Tania Attiba: Producing Natural Fruit Juices for a Healthy Lifestyle

Tania Attiba is the founder of Connex’ences and a volunteer at Francophonie. Trained as a personal assistant, she spent the early part of her career helping executives organize their lives. While working as a personal assistant in a TV show production company, Tania had an introspective moment where she realized she was far from her dream to become an entrepreneur. So, she chose to learn how to become a manager to give her the experience she might need to start her own food and beverage business some day.

At this time, the Francophone Institute of Entrepreneurship in Mauritius launched an entry examination based on business ideas. Tania applied with her business idea and got in for a masters programme in entrepreneurship from 2006 to 2008. At the end of the training, she started her business but soon realised that to run and manage her own company, she would need more on-the-job experience than she had. She decided to get a job so she could save money and also acquire experience that would help to develop her business idea. Tania got a job as a Program Manager at the First Entrepreneurship College in Benin after which she went back to setting up her company.

Tania loves travel, arts and craft, and getting involved in any programme that promotes women owned small businesses.


What does your company, Connex’ences, do?
My company produces natural fruit juices to help people be in good health. We help households in cities in Benin (Cotonou, Ouidah, Porto Novo, Calavi, Dassa, Grand Popo and Parakou), major cities in neighboring countries and France satisfy their need to stay healthy by providing natural fruit juices. We also help young people to be financially independent by training them to set up their own fruit juice business.

How did you feel when you heard you made the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) list and what was the most difficult part  about applying?
I was very excited when I saw my name. I phoned my husband and my aunt to share my joy with them. I was a little sad because I would have loved my mother (RIP) to be there to share the joy with me.

My only difficulty was to fill the application in English. I was worried about my language level because my first language is French.

What is your biggest business challenge and how do you think TEEP will help address it?
My first challenge is capital. I need enough money to set up my company the way I desire. I think that TEEP will help me increase my capital to be more creative.

Was there any time you felt like giving up? Tell us about it and how you overcame that feeling
Five years ago, my mother who was my motivation died. It was very difficult for me because she was my business partner and she inspired me to achieve my goals. I wish I was able to thank her for all she did for me. When this happened, I felt like giving up. So, I decided to stop everything I’d done with my business and got another job.

One day, I saw a biography on TV about a top model that had suffered a lot and lost her mother. She used to pain and suffering to fuel her work and build something in respect of her mother’s memory. This gave me the strength to go on and I decided to respect my mother’s memory by doing the same. I know that my mother is seeing what I’m doing and is proud of me.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?
I want to tell women that they have to believe in themselves,  yes they can and they will do it as soon as they are in good health. Yes it is possible, young girl to be yourselves, to change also the world.  We are the promise of tomorrow.

We are sharing the stories of 30+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme. and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.

Eleojo Peters: On a Mission to Feed the World

An accountant by training, Mrs. Eleojo Rosemary Peters’ career started in the banking industry when she worked at the then Peak Merchant Bank in Lagos. Her role handling operations and exports of agricultural produce on the exports desk helped fuel Eleojo’s passion, and eventually lead to her starting a farm project.

Over the years, this farm project became increasingly more attractive than paid employment, and Eleojo noticed she was spending more time and resources on the project. With her banking career becoming more demanding, it became difficult to balance the farming project and her full time job. So, in January 2012, Eleojo decided to dedicate her entire time to her farm project. By April 2012, what was just a project became a registered company now known as Eleojo Foods Nigeria Limited.

Eleojo Foods is a company that positions itself within the agricultural value chain process and is engaged in farming of rice, yam and cassava as well as Bee Honey, while processing same for local consumption with a view to exploiting opportunities in the export market. Starting this company has helped Eleojo pursue her desire and passion for meeting a need, creating opportunities for self realization and generating jobs through investment in agricultural.

Eleojo Logo Document

What is the idea behind Eleojo Foods?
Eleojo Farms is a company that wants to make the world a healthier place through food production, to create employment opportunities and empower our young people. We are working to build a world where hunger will become a thing of the past.

My company was set up to go into the agricultural value chain, farming, processing packaging and distribution of healthy foods beginning with rice which is the most popular staple food in the world. We reflect our innovation in the marketplace as Adjele unpolished rice.This rice is rich in fiber, minerals and vitamins in its natural form which makes it the healthiest among rice with great taste. We are poised to change the feeding habits of the world’s populace by making our natural products available at an affordable price.

How did you feel when you heard you made the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) list and what was the  most difficult part about applying?
It felt great. I felt like nothing is impossible. My slogan for my business is feeding the world, and no one really believe how I could achieve that. When I saw my name, immediately I knew my dream of feeding the world will become a reality some day.

The most difficult part was getting my figures. I got the information very late, a few hours to closing, so I had to sit down all through the night to work on plan. The internet was so epileptic but I was determined. I worked on my figures, went through documents, statements and as much as I could lay my hands on that night. Thankfully, I was able to submit.


What is your number one business challenge and how do you think TEEP will help address it?
My number one business challenge is lack of certain equipment to work with. Remember I have set out to feed the world. That means I need modern equipment to work with. TEEP to some extent will address this for me through the grant. I should be able to acquire some equipment to work with.

