Nigeria is one country that can boast of strong female entrepreneurs. In spite of this, we can all agree that some of these female entrepreneurs do not get enough press. So, we are taking a step toward changing that.
Women entrepreneurs face quite a numerous challenge. From having to start their business with half the capital afforded to men and having to deal with toxic patriarchy, to running a company while scheduling their time to accommodate a on a toddler’s sleep agenda, the odds really are stacked against them. However, while they may face a slew of challenges in the world of entrepreneurship, they’re managing to thrive in spite of them.
We asked women from a diverse range of industries, to share some of the intricacies of starting and running their businesses.
Each entrepreneur was asked the following questions
- What are some of the key challenges you have faced starting and running your business? How did you tackle them?
- Why do you think there are less women than men taking the risk of founding their own business?
- What are your recommendations to other women who have business ideas?
Read their stories and learn what they have to say about how they were able to overcome the doubts, challenges, and the naysayers.
Bunmi George, Fitness and Nutrition
A dietitian and fitness professional, Bunmi George runs Shredder Gang – a nutrition and fitness company that provides inspiration, guidance and support for individuals looking to make healthier life choices. Educated at the University of Toronto, Bunmi George was really inspired to start her business after she lost 55kg (the healthy way) and wanted to provide the support she didn’t have while she was on her own weight loss journey.
Although raising a family might be a constraint for many female entrepreneurs in Nigeria, Bunmi is one of the few people changing the narrative.
“I was the first to approach weight loss and fitness the way that I did in Nigeria back in 2012 when social media wasn’t what it is today. I had to do a lot of convincing, to prove that I could actually help an individual lose weight and stay healthy through an online platform. I stayed committed to pushing valuable content daily and educating people any chance I got.
When we launched our product line, we had orders from different parts of the country. At the beginning we couldn’t reach those customers, even through various logistics companies. The amount of time it took for the packages to get to the consumer was also a big challenge. We decided to stock our products in HealthPlus and Medplus pharmacies nationwide; that way customers had easy access to our products.”
“Launching our Fitness Smart Band is one of the highlights of the journey so far. To be the first individual in Nigeria to produce such a useful device that thousands of people can benefit from is a feat
I’m extremely proud of.”
“Women are the nurturers of the next generation. We get married and decide to have children at the peak of the most productive years of our lives. Birthing and raising children takes from that very key period, but I believe Nigerian women are combining entrepreneurship with raising a family.”
Faith Amarachukwu Emenike, Perfume Manufacturing
Faith Amarachukwu Emenike sometimes worries about how obsessed she is with scents. She has always loved perfumes, especially body mists. She never imagined she could turn that love into business in Nigeria until she met someone who manufactured perfumes locally and saw the possibility. She went on to create Lafame Perfumery -curating, bottling and packaging body adorning scents.
The idea is to help the average Nigerian smell and feel amazingly good without breaking the bank. And while Faith certainly wishes she had started earlier, she has successfully introduced her range of body mists and colognes into the market. Also, she has over 38 team partners (distributors) across Nigeria.
“My first challenge come at the idea stage. I had approached a lady who actually inspired my business (she was the first person I met who produced perfumes locally) and asked her to teach me how to mix my own vial. My plan was to mix for my personal use; to my surprise, she refused to teach me. At first, I thought she was kidding, but she wasn’t. I was disappointed but even more determined to learn and mix for myself. Believe it or not, I turned to God.
I went on to research and scouted for dealers in Aromatic Oils. I found very few people in Nigeria who sold, and what they sold were Aromatic Oils that did not have the ‘Perfume Character’. Well, I had just NGN 3,000 home and abroad and that was what I used to get very small aromatic oils and solvents to work with.
I became really close to these dealers as a result of my passion for curating scents.They sometimes would dash me small oils to work with. It took over 3 months to even curate my first fragrance.”
“Finding the right oils and other materials to use was an uphill task. I was so determined; I still wonder what drove me day and night. I worked with the little I had. I made so many mistakes and experiments; but after few months, it was fully implemented.”
“Another major challenge I have faced in my journey so far has been convincing Nigerians that a mixed -in- Nigeria brand was worth it. Nigerians are very pro-western when it comes to perfumes and getting them to try our brand was a huge challenge. Truth is, when we started, the bottles we used were not too fantastic, but that was what was available. I started very small, but I was determined to push it. I knew that the liquid inside that ‘not too fantastic ‘ bottle would change someone’s life. I don’t know where the boldness came from, but I would go to banks to market my products. Of course, I was rejected so many times. One day, out of pity, a banker patronized me and after one spritz, her other colleagues called me back and bought off all the scents. As time went on, better bottles came in and it has been less difficult pushing the brand. We still have some people who we still need to convince. In all, my passion for perfumes have kept me on the journey, despite the horrors.”
