Meet Ejibola Adetokunbo-Taiwo, a banker-turned-entrepreneur supporting BIPOC founders.
Ejibola Adetokunbo-Taiwo is an entrepreneur, an entrepreneurship consultant, a business coach, and an advocate for women entrepreneurs who is passionate about encouraging, empowering, and supporting women to use entrepreneurship as a tool for leadership and economic advancement. She’s the CEO of Simply Ejibola Inc., the Founder and Principal Consultant at de Sedulous Women Leaders, and has also been the lead creator of several entrepreneurship initiatives like femImmiGRANTS, a grant specifically for BIPOC female entrepreneurs in Canada, the iiNTEGRATE NEXT program for newcomers in Canada, the iLaunchHERproduct, a program aimed at connecting women-owned businesses with big box retail stores in Canada, and the Rise Up Pitch Competition, a national grant program for Black Canadian women entrepreneurs. Ejibola has been recognized for her work by several organizations like the Grande Prairie Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Immigrant Magazine, Diversity Magazine Canada, 2022’s 100 Accomplished Black Women, and she is also one of our 2021 Top 25 Women of Influence Awards recipients.
My first paid job ever was… a Country Manager position at the West African Capital Market School (WACMS) in Lagos, Nigeria, where I was responsible for both operations and administration of the company. I remember on my first day of work, I got my fancy little office bag stolen from me on my way to the office (on a bike); it was not a pleasant first day at my first job. On the other hand, my first unpaid job ever was helping to manage my Mum’s convenience store in my junior and senior high school days after school at the popular Number 5 in Lagos, Nigeria. Those were full of pleasant memories.
Before my work with Simply Ejibola and ilaunchHERproduct, I was… a Senior Business Advisor at Scotiabank helping small and medium enterprises with their business growth needs. I had a portfolio of business clients assigned to me to manage their financial and investment interests. I paid particular attention to my business clients at that time because I was gradually becoming an entrepreneur myself. This led to my curiosity and inquisitiveness as to why I’d always get businessmen booking appointments with me for their funding needs, and I hardly saw women inquiring about the bank’s financing products for businesses. I eagerly wanted to understand more about the entrepreneurship ecosystem beyond financial support for entrepreneurs, so I stepped out of banking and got into the field.
“As a banker who was skilled at putting together a business plan, I couldn’t even get the attention of another banker to go through my plan without them stopping at the name of my business on the cover.”
I founded ilaunchHERproduct because… I became an entrepreneur and got to realize the several challenges associated with running a business, particularly as a woman, and most especially, as a Black entrepreneur. As a banker who was skilled at putting together a business plan, I couldn’t even get the attention of another banker to go through my plan without them stopping at the name of my business on the cover.
I faced other challenges like not being able to get approved for a business credit card for four years; the numerous “no’s” I got from big box retail store buyers got me asking myself questions like, if a woman like myself cannot access a business credit card of just $1,000, how do I begin to build business credit to help me access more funding to grow my business? If I can’t access enough funding, how can I increase my inventory to scale my business? If I’m able to use personal financing to increase inventory volume, how can I assess where the demand will be for my product, like retail stores, if buyers are not giving me a chance?
There were lots of questions, and I felt it was time to make a change, to disrupt the status quo I’d experienced in conventional banking, to diversify the retail shelves and get more Black-owned, immigrant-owned, women of color brands on the shelves. I drafted all of these challenges and put them together to create iLaunchHERproduct.
iLaunchHERproduct is a solution to help solve the challenges faced by women-owned businesses in growing and scaling their brands, using retail channels as a tool. Getting them approved for a $1000 business credit card by our TD Bank partner to help these women build business credit was one of the solutions. Having the women work with partners like EDC, BDC, TCS, and WEKH was one of the solutions in educating and providing them with the tools required to scale their business through retail, and getting WEConnect International to connect these women with big box retail store buyers in their database was another solution. iLaunchHERproduct is a total package that has the potential in creating not only business growth, but also economic growth.
The thing I love most about what I do is… the joy and the celebration of the little wins that comes from the women as a result of engaging in our programs, or receiving the femImmiGRANT to add a new product line to their brand offering, or getting a call from TD Bank that they’ve been approved for a business credit card because they’re an iLaunchHERproduct applicant gives me so much happiness.
Being able to help women-owned businesses build a solid business structure, redefine their business model, draft a growth strategy plan, rebalance their cash flow structure, and for me to actually receive an email from the women testifying to their brand’s improved business operations is what I love most about what I do. It feels so refreshing, so satisfying.
I’m excited about the ilaunchHERproduct program because… I cannot wait to see the products from our top 25 sit on the shelves of big box retail stores across Canada; I want to be able to say loudly, “Her Product, Her Story, On Shelves.” I’m particularly excited about this program because of the two research reports coming forth from it. The first report — led by one of our partners, EDC — will be based on the 158 applicant responses to the survey registration; the second report, led by another one of our partners, WEKH, will be based on the top 25 applicants, particularly on the ultimate outcome (quantitatively) of getting connected and having their products on the shelves of big box stores.
“When it seems like there is no way, or the doors are not opening up for you to spread your wings, build the exact table you’d like to sit at and lead that table towards the cause you are so passionate about.”
My best advice for anyone that cares about a cause and wants to contribute to it would be… be inspired by your own vision. Be mentally ready to sacrifice a lot by stepping out of your comfort zone in achieving every dream that keeps you up late at night and that makes you daydream of how the world would be a better place with the solution you’re presenting.
It’s not going to be easy, but you will have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and when it seems like there is no way, or the doors are not opening up for you to spread your wings, build the exact table you’d like to sit at and lead that table towards the cause you are so passionate about. Let your imagination be your form of courage, let it be your strength, and I’ll see you at the top — the place where we all belong.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… there are several things that have helped me succeed, but if I were to pick just one thing, that would be my fears. Over the years, I have found that it is when I am fearless in the midst of my fears that I start to act on pursuing my dreams; that I begin to have the audacity and unstoppable energy to keep going. My fears have challenged me to push, move, and build like I have a deadline to meet. My fears have pushed me out of my comfort zone to perform at my very best.
One of my favourite ways to spend my downtime is… watch movies with my family, go on a drive with my family irrespective of the distance, and sleep (I usually end up daydreaming).
The people I’m inspired by are… Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.
A book or podcast I think everyone should know about is… Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson, Higher Is Waiting by Tyler Perry, and the Dave Ramsey Show podcast.
One thing that I think could help change the course of history is… getting a complete cure to all forms of cancer would help change the course of history — so many talented, creative, innovative people have left us as a result of this illness, depriving them a chance to fully share their potential with us. Lots of unused talent in the grave as a result of this illness.