With the TEEP benefits, my business is being restructured to achieving our vision and mission. The syllabus is so enriching and is touching every aspect of my business. My business is poised to become world class institution that will outlived me.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?
To entrepreneurs like myself, my advice is keep at your dream. Do not let any small mind tell you your dream is too big. Once you can dream it, you can achieve it. In this entrepreneurship journey, you don’t fail; you get an opportunity to learn again and again.

*To learn more and stay up to date, visit the www.eleojofoodsng.com

We are sharing the stories of 30+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme. and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.

Tosin Lawson: Promoting African Designs in Everyday Lifestyle

Tosin Lawson has always had a passion for coming up with new designs, whether it’s a new logo or a new product. A graduate of Product Design and Manufacture from the University of Nottingham Tosin says:

Every time I am out with friends or family, I am constantly observing my surroundings and getting new inspiration for new designs. With my background in product design I am able to be more creative and find new ways to improve current designs.

Tosin’s aim is to produce creative designs and solutions that empower Africans and contribute to make the world an easier and more enjoyable place. So, in 2013, she started African Things, a company that designs and produces African inspired products focusing on fashion accessories and functional utility products using African fabric and materials. African Things currently supplies wholesale to large retail stores and to tourist shops in Nigeria.

What does your company, African Things, do?
African Things makes contemporary African inspired lifestyle products that are functional, with innovative designs in a manner that empowers Africans. We aim to change the negative image associated with African manufacture and be a symbol for high quality products while empowering Africans.

In your opinion, what negative image do African manufactures have and how do you think we can change the perception?
Quality control is one of the big challenges for African manufacturers. We plan to solve this by ensuring we have the right staff and procedures in place so that all our products meet international standards. We also plan to partner with international companies that they can train our staff to know the right international practices.

Why did you decide to start your own business?
The reason I started African Things was to promote African designs and culture in everyday lifestyle. After schooling abroad and seeing how foreigners saw Africans, as poor and backward, I was very inspired when I returned home and saw that Nigerian fashion design, especially in the area of accessories, was beginning to boom. But I felt I could push the business further to international standards and include lifestyle items such as plates, household furniture and home accessories.

Our African culture is rich in tradition, colour and excitement, but due to westernization young people are rapidly losing touch with Africa, especially in their lifestyles. With African Things, customers can feel the connection with their roots by using our products such as backpacks, jewellery and more in their everyday lives without feeling embarrassed to say it’s African.

african things-(logo)

How did you feel when you heard you made the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program (TEEP) list?
I was so excited. I had half forgotten I even applied for it but when I got the email I was at first in disbelief. I remember calling my mother that I had gotten in and she too was in total shock. They had sent a link in an email to a YouTube video of Tony Elumelu himself congratulating successful applicants that they had been selected. I watched that video almost 5 times just to make sure I was seeing what I was really seeing.

What was the most difficult part about applying for TEEP?
There was a lot to write about and I am not really someone who enjoys writing, but thank God. I have been applying for other business programs such as this one so I had a few write ups done already so it was not too bad.

What are some of your business challenges and how do you think TEEP will help address it?
My major business challenges have been both funding and knowing what to do next. African Things is about the customers and what the customers wants, and they want a lot of things. Knowing which product to do first or what aspect of the business to focus on has been my challenge.

With the help of the programme and with my mentor’s help, I’m sure I will be able to get a good understanding of what to do next and how to do it.  I think TEEP will help us get better structure and good business practices. Also, the funds and great contacts we will be getting will go a long way in helping my business further than I imaging.


Where do you see African Things in three years?
In three years, I see African Things selling wholesale to a number of large outlets around the world including Marks and Spencer’s and Walmart. We plan to set up a franchise where people buy wholesale from us and resell.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?
Believe in yourself and follow your passion. Never make excuses without having a solution for them. Most importantly trust God above all.

*To learn more and stay up to date, visit the African Things website and follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

We are sharing the stories of 30+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme. and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.


Oduwa Agboneni: Bringing Professionalism to Nigeria’s Auto Care Industry

Isazoduwa ‘Oduwa’ Agboneni is a woman determined to bring professionalism to the Nigeria auto repair industry. A chartered Mechanical Engineer and an entrepreneur with a vision to be a serial entrepreneur, Oduwa is the cofounder of Hilltop Travels and Tours Limited and Nenis Engineering Limited, an auto care shop in Lagos, Nigeria.

With a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from University of Benin and a Master’s degree in Geoinformatics Technology from the University of Lagos, Oduwa is dedicated to improving the image of the Independent Automotive Repair Industry through education and by offering quality automotive service.

My educational and career background drives my business for excellence. I count on my reputation to exceed expectations while continuously establishing an active client base. I love the auto repair industry and I am an advocate for bringing respect back into the auto shops, which is overdue for makeover. ~ Oduwa Agboneni

Using the skills and experience she has garnered over the last nine years, Oduwa intends to build a business that will compete globally with other automobile servicing companies. When she is not spending time at her company or with her family, Oduwa enjoys aerobics, surfing the internet and reading — her favourite book right now is She Wins, You Win: The Most Important Rule Every Businesswoman Needs to Know by Gail Evans.


Tell us about Nenis Auto Care.
Nenis Auto Care is a one-stop shop for your car care needs. At the centre, we provide high level automotive care for our clients including services like car wash and detailing, auto diagnosis and repairs, body repairs, and engine replacement to mention a few. Our services are targeted at women who deserve a car care center that is in a safe, enjoyable atmosphere at the best price around.

