Brenda Katwesigye: Creating Reliable Health Technology in Africa

From the day her uncle said he saw her as a creator of software and a manager of her own company, Brenda Katwesigye started working towards being an entrepreneur. A graduate of Telecommunication Engineering from Makerere University, Brenda worked at Orange Uganda, where she gained a lot of interest in Value Added Services. This experience is where her company, Instahealth, has been hinged on.

Instahealth is an application that enables people to instantly have access to health information and services. Over the last few months, they have registered more than 4,500 minutes of calls within their pilot phase. The ultimate goal of Instahealth is to create an Africa connected to health in the fastest and most convenient way possible.

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Brenda loves to create and try out new things. This led her to Deloitte where she felt she could learn more in the area of Information Systems. There, she became an analyst, reviewing and assessing different systems for various clients, and as a result, getting a lot of exposure to understand how systems work.

She loves travelling and having new experiences with people, and her face lights up if somebody suggests a road trip.

What is InstaHealth?
InstaHealth is a startup based in Uganda whose vision is to create the finest and most reliable health technologies for individuals living in Africa. It’s a registered trademark of SyncHub Innovations Limited, a software development company registered in Uganda in February 2014.

Instahealth is an application that enables people to instantly have access to health information and services. Over the last few months, we have registered more than 4500 minutes of calls within our pilot phase. Our ultimate goal is to create an Africa connected to health in the fastest and most convenient way possible The InstaHealth mobile application enables anybody with a feature phone or a smartphone to access a doctor instantly. It uses geo-location and an interactive voice response (IVR) system to instantly connect users to health centres, specialists and ambulances.

Was there any point when you felt like giving up on your business?
A lot. I have felt like throwing in the towel a lot  but then I always remember that you cannot achieve great things if you just give up. I have noticed that good things happen every time I hang on just a little longer.

What does success mean to you?
Success to me means being able to create impact or to inspire someone to do something they never thought they would be able to do.

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If you win the She Leads Africa competition, what’s the first thing you’d do? How would the prize money impact your business?
At this point, the business needs to grow. I feel that we are still in earlier stages and we need to grow use base. That is the first point of contact for that money.

If you could give one piece of advice/encouragement to a large group of aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Two things; Perseverance and Passion. Those two move hand in hand. If you are excited about what you are doing, you will certainly grow it into something that makes a difference.

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To learn more about InstaHealth, visit their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter. To see Brenda pitch live on stage, reserve a ticket to the She Leads Africa 2015 Entrepreneur Showcase HERE.

Every day this week, we will be profiling the six finalists of the She Leads Africa 2015 Entrepreneur Showcase. Follow the series HERE.

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Louisa Kinoshi: Revolutionizing the African Beauty Shopping Experience

With the ambition to build the Sephora for Africa, Louisa Kinoshi started BeautyRevNG, a web and mobile based community that helps young African women embrace their beauty, and connects them to their favorite beauty brands in a convenient, affordable and fun way.

In her past life as a public relations and social media expert, Louisa worked on the development and execution of strategic public relations campaigns for companies such as Clean Line Energy, PepsiCo, Starbucks and Pfizer. Her work experience and passion for African trade issues landed her a position as the youngest executive board member for the Houston Mayor’s Trade and International Development Committee, and eventually led her to founding BeautyRevNG.

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BeautyRevNG.com aims to be Nigeria’s leading online destination for makeup and beauty products, providing a platform for young African female entrepreneurs who have developed beauty brands to showcase and market their products to a large audience.

What makes BeautyRevNG unique is that it is more than just a store but an online community for African women entrepreneurs, makeup artists, beauty bloggers, and makeup enthusiasts. Through social media, we tell the stories of African women and celebrate our version of beauty.

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In her spare time, Louisa loves writing and has written on fashion and bauty for various online publications including BellaNaija, The Style HQ, Style Me Africa and Haute Fashion Africa.

cofoundHER: At what point did you decide it was time to start your own company, and what was the first thing you did when you decided?
LK: In April 2014, while I still working full time, I knew that I wanted to start BeautyRevNG. I founded it because I believe that one day, African women and girls will define their own standards of beauty and influence the rest of the world. The idea is to make BeautyRevNG Nigeria’s leading online destination for makeup and beauty products, so the first thing I did was to develop our website. I knew we had to have a cool and edgy online presence to stand out in the Nigerian beauty scene.

