and scale across Africa, thereby unlocking the continent’s digital economy.