Why did you chose to focus on women?
Our focus is on women because we found out that they control over 80% of all vehicle purchases and that close to 80% of all auto repair and car wash errands are arranged, dropped off and picked up by women. Many women clients feel uncomfortable and even intimidated in some auto repair shop and we think women deserve a repair shop they can fully trust, where they will be treated with the respect they deserve.

What has the response from customers been so far
We’ve had impressive comments that put me in the right direction. Ladies are interested in my service and when I exceed their expectations they spread the word about my service center.


Why did you decide to start a business?
When I still had a 9 – 5 job, I started doing online ticketing and reservation for my family members and friends as a hobby and an extra stream of income. Becoming an entrepreneur was my next action when the company I was working with folded up in 2012. I decided it was time to take a radical decision to venture into my own business. I enrolled in an aviation business school where I took courses in travel agency operation and management, went ahead to get a diploma in foundation in Travel and Tourism (IATA DTTF).  After my certifications I founded Hilltop Travels and Tours Limited in 2012.

The urge to open a car care center was born during my church’s annual convention, WAFBEC, in January 2014. I have always wanted to provide solutions to people’s car maintenance request in a professional and honest manner, especially in a relaxed and conducive environment. During the conference, I keyed into a prophetic declaration of owning an automobile industry.

Two weeks later when I traveled home, I and my sisters (Osasere, Oyenmwen, Muyi and Osa) were having a discussion with my mum and without them knowing my inner desire of owning an auto garage, they  advised me to practice my profession by setting up an auto diagnostics center. With the excitement in me, I shared the news with my husband on phone and he was in full support. I knew I was in the right direction.

I set up Nenis Auto Care where I am in control of the quality of service rendered. There will always be a demand for good mechanics and excellent customer service. My career allows me to be creative and innovative. It provides me with an ideal setting where I can see my own ideas come to fruition, and an opportunity to use my personal strengths and passions to make an impact. Now, I have the ability to set my own life on course and attain career fulfillment as well as leave a lasting and tangible legacy by building a brand that would outlive me. You can’t necessarily do that in a corporate setting.

How did you feel when you heard you made the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) list and what was the most difficult part about applying?
I was super excited. The programme is a breakthrough; it opens doors to business opportunities and improved entrepreneurial practice, and gives a platform to showcase you to Africa, which is good for business.

The lengthy application that had over fifty questions was the most difficult part for me. The time spent answering the questions, although long, was a blessing in disguise because as an entrepreneur you have to be patient in doing things to avoid mistakes.


What has been your number one business challenge and how do you think TEEP will help address it?
Entrepreneurship training. TEEP so far has exposed me to a lot of training that an entrepreneur should go through, especially with the assistance of developing a business model. With the benefits, my business will gain exposure to the world improve our pricing strategy, get access to funds and networks, and learn how to remain ahead of the competition.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?
Whatever you do, do it with the consciousness that something great will come out of it. Every small thing in life has value. Use what you have as your starting point.

*To learn more and stay up to date, follow Oduwa on Twitter and Nenis Auto Care on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

We are sharing the stories of 30+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme. and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.

Eileen Ambasa: Developing Solutions to Combat Cyber Crime

Three years after graduation and with a one year old baby in tow, Eileen Ambasa got interested in Information Technology (IT). Seeing the opportunities it could open up in her career, Eileen decided to learn IT basics. So, she enrolled in ACWICT, a college that teaches IT essentials to young girls in partnership with Samsung, where she learnt CISCO, customer care and business process outsourcing, among other things.

Not long after she completed that programme, she was employed at Techno Brain Kenya as a Computer Networking Instructor and rose through the ranks to become the Training and Operations Manager. In April 2013 she decided to exit and become a consultant. There, her  journey as an entrepreneur began.

A graduate of Arts Economics and French from Kenyatta University in Kenya with a diploma in German language from Goethe Institute, Eileen Ambasa has a wealth of varied experience and skills — from being a language tutor, to serving as the Internal Auditor at Students’ in Free Enterprise (SIFE), helping young teenage girls initiate and develop small businesses of their own, and now starting her own company, Icons Cyber Solutions.

Eileen is passionate about learning new things, being a good mom to her six year old daughter, and helping others learn so they can develop themselves. She reads self-development books, researches on information security matters, loves cooking, and enjoys insightful discussions especially with her family.

There was a time I could not even hold a mouse and I merely survived a retake in my computer course in my first year at campus. But I improved greatly. ~ Eileen Ambasa

Tell us about Icons Cyber Solutions and how it would change the world.
Icons Cyber Solutions is an information security and computer forensics company. We help businesses and individuals tackle the dynamic technological and information challenges to securely integrate IT into their businesses and lives.

We seek to combat cyber crime and fraud incidents that affect confidence in our economies and in businesses. We also aim to tackle the shortage of field experts by empowering and equipping youth in society, especially in Africa, with the necessary skills that will enhance this industry’s growth.

Icons Cyber Solutions-African Female Entrepreneur

Why did you decide to start Icons Cyber Solutions?
I wanted to start something sustainable that would make money for myself and future generations, and also create employment for others. Having worked as a consultant for a while, I wanted something other than earning money in percentages that would make use of my expertise. I was offered a chance to start a branch of a Ugandan company in Kenya; that did not go so well and in the process, I got contacts that required a registered business. That’s how Icons Cyber Solutions started. The name of my company has evolved three times; at one point it was Infoseek.