When you started out, did you get any resistance from family and friends?
Not really. I am very lucky as both my parents are entrepreneurs and extremely supportive. Once I started my business though, I had to be committed to growing it 100%. So, my friends didn’t quite understand why I couldn’t do normal things like hang out or go on trips.

Was there any point when you felt like giving up on your business?
I’ve never felt like giving up on my business 100%. There are times where I would like to take a break maybe for a month or two. Whenever I feel overwhelmed or burnt out, I reach out to the BeautyRevNG social media community for support. It’s amazing how I have been able to connect with and be inspired by some of our followers who I’ve never even met personally.

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Knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself when you just started your company?
I would tell myself to enjoy the process. I spent a lot of time being nervous and anxious about the success of the company. However, the start of my entrepreneurial journey was one of the most exciting times of my life; I wish I had taken some time to just enjoy it.

What does success mean to you?
I believe a lot of women believe success is being able to balance professional goals with personal goals at the same time. I think that is a myth. We put so much pressure on ourselves to have everything all at once. To me, success is being able to achieve your goals at God’s said time. There is the right time to focus on building your career and there is also the right time to be able to focus on family.

If you win the She Leads Africa competition, what’s the first thing you’d do? How would the prize money impact your business?
In our She Leads Africa video, I talked about infusing technology with retail. We are launching beauty experience centers this year in Lekki, Yaba, Abuja and Port Harcourt and next year in other African countries. All BECs will have iPad stands loaded with an app where you can get product matches, view reviews and tutorials and share your purchases with a friend. There will also be a consumer version of this app that will change the beauty shopping experience for women all over Africa. Our customers and stakeholders are really excited about this and we would fast track this project which is already underway.

If you could give one piece of advice/encouragement to a large group of aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
“Mistakes are not failures, but specially prepared lesson plans to help you succeed in your next journey.”

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To learn more about BeautyRevNG, visit their website or follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. To see Louisa pitch live on stage, reserve a ticket to the She Leads Africa 2015 Entrepreneur Showcase HERE.

Every day this week, we will be profiling the six finalists of the She Leads Africa 2015 Entrepreneur Showcase. Follow the series HERE.

Kofoworola Oyeleye: Teaching Children Native Nigerian Culture

Kofoworola Oyeleye is the CEO and Creative Director of Iyin Creative, a company that creates animated content to help children learn native Nigerian languages and the Nigerian culture in a fun way.

Born and raised in Lagos, Kofo started working at an early age, serving as her father’s unofficial personal assistant, a position she held till she got married and had to relocate. Her first formal job was at a management consulting firm followed by a project management company, after which she decided to start her own business. She credits her work ethic and knowledge about the business world to her 9-to-5 experiences.

Kofo’s journey to entrepreneurship was not accidental. From a young age, she had a book where she wrote ideas and businesses she wanted to start; the problem was that she didn’t know when that would be. She has a wide range of interests all centred around creativity — sewing, design and crafts. She loves roller skating and ice skating and once worked as the ice skating instructor at the artificial rink at Silverbird Galleria in 2007.

What is Iyin Creative about?
At Iyin-Creative, our primary objective is the creation of fun animated content, teaching children our native Nigerian cultures, history and heritage. Our goal is to create a global appeal for our Nigerian heritage using animation.

Our premier product is the Anilingo series which introduces children to the foundational aspects of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba through the numbers, alphabets, words and actions in daily life. We also do animation training and, in line with children being priority, we organised Nigeria’s first ever Animation Summer Camp in August last year and will be having another this year.

Why do you think it is important for us to preserve our language and pass it on to our children?
Our native language and culture is our identity — not English, not French or any other language. If we don’t pass it on to our children who are the future, we will be a people with no heritage and in no time, we’ll have no heritage, no values, no identity.

