Fostering the entrepreneurial spirit

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The journey of a lifetime doesn’t happen overnight.

Oni Chukwu is proof of that. More than geographical distance and time separate the Fairfield County technology executive from his childhood in eastern Nigeria.

Chukwu, the CEO of etouches, a company that provides software solutions for event management, is one of nine children born to a policeman in the capital city of Lagos. Chukwu had a normal childhood until his family became displaced during the Nigerian Civil War, a three-year conflict over an unsuccessful secession attempt by the Republic of Biafra.

“As a result of the civil war, we had to move back to our ancestral home in the east of Nigeria,” Chukwu says. “We were completely displaced. On a firsthand level, I understand the life of a refugee child, because that’s exactly what we lived for the three years that the war lasted.”

The civil war finally ended in January of 1970, with an estimated three million people, including civilians on both sides, killed in the fighting.

“After the war, we were dispossessed of everything we owned and had to essentially start from scratch,” Chukwu says. “It wasn’t easy for a family with nine kids, and because they saw my dad as Biafran, he lost his position on the police force.”

Despite that, Chukwu and his eight siblings all went to college and then, 25 years ago, Chukwu came to the United States.

“I came here to go grad school, and went to the University of New Haven,” Chukwu says. There, he earned a finance-focused MBA that has carried him to success in the business world.

It’s also where he met his better half, Leslie, while he was working in a restaurant.

“I started as a dishwasher,” Chukwu recalls. “It was very productive, because it’s where I met my wife. She was taking a final class for college. She’d come back from Europe and was working as a part-time waitress.”

Shortly thereafter, Oni, the dishwasher, married Leslie, the waitress, and they now have two children. In the intervening 25 years since they met in that restaurant kitchen, Chukwu’s career as an executive guiding technology companies has taken off.

“I made a conscious effort to get into technology,” Chukwu says. “My modus is getting into technology companies, getting into them with some investors, growing them to a size and doing an exit transaction.”

Chukwu has done this with several companies, most recently with Triple Point Technology Inc. in Westport. Triple Point Technology is a company that provides software to the commodities trading industry, enabling traders to develop detailed analytics of commodities chains.

“We grew them from very small to over 1,200 employees with 16 locations around the world and over 500 customers,” Chukwu says. “Triple Point started with a few people, a startup, and we grew it and sold it for a lot of money.”

Just how, Chukwu didn’t want to say. But he’s done that with four different companies that either turned public or were strategically sold.

And while he’s been successful in the business world, there’s more to Oni and Leslie Chukwu than business success.

“That’s my story, but it’s not my legacy,” Chukwu says. “Given my background, given where I came from, it’s important to me and my family to give back.”

Growing up among the displaced and dispossessed of the Nigerian Civil War, Chukwu saw poverty and knows that it isn’t enough merely to give money.

“To make the impact, you have to make it more directly,” says Chukwu. “I always told myself that if I made any money at all, I’d have my own foundation so I can give impactfully to people.”

Chukwu’s Africa Plan Foundation aims to foster the entrepreneurial spirit by providing financing and business advice to startups in Africa and elsewhere.

“I come from a part of the world and part of Nigeria that’s very entrepreneurial,” Chukwu says. “We’ll give them seed capital and then give them the advice that I can as a business executive and entrepreneur myself to help them grow and employ other people. It’s not just a handout to one person, but it’s a help, over time, to a generation.”

Chukwu doesn’t want to limit what he does to Africa, however. He wants to help wherever there is a need.

“The other part of it is that my wife is interested in global health and women’s health in particular,” he says. Leslie Chukwu wants to help provide information and access to women’s health care in the world’s developing countries.

“I see myself as a global citizen. I’m very well-traveled as are my kids and my wife,” Chukwu says, which is an understatement.

Chukwu’s wife Leslie was unavailable to be interviewed for this story, as she and their daughter, Ellington, are volunteering at an orangutan preserve on the island of Borneo. It was his daughter’s idea.

“She’s 17, and she’s doing a gap year,” Chukwu says. “She came up with Borneo. They’re out there reintroducing orphaned orangutans into the wild.”

Evenutally, Chukwu will retire from business and run Africa Plan full-time.

“That’s the kind of legacy I want to leave,” says Chukwu. “Not just another rich guy, but somebody that has done something that has been impactful and helpful.”

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