How did you get interested in technology?
I got interested in technology after my daughter turned one. I was still jobless so I decided to try it out, especially when I realized that some of my former classmates who had changed courses from Economics to Computer Science were doing so well. There was a time I could not even hold a mouse and I merely survived a retake in my computer course in my first year at campus. But I improved greatly. Once I was top of my class for IT essentials, I began to see that with interest I could advance. Since then, I have not looked back.

What do you think women in technology need?
Mostly focus and to lose the dependency syndrome on our male counterparts. We need to put ourselves out there in this industry, have the drive and a goal (whether clear or unclear), learn, go the extra mile in putting our technical ideas into businesses and run them as the good managers that we naturally are.


What is your advice to a woman thinking of going into technology?
Go for it. Absolutely. It is nice and fun. Be passionate about it. Get into the field not  just as a career but as something you love. Have a learning attitude and be able to multitask. Technology changes; put in time for research and continuous learning so you do not become stagnant. It is not easy, but it can be done.

Do not look at yourself as a woman, or even as a man, but as a human being. This way, one realizes that we are neither in competition for anything, nor is one person more privileged than the other. There are enough resources and opportunities for everyone and each of us has been created with a drive to get their own share. GO FOR IT! Only you can dream your dream so only you, through God’s help, can make that dream come true.

What was the most difficult part about applying for the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) and how did you feel when you heard you made the list?
Filling the form was so challenging since it had several sections and requirements. Other fields also took a lot of time and attention, which was pressurizing. I just kept encouraging myself since nothing good comes easy. I think it was all worth the effort and time.

When I heard I made the list, I was excited of course! I had no clear idea what it entailed, but the fact that there were over 20,000 applicants and only 1,000 were selected in Africa (not just Kenya) and I was among them! That is just mind blowing. I was jumping up and down in the living room with my younger sister, our eyes filled with tears of joy and we couldn’t stop thanking God for this great opportunity. It was an emotional moment for me, a good one.

What is your number one business challenge and how do you think the programme will help address it?
A more organized and business oriented approach in our company. I must admit that most techies are not so good in business, despite having great talents and skills.

TEEP has already got me thinking of how to handle these challenges. I’m now paying a lot of attention to detail and I believe that by the end of the programme, I will be able to apply the knowledge acquired and have strong structures in place. I believe the business will grow to greater heights and be sustainable, plus with the network already formed with fellow participants, there is great potential for further growth, greater impact to society’s businesses and awareness creation to communities that will be of great value to me.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like you?
Sure. Whatever your mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve. Do not be afraid to fail or make mistakes; as long as there is action, they are bound to happen. The most important thing is to get back up, and to come out wiser and stronger than you were the previous time. It doesn’t matter how many times you get up and fall, just keep going. It is a great learning experience.

*To learn more and stay up to date, follow Eileen on Twitter and Icons Cyber Solutions on Twitter and Facebook

We are sharing the stories of 30+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme. and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.

Farida Musa Halliru: Taking African Fashion Worldwide

Since her early teens, Farida Musa Halliru has been sketching designs, but her fashion design career really started in 2012 after she completed a course on fashion design and garment construction from The Fashion Academy, Abuja and started her own bespoke fashion design company, Farida’s Atelier.

Farida’s designs are mostly African inspired with Western aesthetics. She also sometimes gets her inspiration from objects, prints, colours, nature, and basically anything that grabs her attention. When designing Farida puts the African modern woman in mind and focuses on designs that are flattering to her body.

From Kano state in Northern Nigeria, Farida is an Alumnus of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria with a degree in Accounting. She loves watching movies and TV shows, listening to Nigerian music, especially The Mavins, Di’ja and Yemi Alade, and playing basketball, at least that was before her career took over her everything.


What is Farida’s Atelier?
Farida’s Atelier is a fashion brand that makes bespoke clothing for women with the aim of achieving the perfect flattering fit. We are also introducing high street ready to wear pieces to bridge the gap in Nigerian fashion retailing.

Why did you decide to start Farida’s Atelier?
My decision was mostly from tailors’ lack of craftsmanship and dedication; there was little or no professionalism and integrity in their work. This is something a lot of people and I personally have experienced. Also, flipping through African magazines and seeing the unflattering outfits some women wear that they label as the latest “fashion trend” makes me feel sad.

Tailoring should complement a woman’s body to accentuate her unique features. So, I went to a fashion school to acquire the necessary sewing skills I needed. Sketching wasn’t a problem for me because I’ve been sketching since my primary school days. My passion in fashion was something I was born with so the drive was there. I’ve always been a smart business woman, coupled with my training in customer care and better understanding of a client. That was it, Farida’s Atelier was born.

How did you get started? What was the first thing you put in place?
I first started by enrolling in a fashion design school. After completing the course, I registered my company business name. I really didn’t have enough money to set up the business so I tried looking at getting funding from the government and banks but all seemed to no avail. That’s when my family came in. My parents and siblings, everyone chipped in and I got the loan from them to start up a small workshop.

I needed to test the market and grow as the market expanded. So, knowing how expensive rent is in Abuja, I built a port-a-cabin at the back of my apartment, bought two straight sewing industrial machines, one embroidery machine, one serger machine, and a very good Belgium Iron. The other sewing necessities came after as the work proceeded.