“These days, women are taking responsibility and stepping up to the plate. They are following their dreams and pursuing their careers. They are inventing things and heralding new innovations. I know women on my timeline doing breathtaking things and having groundbreaking achievements. The very few women who are not following this trend, have probably not found their purpose or are just plain lazy. I believe that everyone has a purpose on earth especially women. We are created for so much more than ‘the Other Room’. We have so much inside of us that is screaming to be let out. However, I am not saying that a woman should not be submissive to her husband, who is the covering over her. She should, but she should know that many destinies are tied to her fulfilling her purpose on earth. Every woman should take that step of inquiring from her maker (God) to know the sole purpose of why she is here. And then, she should take that step to fulfilling it, without fear.”
“My advice to other women who have ideas would be: Start. Start where you are! Start with the little you have. Dream big and never give up. There are horrors along the way, but you are more than a conqueror. Never give up.”
Aisha Shuaibu, Waffle and Pancake shop
An Abuja-based entrepreneur, Aisha Shuaibu, co-owns a confectionary foods business called Waffle Stop. The business started off as a course project during her Master’s program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, before blossoming officially kick off in March 2016 (delivery based only) Waffle Stop has been successfully running as a restaurant for a full year, offering waffle and American pancake meals served in a unique dining style, to a young crowd that loves to try different things.. Although a combination of her drive, a very compatible and disciplined business partner, and the vision to be at the top (in order to lead the younger generation onto higher places) has led Aisha’s business to success, she has had to deal with certain challenges on her path.
“In the early days, we suffered what a lot of start-ups go through: power issues, inconsistency with logistics, staff management, among other things. Tackling them required a lot of mental and strategic effort. I realised that I could not grow dealing with the same issues daily and decided to draw up a plan that would enable me have a sustainable future. I was running the business solo (with little financial knowledge) and partnered up with somebody that favoured my shortcomings. I also began to market better, work on the individual recipes based on honest feedback. Through consultations with brilliant minds and more research, we landed a great opportunity to expand and took it. The rest of the story is still being written.”
“I am a strong advocate for women empowerment, but it isn’t only because of my personal aspirations, but because of this time we are a part of. The “entrepreneurial age” I call it. I am surrounded by women who are the Queens of their Kingdom. Females who are in farming, technology, humanitarianism, architecture, medicine, all of whom have plans to start or have already set up their own private companies. It is absolutely incredible! In a few years, our country will move forward because of the active involvement of WOMEN in the private sector!”
“To women with business ideas, share them with people smarter than you. Nobody likes to be told how to do what only they understand, and HOW they want to achieve it; but believe me, you will never know it all. Submit to learning and you will always get ahead. And please, never forget that young ones are watching. Lead, the smart way.”
Olumide Gbadebo, Skin Care
C.E.O of Adunni Organics– a line of natural skin care products made in Lagos, Olumide Gbadebo started as a Physiotherapist and went on to build a career in Advertising , before falling in love with soap making. Adunni Organics is committed to providing excellent body and hair care products, made with high quality natural and organic ingredients that give visible and sustainable results…without the side effects commonly seen with chemical filled products.
Olumide quit her job to grow the business full-time. Considering she left her job just when the Naira crashed in 2016, she almost did not survive the move. But thanks to an upbringing which fortified her with a strong sense of independence and a knack for critical thinking, she is still standing and making a positive impact on people.
“My major challenge when I started out was sourcing of raw materials. Initially, I bought everything in the UK, except for Shea Butter. I knew that we had most of the raw materials I needed in Nigeria, but finding them was a big problem. As I began to need larger quantities, I was forced to travel around to find suppliers of raw materials in their pure form. It took about 3 years to be able to build my supplier list, and I am very proud to say that from importing 80% of our raw materials, we now import only about 20% as we source the rest locally in Nigeria.”
“There was also the issue with logistics. I had a job when I started this business, so I couldn’t get a shop. I got a website and started getting orders. Getting the products to customers in good shape was the next challenge. I partnered with 4 different Courier company’s in the first 3 months because I needed someone who was close to my office, and who would deliver and give me back my cash. There were a lot of times when the whipped butters would have melted after being in the sun for hours on Lagos roads, and I would have to replace the items to appease the customers. I learned to formulate products that could better withstand the heat and I also found containers that protected them better.”
“There is so much that we don’t know. I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning because I just did not know better. I did not know anyone whom I could ask for information about suppliers, accreditation, packaging options, etc. It was hard, but I got through.”