Our culture is rich and is in not of less value than that of Europe and other foreign cultures, but unfortunately a lot of us treat it as so. We at Iyin Creative, through our quality animated content, are creating a global appreciation for our native Nigerian heritage, history and cultures.

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How did you get the idea for Iyin Creative and why did you decide to start this company?
At some point in 2013, I no longer had the drive to work for anyone. I knew it was time for me to bring one of my many ideas to life, so I quit my job at the project management company I worked. At this point, I still wasn’t sure what exactly I was going to do.

I had heard about the YouWin Programme, but wasn’t interested for two reasons: I didn’t have faith in any government project, and I didn’t quite know which of my ideas would be good enough. But my best friend kept insisting I try with any of my ideas.

One day, while tidying up the sitting room, my then 3 year old daughter  was watching Dora the Explorer. It then crossed my mind that if my daughter was picking up Spanish words, which no one spoke at home, by watching Dora, I might as well create animated content that will teach her our native Nigerian cultures and heritage instead. Our language of conversation at home was English, so she neither understood nor spoke Yoruba.

So, I applied with that idea in 2013, won and started the business. Despite starting with a grant, it hasn’t been the easiest of journeys but I still wouldn’t trade it. I’ve grown as the business has grown too, weathered storms, and become even more innovative.

You’ve been twice lucky: getting the YouWin grant and now the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme grant. After YouWin, why did you need to apply for another grant?
I got 7.5 million naira from YouWin. I know that sounds like a lot of money, but for an animation studio starting from the scratch, it’s not that much. From creating the business plan, I knew I needed about 13 million naira to setup, start and finish the first project. Working with what I got and with financial support from my husband, as well as creating other services for revenue generation, I scaled down on several aspects.

Outside work tools, you don’t come by skilled animators easily in Nigeria and the available ones come at a high price. There was no way I could do it all on my own, so the high cost of running the business was unavoidable. By the time the project was completed YouWin funds had long been expended, and a whole lot of funds had been pumped in by my husband as well.

This left us with a tight budget for replication, so we couldn’t produce as many copies as we would have loved to. My applying for the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme was to gain access to financing to produce a larger volume.

One problem entrepreneurs face is knowing how to juggle multiple tasks effectively. How do you manage your time and prioritize tasks?
It hasn’t been the easiest of things especially given the fact that I have two children. I don’t know if it comes with being a woman, but I’ve somehow through the grace of God been able to build my work schedule around my children. When I have a backlog of work, I sacrifice some hours of sleep to catch-up. I also have a great team, so it’s not a one-man-circus.

Where do you see your company in the next three years?
In the next three years, I see Iyin-Creative becoming a household name. We will create a platform not just for our content, but also for content from other animators, that promote Nigerian cultures. It’s not about us, it’s about our heritage.

What does success mean to you, both in business and personally?
Success to me in business is being able to impact the society with my vision. In my personal life, it’s being able to bring up visionary Children who love Christ.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?
Stick with the vision. It may be tough and you may get really discouraged, but persistence and prayer pays off eventually.

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We are sharing the stories of 20+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.

Madonna Kendona-Sowah: Creating High Quality Clothing with Ghanaian Textiles

Madonna Kendona-Sowah is the founder and Creative Director of Raffia, a line of high-quality clothing made from cotton fabrics, handwoven in the poorest parts of Ghana. The label showcases beautiful textiles with elegant designs and promotes employment and education in the Northern and Upper East regions of Ghana.

An avid consumer of all things fashion, Madonna realised that northern Ghanaian textiles, also known as Gonja cloth or batakari didn’t feature in mainstream designs. Taking the opportunity to combine her love for fashion and her training in Economic Development, she founded Raffia to address this need.

When I founded the company, I saw an opportunity to change some of the negative perceptions people have of Northern Ghana, being a child of the North myself. I compared where I was from to the Raffia palm, which is rough and dry in its raw state but can be used to make beautiful things. Northern Ghana is a beautiful place with fascinating customs, delicious food, stunning fabrics and gorgeous people and I felt the name Raffia captured that. ~ Madonna Kendoa-Sowah

Share with us, what is Raffia about?
Raffia produces high quality clothing and accessories made from traditionally handwoven cotton textiles from Northern Ghana.