Shortly after I started, I was able to pay back all my loans. We’ve been operating since 2013 and this year (2015) we’ve moved into a proper workshop. I’ve showcased in two runway shows, one in Abuja, Nigeria and the other in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In both shows, I’ve won awards of Best Designer 2014 and Emerging African Fashion Designer 2014. It hasn’t been easy but I thank Allah for everything He has done for me.

What was the most difficult part about applying for the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme list and how did you feel when you heard you made the list?
For me, the most difficult part was filling the form and wondering if I was being myself and if it was good enough to get me in.

When I found out I made the list, I was quiet about it for hours. I didn’t tell anyone because I couldn’t believe it myself. I wasn’t sure if the video was sent to only the shortlisted applicants or everyone; it took me over two hours after the mail came before I opened it because I didn’t expect to be chosen.


Was there any time you felt like giving up? How did you overcome that feeling?
Sincerely, since I started, no matter how tough and difficult the situation gets in the business I have never for once felt like giving up on it. All I do when it gets hard is pray a lot, then talk to my sister or my significant other to offload. Sometimes, I just stay in my room and reflect on new strategies and remind myself how important this is to me and this is just a norm in any business, then I go out and buy myself something I really like but wouldn’t ordinarily spend money on because I’m trying to manage my funds. It usually gets better after that and I’m back in the game.

What is your ultimate vision for Farida’s Atelier?
I want Farida’s Atelier to be a household name and I want to showcase my designs on the biggest runways all over the world. I want Farida’s Atelier to go in history as one of the African fashion houses to take African fashion worldwide.

How can someone place orders and do you ever turn down clients?
Presently I only have one workshop/showroom in Abuja and so orders are made there either through a phone call, by email or walk-in.

I have actually turned down clients in the past and even now. Back then, because I was operating in a small space with only two machines, I always avoided situations where I collect an order and end up disappointing the client. I’d rather be honest than give myself a bad name. In today’s case, sometimes when we get late orders and we have so many other early orders we have to turn down the late orders to avoid problems and potential disappointment.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?
Look within and identify your true passion, stay true to yourself and stick to it, it will make you stronger and most of all believe in yourself, it would definitely not be easy but you will surely fall through.


Find out more about Farida’s Atelier on Instagram.

We are sharing the stories of 30+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme. and whose ideas can change the world. Visit http://www.cofoundher.com and follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.


Sharron McPherson: Saving the World, One Social Enterprise at a Time

Former Investment Banker and Wall Street Attorney turned serial Social Impact Entrepreneur, Sharron McPherson’s entrepreneurial journey goes back to the mid ’90s when she started ISES, a successful non-profit organisation in New York City that helped local women from disadvantaged backgrounds start and run successful community based businesses.

Her next company, the Women’s Enterprise Development Initiative (WEDI) grew out of ISES when she moved to South Africa and was encouraged by women in the United States to launch something similar.

My passion remains community upliftment and investing in small and medium sized businesses has been my vehicle of choice for community transformation. It’s what led to my launching WEDI in 2007 in South Africa.

With a doctorate’s degree in Juris Prudence from Columbia University School of Law, Sharron presently teaches Project Finance at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. She also has a special certification in International and Comparative Law from the Parker School and a BA degree in economics.

Sharron defines working very hard and playing hard. When she is not scheming about how to save the world, her favorite thing to do is to lie in her hammock, wiggle her toes in the sun and watch cloud formations. She likes abseiling, driving fast cars, scuba diving reading about the global state of things.

Sharron McPherson_African Female Entrepreneur_cofoundHER

Which of your ventures did you submit for the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) and how would it change the world?
I applied to TEEP in connection with my latest social impact venture which is called Common Ground Productions, and it’s aim is to produce interactive, groundbreaking media that showcases the capacity of young African innovators to solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges.

By focusing on African innovation and solutions to global problems, my idea will not only help to change the perception of Africa, but will also bring together innovators, investors, supporters and collaborators in a unique way that will enable young African social entrepreneurs to address some of humanity’s greatest challenges. So, I’m changing the world by providing a platform for young Africans to change the world.

I’ve spent most of my life investing in others. Finally, someone saw fit to invest in me.

Why did you decide to start Common Grounds Production?
In 2007, when I started The Women’s Enterprise Development Initiative (WEDI), I noticed how many young people, particularly young women, contacted me for support for their amazing ideas. Often times, we were not positioned to help them because our target was growth SMEs in certain sectors. I began thinking about how I could help these young innovators get noticed by the right people so they could gain support for their ideas. Common Ground Productions was conceived as the vehicle to make this  happen through a reality TV show I call “BigIdeas.Africa”.

How did you feel when you heard you had been selected as a Tony Elumelu Entrepreneur?
I was actually speechless. I’d followed the results and didn’t see my name and thought, “Alas, I tried. Now back to the drawing board”. But then I got the email announcing I was included in the winners. I then got down on my knees (literally) and thanked God. I’ve spent most of my life investing in others. Finally, someone saw fit to invest in me.

What was the most difficult part about applying for TEEP?
It was actually changing my own mindset. My ancestors are Nigerian, but I was born in America. I’ve spent the last 17 years living in South Africa. I’m also older than most applicants, I’m sure (my children are out of University). Friends encouraged me to apply because of the synergies between TEEP and my media concept. But I thought I’d never make it because I believed I didn’t “fit” the profile.