“All the funds for Adunni Organics have come from my savings, the kindness of family, and sales. Banks ask for collateral despite the fact that we have really good financial records with the two banks we work with. They are simply not interested in helping us grow. We buy raw materials, equipment and packaging in large quantity, tying a lot of money down which comes back in trickles. I had to learn, very quickly, to put a certain amount aside every week, because it is so easy to spend 5,000 here and 12,00 there because it is coming in as small change, till the day comes when you need 120,000 for Olive Oil and you don’t have”
“As a business owner with a small budget, I don’t have a lot of money for salaries which means that I am limited in the choice of employees available to me. What is available is generally disheartening. Graduates who send emails in text speak and can’t carry out basic administrative duties like filing documents and ledgers. I’ve had to train and teach people who have left after a few months, for little to no reason. Then we have to start all over again with the next person. I had to learn to develop process maps that anyone can follow from day one, to make things move smoothly. I also now only get people with some experience in the applicable role.”
“If you have a business idea, go for it. Start with what you have. Don’t wait till it is all perfect, start small and learn as you go. Keep records of everything. It is a life saver. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Only do it if it is something you really really love doing, because you will get frustrated, feel defeated, and want to quit when problems come. The only thing that will keep you going is the love you have for what you do.”
Mitun Dada, Holistic Health And Wellness Lifestyle
Mitun Dada owns a holistic health and wellness lifestyle business committed to promoting healthy eating & lifestyle habits; most especially among Nigerians & Africans. She also runs Ledgewood Nig Ltd, a leading business consultancy organisation; social media/online marketing and Weddings Galore NG, a one-stop shop wedding exhibition to help you plan your perfect wedding.
Her driving force of inspiration for starting up Eat To Live & Co., came in 2015 when she lost her mother to cancer. The ordeal made her realize that people, especially Nigerians, were not aware of the importance of the relationship between food and their bodies. The business includes the sale of Made In Nigeria brands of healthy food, drinks, snacks, natural beauty products and groceries, as well as a monthly fitness boot camp, a book club and health and wellness seminars.
At the beginning, they only had five made-in-Nigeria brands, now they proudly house over 40 other vendors.
“Running a business in Nigeria is no easy feat. Aside from the other challenges starts up in other parts of the world face we also have to deal with lack of steady power, no easy access to funds, high interest loan rates, finding talent and lack of govt. policies and erratic systems and procedures.”
“Make sure you have a plan and START with what you have in hand. A plan that requires things that you don’t have readily available is a plan for you to procrastinate. And in all things remember to be intentional and consistent.”
Morenike Molehin, Interior design
Renny is the Founder and Creative Director of Oak & Teak, a fast-rising interior design and furniture manufacturing company that specializes in residential and commercial spaces. Oak&Teak is unique in its ability to produces furniture locally and maintain a relatively low operating cost across critical aspects of their business.
Although she is not formally trained in interior design or furniture manufacturing, her first love has always been interior design. Her passion for beautiful spaces was inspired by her mother; the drive to start the business came from her husband
“One of my major challenges will be liaising with artisans. I have come to realise that interacting with them isn’t as easy as I would have thought. For instance, some artisans do not keep to the timeline, even when they are very competent. Others pay little or no attention to details. Putting up with this has been a major challenge and I have discovered that when the people side of a business is right, many other things fall into place.
There are very few technical schools and people are not willing and patient enough to learn from these technical schools. Nevertheless, it has been my passion and the passion of my “core-team” that has kept us going. Despite the instances of disappointments from artisans, resulting in hitches and some behind the scene drama, I still derive so much satisfaction when I see a client’s project finally coming together beautifully.
When I see the big smile and surprised look on the faces of our clients, I realise that the “stress” was worth it after all. That’s one of the things that keeps me going. My husband also always has the right things to say to me whenever I feel very overwhelmed with work.”
“Having to juggle family with business has not been so easy. Having to drop off my daughter in school in the morning, attend to staff and clients in the afternoon and arrange family dinner at night is not always as straight forward as A,B, C. This is why I am a big advocate of having a great support system. I am grateful that I have a world class support made up of an understanding husband, an intelligent staff, family and friends. Trust me, every woman in business needs a solid support system.”
“Here’s my advice for any woman with a business idea: acquire the necessary knowledge required to make your idea a reality. A passionate idea without competence will not deliver success. Secondly, as soon as you have acquired the knowledge, take the bold step of starting, even if it means starting small for example from your house. What you need to launch your idea is not necessarily a shop and staff, what you need are customers. These can be acquired with huge investments. Therefore, make the bold move needed to start. Procrastination has probably killed more businesses than the tough business environment. Ideas don’t rule the world, until they are implemented.
Thirdly, once you’ve started, please stay informed – keep up with the trends in your industry and never stop learning and developing yourself. