Cherokee Office of Economic Development · Cherokee by Choice.

Entrepreneurship Stories, Special Edition: Black-Owned Business Month, featuring Maduka Chidebelu-Eze

August 31, 2020

Entrepreneurship is a community sport.

Entrepreneurs from every race, creed, industry, and background need the help and support of our entire community. Our team at the Cherokee Office of Economic Development (COED) works day and night to support businesses from kids to CEOs and industries to startups.

August is “Black-Owned Business Month” in America.  In light of COVID-19 and the issues facing our nation and, as a way of showing our support, we will be featuring four black entrepreneurs who are closely connected to our local Cherokee entrepreneurship community — Fresh Start Cherokee, the entrepreneurship initiative of COED. These entrepreneurs have unique stories to tell, are working hard to pivot and thrive, and are staying positive despite the challenging environment.

These inspiring stories will shed a well-deserved light on their incredible leadership, business, and resilience. Follow all the stories on the cherokeega.org news page each Monday and via social media to like, follow, and share these stories.

Story 4: Maduka Chidebelu-Eze, Knnktor

Maduka helps ventures position themselves for exposure in new markets and helps establish the connection and broker financial relationships.

Tell us about your background, career journey, and how you became an entrepreneur?

My road to entrepreneurship goes back to my father’s private hospital in Nigeria.  A student of medicine in England and Germany, he aspired to improve accessibility to healthcare in his home country of Nigeria.  I was born in England and lived for a while in Germany before moving to Nigeria on my father’s quest.  I watched as my father created new relationships and managed existing ones; some good and some terrible.  He was very passionate about what he did and had an impact on his community both in the large city where he operated and in his home town in the eastern region of Nigeria, where he hoped to build facilities to help bridge the gap of affordable care in the region.  He was passionate about his purpose until he went to a better place.

I studied Engineering at Oral Roberts University and Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology with the hope of putting my technical expertise to use on various projects. My aha moment came in a Macroeconomics lecture at Emory University, where I obtained my MBA.  The data available on African nations was inconsistent. It has always been evident that Africa is rich in resources that could solve a multitude of the world’s problems, but there was one underlying thing that made those resources seemingly less obtainable: the lack of foreign direct investments (FDI).  I am passionate about the wellbeing of the people in that region of the world. Even though there are so many different factors that affect the economic health of the middle class in Africa, I was focused on one thing that I believe would drastically improve the accessibility of FDI in the region: perception.  Like my father was passionate about making healthcare available and accessible, I am passionate about making foreign investment available and accessible in Africa.

What is Knnktor?

Knnktor was born out of the need to improve the perception of business in Africa and create a gateway for business and investments. Knnktor achieves this through its business solutions, consulting, and ventures arms. Knnktor Konsulting created a business credibility index (KBCI) that reduces the risk of doing business by evaluating companies through validation (information and knowledge), economic well-being (feasibility and valuation), and leadership attributes.  These institutions objectively score a business’ probability for success.  Knnktor Ventures works with partners that are willing to privately fund a family of projects and businesses on the African continent.  Knnktor Energy Solutions was also created for micro utility services to manage energy sources for planned community developments to help solve the challenge of accessible electricity for over 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa that do not have access.

Knnktor simply connects businesses to help solve global challenges while exhibiting what Africa can accomplish with the right tools, including changing the perception and activating the middle class through accessibility to foreign investments.

Have you personally experienced any unique challenges or obstacles? If so, how have you overcome those?

Yes! The obvious obstacle is the one that “plagues” the whole world, COVID-19 – a unique challenge that started affecting my business in early February because of the global nature of my venture.  Deals that should have closed went through months of delays because of numerous changes and reallocation of capital.  Despite the difficulties, we have continued to build and improve our business strategy to have the foundation to survive the next challenge.  To overcome, we have focused on our client and partner relationships and have been transparent about our challenges and the steps we are taking to overcome them.  We have also improved our focus and have continued to develop our products and forge new relationships to help solve the current challenges we face.

It was difficult to build trust and credibility with African ventures in America.  We constantly faced questions of integrity, professionalism, and credibility when it came to connecting our African enterprises.  We saw this as an opportunity to develop the KBCI platform, which provides an objective visual dashboard of ventures and reduces risk aversion through the report’s insight on these ventures.  So, instead of seeing this as a problem, we saw a very useful opportunity.

Has COVID-19 caused you or your business, Knnktor, to adapt?