Why did you decide to come back to Africa and why did you choose to settle in South Africa, instead of Nigeria where your ancestors are from?
In 2001, I was both hit by a speeding car in New York City and almost lost my life on September 11, 2001. After almost dying in the World Trade Center attack, I got the message and decided it was time to return to Africa. I feel safer on the continent.

I had developed a base in South Africa when I worked here as a researcher at the Constitutional Court back in 1998. I’ve also worked closely over the years with some pretty amazing former freedom fighters in South Africa who are my friends and who are really instrumental in my coming back to Africa in the first place.

What has been your number one business challenge and how do you think TEEP will help address it?
My number one business challenge has been finding an experienced media partner to help me produce a pilot. It’s an innovative, interactive media concept that is unlike the average TV show. TEEP not only gives me exposure that helps to attract the right partners, but the process itself forces you to focus and to recommit everyday to making your dream come true. It provides a virtual incubator and networks that include other entrepreneurs that are going through the same changes. So, in addition to everything else it provides, it helps to reduce the loneliness factor that plagues visionaries. You feel that TEEP fellows really do understand you. It’s great!


What do you expect your business will achieve with the TEEP benefits?
Big Ideas.Africa will win an Emmy Award and will become a global concept that supports young innovators from around the world to launch the big social impact ideas.

What is your vision for WEDI and Common Grounds Production?
Whether it’s WEDI, teaching project finance, BigIdeas.Africa or advising on sustainable city projects, everything I do is about making life better. I use my formidable gifts to serve others in ways that are fun for me, commercially viable and that have maximum positive social impact. With hope, I’m contributing to creating a better world by investing in high impact visionaries.

How do you balance your multiple responsibilities as the founder of two companies and teaching in a university? How do you stay organised?
Balance is an illusion. No matter how much I seek it, it’s always just over the horizon. I cope by eating right, praying (A LOT), meditating regularly and exercising six days per week. My priority in the morning is take care of myself. THEN, I look at who and what else requires my attention. That way, I make sure there’s always a healthy dose of me to go around. I stay organised by sticking to what is important to my primary goals in life and I’ve learned to cut out a lot of the distractions. Saying “No” to invitations to get involved with ventures that take you off track is an acquired skill. I’ve learned it. Focus, focus, focus and PERSIST.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?
My recipe for success if based on a version of “P Soup” that I read many years ago in book called Acts of Faith by Iyanla Vanzant. The recipe is: Pray, Plan, Proceed, Pursue AND PERSIST! Starting with prayer is key. Clarity in vision and purpose is a necessary component of resilience. I get clear as to why I’m doing what I’m doing. I trust my Creator for provision that matches the vision. And then I just keep doing what I’m led to do until God delivers on His promises. Faith is really the key to my success. You simply cannot fail using this recipe for success!

We are sharing the stories of 30+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme. and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.

Janine Roberts: Using Packaging Technology to Empower People

After nine years in a nursing career, Janine Roberts got interested in the packaging industry and chose to take her interest further by getting a diploma in packaging technology. This led her to work with Fair Packers, an outsource food packing company, in 2009, where she was the Managing Director.

Janine’s entrepreneurship journey really began in 2010 when she started her first business, Zimele Packing Solutions, a consulting business in packaging and product development. Unfortunately, that did not work out as planned, so four years after, she closed up shop. Not one to be defeated by failure, Janine gave entrepreneurship another try in 2014 with Ukama Holdings, a social enterprise started with the aim of creating or identifying micro enterprises that act as a supply chain for various services.

Janine is passionate about reducing unemployment in South Africa and helping to ease the daily struggles of children in certain townships, which she does by ploughing some of her time into the Ukama Community Foundation. She loves reading and spending her free time with her family at home or out camping.


Why did you start Ukama Holdings and what does the company do?
Ukama Holdings was started to address the needs of unemployment in South Africa, as well as cater to the need of small, medium and large companies needing to outsource their production and packing. In South Africa, we have huge unemployment rates. I sincerely feel that solving the unemployment problem lies in alleviating poverty and that this can be done with our unique business model.

Ukama provides contract packaging for customers in a food grade facility using solely micro enterprises as our supply chain. We identify, train, set up, and provide work and premises for micro-enterprises in our business. These micro-enterprises serve as the supply chain who pack products for our customers. Each micro-enterprise owner employs up to five people. In this manner, we have created jobs for over 60 people already. We have over 20 customers who use our services for production and packing of food products, non-food products, sewing, crafts and labeling.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I felt that there was a gap in the market for a lot of the niche services we offered. I had over ten years’ experience in the packaging sector and I felt that we could offer an amazing service to clients.

How would Ukama Holdings change the world?
Our business model is unique and sustainable. Not only do we offer a valuable service to other businesses, but socially we are also empowering people and creating jobs. The model is easily scalable and repeatable and makes huge in-roads to massive unemployment problems in Africa. We also enable small businesses to get to market by packing their products for them in a fully accredited food facility. This is something that is expensive and unobtainable to many small businesses.