We are using traditional textiles handwoven by indigenous artisans in the three northern regions of Ghana – the poorest part of the country. Working with us gives our weavers the chance to earn an income, be financially independent and take care of themselves and their families while preserving an age-old craft. Raffia aims to change lives, revitalize the economy in Northern Ghana and showcase the beautiful textiles and products found there.

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How did you feel when you heard you made the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) and what was the most difficult part about applying?
I was absolutely thrilled. I couldn’t quite believe it, to be honest. It wasn’t until I started getting congratulatory messages that it sunk in. To have Raffia validated like that was wonderful.

For me, the hardest part was definitely articulating my vision for Raffia in a way that the selection committee could clearly understand and appreciate. As an entrepreneur, you tend to have these long conversations with yourself about what you want for your business but it’s almost as important for other people to understand what you’re about. The application process was very thorough and asked some hard questions but I feel I’m better for having figured out how to get my vision across.

What has been your number one business challenge and how do you think the programme will help address it?
As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, my main challenge has been funding. Most of us new entrepreneurs are curious and scrappy and there are many things about running a business one can learn to do – like building a website, bookkeeping, social media marketing, etc. It’s okay to be all things to your business in the beginning but growing means getting help, improving your product, increasing inventory and in general, stepping up your overall game. That requires funding.

I expect Raffia to achieve greater exposure, reach more customers internationally and hopefully form interesting partnerships, starting with the 999 other members of TEEP. Through all this, I see Raffia growing, improving, continuing to create beautiful clothes while creating a marked social and economic transformation in Northern Ghana.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?
There is no better teacher than experience, whether it’s your own or someone else’s. So, test your theories, try new things and find out once and for all what works and what doesn’t. Also, read, ask questions, never stop learning and improving. Keep it moving.

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We are sharing the stories of 20+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.

Mavis Nduchwa: Empowering Communities with Agriculture

A real estate and hospitality graduate turned TV presenter and now farmer, Mavis Nduchwa has done it all. Mavis’ journey to entrepreneurship goes as far back as when she was in boarding school, where she ordered and sold sweets to fellow students, and helped some students write their essays and letters for a small fee. So, it was no surprise that all through her career changes, Mavis always knew that she would someday be her own boss.

Mavis is passionate about the environment and nature. She is currently a manager at Safari Lodge, something she has been doing for the past ten years. In May 2011, she co-founded Chabana Farms with Brighton Chabana and was recently one of three selected winners of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) from Botswana. Mavis enjoys gardening and travelling and hopes to empower her community with agriculture.

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Tell us about Chabana Farms and what you do
At Chabana Farms, we are all about integrated farming — cattle, goats, donkeys, poultry, piggery, vegetables and horticulture. Farming is our pride. We believe that no child should go to bed hungry, so we make sure that starting from our small community, every person is fed. We also empower women and girls in our community through farming.

We started Chabana Farms in 2011 after we saw the problems our community was facing — lack of jobs for women and youth, shortage of food such as vegetables and meat products, people having to travel far to get basic commodities. We wanted to change this. We believe that by empowering the locals, we’ll have taken the first step to turning Africa into one big economic giant.

The vision for Chabana Farms is not only to provide food for the nation but to empower individuals in the community. We want to turn Chabana farms into a well known brand, both locally and internationally.

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?
When I got the news that I made the TEEP list, I was so excited that someone out there believed in me. The most difficult part about applying was getting internet access. The internet is not readily available in my community, so that was a challenge.

What is your biggest business challenge right now and how do you think TEEP will help address it?
My biggest challenge has always been getting capital to operate and market Chabana Farms. It is important that the company sustains itself so we can in turn empower others in our community. With TEEP, I am hoping to gain more experience in marketing and get some of the funding needed to make us sustainable.

Any words of encouragement to other entrepreneurs out there?
My words of encouragement are that they should not give up. No matter how long the road might seem, if you just persevere, it will all work out.

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We are sharing the stories of 20+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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*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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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*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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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*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.

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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.

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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.

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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.