COVID-19 did not affect the nature of the business but forced us to shift our focus.  Knnktor was focused on supporting the establishment of international business partnerships. But as COVID-19 began to take shape, Knnktor has since shifted its focus on the development of the KBCI platform. This unique tool is at the heart of all Knnktor services while preparing Knnktor to scale for maximum impact.

You have been part of Fresh Start Cherokee’s mentorship program, North Atlanta Venture Mentoring Service (NAV) – team-based mentorship program principled and trained by MIT’s VMS program – since its inception July 1, 2019. How has staying engaged with the NAV community and a team of mentors helped you in ways that being alone could not?

Being involved in the local creative community through NAV has been very rewarding.  I have had the pleasure of meeting smart people.  I do my best to help guide our ventures, but always take nuggets away from our group mentoring sessions.  One of our mentors constantly reiterated the need to stay focused through the phrase, “focus is your friend.”  Guiding other ventures has also helped guide my venture through some perilous times.

Establishing new and strong relationships in your community helps develop a healthy sense of what’s happening in the community.  It has been refreshing to know that there are so many good and honest people and ventures in our community, and it has been rejuvenating to work with a few of them.

How did you come to have such a positive perspective amid challenges? Why is that important?

The foundation for everything I do is based on my faith as a Christian in Jesus Christ, and I have learned to hand over issues that seem too difficult to bear.  There is one word of wisdom that I have held close for years in my career and it came from a client for whom we were trying to solve a problem early in my career at Lucent Technologies.  This engineering director said, “change your mindset and view every problem not as an obstacle, but as a challenge to solve the problem.” Each new challenge helps me grow as an individual.

I do my part to step out of the boat just as Peter did amid the storm when Jesus walked on water.  I reach out to Him in prayer when it seems I am falling and trust He will keep me up!

As leaders in our communities, we must be the beacon that gives hope when things seem difficult.  People need to be lifted up. A positive mindset helps hold others above water, which gives us an opportunity to get through these challenges. At some point, every storm comes to an end.  We just need a little time to weather the storm and society is better for it.

How are you working to stay visible and keep a competitive advantage?

My wife, Ciara Mokeme, along with her boutique marketing agency, The Adaobi Group, is the reason why I am visible and will continue to have a competitive advantage.  She keeps me digitally relevant through the original design and redesign of my website.  With her permission, I am also able to network in the community.  It has been a bit difficult lately to effectively network but maintaining and building on the existing relationships has been my focus. From there, many opportunities have come to fruition.

What lessons have you learned recently about yourself or your business?

I was recently rushed to the hospital and had to go through an emergency appendectomy.  Through that experience, I learned a few things.  Anything can happen at any moment. Life is very fragile, and it is only by God’s grace that we live. Hug your loved ones and say ‘I love you’ as often as possible because they will not always be there.  You may have to go through it on your own sometimes so live every day to the fullest. This experience has taught me as an individual and business to always be ready. As my wife, Ciara would say, “you do not have to get ready if you STAY ready!”

How can we as a community best support you now and in the future?

As a father of two young men and a little girl, there is one simple thing I must ask of the community as a black man with black children in a predominantly white neighborhood: be kind.  It is impossible not to see differences through the color of skin, but we can deliberately work on our biases to help create an equitable society, forging a path of hope for all.  Actions taken today can either help heal wounds and build legacy or cause infection and ruin the chance to build a legacy for many generations.  Preferential treatment is not necessary – just equity, kindness, and compassion in everything that you do.

As a business, Knnktor is passionate about helping ventures find their match through our Knnktor Business Credibility Index (KBCI) as we build a community of focused relationships for business transactions, funding, and investments.  We are always in need of new partners that would be interested in debt, equity, or mezzanine (hybrid) financing to ventures anywhere in the world.

Did you know?

Did you know that Maduka played Aslan the Lion in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” at our local Elm Street Arts Center Theatre? And, surprisingly won the Male Actor’s Award that year!?

Tell us how we can learn more about you and your business.

We would love to engage with the community and hear your thoughts on how Knnktor might be able to solve a global challenge you may have.  Please visit our website at knnktor.com and subscribe to KNNKT magazine. You can also follow Knnktor on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter or email us at info@knnktor.com.

We hope you enjoyed this series designed to shed a light on black entrepreneurs in Cherokee — from Waleska to Woodstock and in between to Ball Ground, Holly Springs, and Canton – and are inspired by these stories and motivated to support these local entrepreneurs.

Have ideas, questions, or stories? Reach out to us at cherokeega.org or emailing us directly at info@cherokeega.org.