What is your biggest business challenge right now and how do you think the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme will help address it?
My most difficult challenge has been raising capital and getting finance in South Africa. I hope the programme will address this through the process of being able to apply for capital and through the new contacts that I will make. With the exposure, networking and funding we will receive, we’ll be able to take our business to a new level in our expansion project.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?
Being an entrepreneur takes amazing strength, courage and perseverance. Sometimes it seems that you will never get where you need to be! The thing that has kept me going is my faith, the knowledge that this is my life purpose, and that the journey is worth all the struggles I’ve had to endure. Never give up!

*To find out more about Ukama Holdings, visit their website and follow on Twitter and Facebook.

**We are sharing the stories of 30+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme. and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.

Tracy Owamagbe and Omowunmi Akande: Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle, One Smoothie at a Time

Tracy Owamagbe and Omowunmi Akande met at Bells University in Ota, Nigeria, and, even after their graduation in 2010, have been best friends ever since. Last year, the two travel buddies had planned to take a trip together, but postponed their plans when they decided to use their savings to start Smoothie Express instead.

Born and raised in Benin City, Tracy has always had a keen interest in entrepreneurship and even though she has worked with corporate firms like Hewlett Packard and Ericsson, she never gave up on her entrepreneurial dream. Her mantra is: find a solution to a problem and make a business out of it, and two women she looks up to are Hajia Bola Shagaya and Folorunsho Alakija.

I loved that women were breaking barriers in our society and I too wanted to be one of them. I started a company before Smoothie Express but it didn’t work. Despite that, I did not give up on my dream to become an entrepreneur. ~ Tracy Owamagbe

When Omowunmi was much younger, she wanted to be a doctor. That changed sometime in the middle of her university education when she realized her passion wasn’t really in medicine. After graduation, she worked in OANDO Plc and Cambridge Manufacturing Company, but she knew she wanted to be her own boss some day.

I have a passion for philanthropy. It gives me so much joy and satisfaction in my heart when I am able to help or make someone happy. I have big dreams and aspirations and I can’t wait for them to finally become a reality. ~ Omowunmi Akande


What does Smoothie Express do?
Tracy: We deliver richly blended fruit smoothies to our customers’ homes, offices, schools, and so on. One smoothie at a time, our goal is to become a daily part of our customers’ lifestyle, helping achieve their health goals by bringing our smoothies to their door steps.

Omowunmi: Smoothie Express strives to assist people to live a healthy and active lifestyle and our vision happens one smoothie at a time. Our smoothies are thoughtfully divided into four core categories: Regular blend that cater to everyone, from children to the elderly; Weight loss blend specially designed for people looking to lose or maintain their weight, Fitness blend focused more on the gym freaks and body builders; and Kiddies blend for the younger generation.

How did you come up with the idea for Smoothie Express?
Omowunmi: The idea actually originated from Tracy. We had planned to travel for summer together last year (2014) and had been saving up. Then one day, sometime in August, Tracy calls me up and goes, “Mowunmi what do you think about starting a business, I have been thinking about this business idea and I can’t think of doing it with anybody else but you.”

We talked and talked about it and I was sold immediately and because we had been saving up, we had a bit of capital to start up. This was how Smoothie Express came into existence.

Tracy: I was trying to do a smoothie detox, and I noticed my major problem was time! Then the idea popped up one morning on my drive to work: what if I delivered smoothies at work? How easy and convenient will it be?

I called up Omowunmi, who I had been planning a holiday with for a while. She worked with Cambridge Weight Loss Company, and she was the perfect person to actualize this dream with. So, we postponed our holiday (which we are still yet to take, lol) and decided to start up Smoothie Express. It’s not been easy, but i’m glad we took this step.

We started up with just one dispatch bike. At first we were meeting all our orders, then it became impossible to keep up as the orders increased. Eventually we got another bike and it was okay for a while till it wasn’t again. Eventually we had to liaise with a logistics company. We plan to increase our fleet by the end of the month.


How will Smoothie Express change the world?
Tracy: We aim to promote healthy living in every neighbourhood. Having well prepared smoothies delivered to one’s doorstep is a huge convenience. We want to make the healthier option more available to people around the world.

How did you feel when you heard you made the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program list and what was the hardest part about applying?
Tracy: We were super excited. We realised we had found a platform to build this company and actualize our dreams and visions for it.

The most difficult part was the number of questions. There were a lot of questions and it seemed the application was never going to end, lol.

What is your number one business challenge?
Tracy: Our number one challenge has been logistics. We hope to expand our delivery fleet with the grant from the Tony Elumelu Foundation.


What do you expect your business will achieve with the programme benefits?
Tracy: Professionalism.

Omowunmi: Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme has been designed to grow startups and help entrepreneurs with ideas that have the potential to succeed. We are given access to a framework that includes mentorship, online and live learning as well as access to information, networking and seed capital and I am so grateful for this opportunity that would not only help build our brand but groom us to achieve professionalism.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?
Tracy: It’s difficult building an empire, when obstacles come (they will always come), look for the smartest, simplest way to solve them and move on. Never give up.

Omowunmi: Do NOT be afraid to dream big! Don’t put limitations to your dreams, remember you can do ANYTHING you set your mind to.

God has given us this wonderful gift called instincts, follow them because 90% of the time they’re always right, regardless of what people think. Pray! Pray! Pray! Pray like your life depends on it. Hard work will get you far but prayer AND hard work will get you farther.

