When Efetobore Isiku left her native Nigeria for Colorado in 2018, she needed to find a community for herself and her young daughter. She found more than that – she found a family in the African Leadership Group.
Now, four years later, Efe, as she is commonly known, has graduated from ALG’s public speaking class, business entrepreneurship workshops, and Leadership 101 training. And in August she was one of three winners in ALG’s first-ever business pitch night during the Afrik Impact celebration.
Efe won $2,500 to help launch her business, Gifted Hand LLC, is a balloon decorating business focused on residents living in assisted communities and memory care units.
ALG spoke with Efe recently about her connection to ALG, her experience at Business Pitch Night, and her business.
African Leadership Group: Please tell us a bit about how you got connected to ALG.
Efetobore Isiku: I came to the U.S. in 2018, to Aurora, where a friend of my mom’s, I call her an auntie, took me in. I got a job working at an assisted living facility, and a friend I worked with there was in the ALG public speaking class. She invited me to her graduation, and from then I started asking her questions. I liked this community, I want to be part of such a community, to connect with people that are like-minded, people that have the same goals and visions as I do.
So I started with the public speaking class. I loved the fact that you have people to connect with, to share your ideas with, people who encourage you when you’re down. That’s what has kept me with ALG.
ALG: Tell us a little about your experience in the public speaking class.
Efe: When I started the public speaking class, I intended to use it to connect with people, to network with people. But to my amazement, what I actually got was a family. I got people I could rely on. It was no longer just that connection, just that network. It was a family – people I could wake up and pick up my phone and call to say hey, you guys, I have this issue. Can you help me out? And they’re always ready to jump on the call and reach out to help me.
ALG: And how did you come upon the idea for Gifted Hand?
Efe: When I got to America I started working in assisted living communities. I got to see the other side of life from what I was used to. I think people are what matters mainly in life. And having the ability to change someone’s life positively is a desire that we should always have.
So I was thinking a lot about how I could do something for myself and something for the community. I wanted to be able to have a positive impact. I realized that I’m good at using my hands. I could learn things easily. So I just did my own research and realized balloon decorating is something that is of interest to me and something that I think I could really do well if I learned it. So that was how I started.
While I was still at the assisted living community, if there was a birthday or some kid of celebration I started creating balloon decorations for the person, just to put a smile on the person’s face. And that was still during the period of Covid, when visitors could not come into the facility. Families had to come to the window and visit from the outside. And so this was my way of telling the people that I loved them, I cared for them, that they were not forgotten.
And then my coworkers, when they saw what I did, they started asking me if I could do a balloon decoration for a child’s birthday party, So that’s how Gifted Hand actually started.
ALG: What kind of balloon decorations do you specialize in?
Efe: I do garlands. I do arches of different styles and sizes. I play with my imagination. I just think about any shape or design. Once I’ve shared with the client, sometimes I do a rough sketch of what the shape will look like. I do balloon bouquets,
ALG: Congratulations on being one of the Business Pitch Night winners. Tell us what it was like going through that experience.
Efe: You learn in the public speaking class to stand in front of an audience and you just project yourself, tell them what you want them to hear. But it’s a different thing learning in the class than when you actually do it. But what made this more relaxing than it would have been was that they set up training sessions and rehearsals for us. I made sure, even though I was working from 8 to 5, to go to those rehearsals, to build my confidence and my ability to own the stage.
Kudos to my mentors and the professor. They were so patient and walked us through every step.I owe my award to them, because if it wasn’t for them, I would not have made it to the top three.