And lastly never give up. Don’t even let it cross your mind, have a positive spirit all times and let your optimism come true.

*To order your own smoothie and learn more about the ladies behind Smoothie Express, visit their website or follow Tracy and Omowunmi.
**We are sharing the stories of 30+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme. and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.

Ehizele Ijeoma Joseph-Ebare: Making Healthcare Accessible for All

When it comes to effectively managing multiple responsibilities, Ehizele Ijeoma Joseph-Ebare is one person we admire. Currently studying medicine at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Ehizele started her first venture at 21 because of her love for people and a passion to change their lives. Now, she is about to start a for-profit company that leverages technology to provide accessible healthcare.

I am studying medicine in the first place because of the opportunity to change and possibly save someone’s life. I then considered, what if an idea I have can change millions of lives not just the ones I see on a day to day basis. This led me down the entrepreneurial path.

 When she isn’t working to make healthcare more accessible to all, she loves dancing, listening to music (especially anything by Flavour) and reading.


What is your company, The Sustainable Medical Initiative, about?
To keep it short, The Sustainable Medical Initiative (The SMI) focuses on introducing telemedicine to Africa in a new and unique way using technology. I want to deliver health in a new way to the African Continent and perhaps beyond.

The SMI, through various products, will target people from all walks of life who are in need of medical attention. Being sick is hard enough, accessing health should be easy. We bring healthcare to you, eliminating barriers and the need for the ill patient to actively seek it.

I know I am being rather cryptic but watch this space! I hope to roll it out this year and expand fast.

How will The Sustainable Medical Initiative change the world?
The healthcare industry is so vital because every human being is susceptible to falling ill. As a student of medicine, I have come to understand that the human body, though so intricately designed, inevitably meets glitches that result in illness. This means that amazing health ideas literally can change the world. My idea aims to break down the barriers to accessing healthcare. This is something people all over the world, particularly in the Global South, experience.

We will make it easy for rich and poor alike to see a doctor, get a diagnosis and get recommendation on treatment. Say goodbye to closing times, long waits, long trips, all these things that are almost unbearable when you are ill.

Why did you decide to start your own company?
Well, I am a young woman who believes that in life the real tragedy is not death, but a life without purpose. I work with the motivation that my vocation is to change people’s lives and that’s exactly what the SMI will do. I am also a charity founder in the UK and have an NGO based in Nigeria. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to not only change lives, but save them.


Tell us more about the the charity and NGO you founded.
My charity is called the SMI – the Sustainable Medical Initiative, the NGO the same. I set them up because I know I will want my business to have a strong link to social responsibility not just a page about charity on a website. Also, I feel that charities tend to leave a culture of dependency. I stand for something different and that is long term change. The people I help, I want them to be able to help themselves and even others, not just wait for someone else to come along. The charity is based in London and we have partnered with people who will be happy to donate medical items to Nigeria. The NGO side is in talks with hospitals and the Imo state government (where my mother is from) to partner on helping there, of course when the political scene is settled.

How do you manage being a medical student, having a charity, an NGO and now starting a new business?
It certainly is not easy. It means you waste no time. If most people think about their day, there are moments of hanging around or procrastination. I used to have those too! However, deciding to take this on and start young, means I have no dull moment. It’s about productivity. If I’m not doing business I’m doing med school.

Why don’t you have a cofounder? Who helps out with your business?
I do have people who will work on my project with me but I wouldn’t say they are cofounders. This is not for any particular reason. I have a lot of support and people who believe in my idea and have seen my vision. The business is currently transitioning from idea to set up stage, and we aim to launch later in the year.

How did you feel when you heard you made the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme list?
I was very excited. It took a while to register. I had just finished an exam and also just received an offer to study a Bsc in Global Health that I applied for. It was such an intense day. My automatic reaction was to call my brother who always makes me feel good about whatever I achieve. I then called my parents who were very proud of me; their approval is something I have always sought. However, I must say, the happiness of winning was swiftly followed by the realisation that this journey has only just begun. An idea in itself is great but its execution determines its success.

The most difficult part about applying was the wait! The application process in my opinion was straight forward.


What do you expect your business will achieve with the programme benefits?
Well starting with the obvious, I will be able to start up with the funding provided. In addition, my business will gain some weight to approach other investors; being a TEEP winner is an achievement I would say. Fundamentally, my business will now have a CEO/founder (myself) who is much more equipped to manage this company after the duration of this programme, which has already shown to be educational and thought-provoking.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?
As a business woman there are three ‘categories’ I fall under: An entrepreneur, a woman, and a young one at that.

As I have said to many entrepreneurs already, focus on your motivation for business. Why do you do what you are doing? Whose life do you want to touch? What about our continent do you want to change? This is what will wake you at night. This will push you when things do not seem to be going your way.

To women as myself, it is crucial to remember your dignity has no price. In the world we live in many will try and exploit you based on the fact that you are a woman. This is not an excuse to succumb. Have confidence in your ideas and keep pushing regardless of the obstacles along the way.

Finally to those who are young. I started setting this up since I was 21. It is never too early. Do not doubt yourself based on your age. If you have a good idea, run with it. A battle is won with advisors. Do not fail to seek advice and guidance, but never be discouraged by your age. All the more time to make mistakes, learn from them and finally, to succeed.

*To learn more and stay up to date, follow Ehizele on Twitter
**Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.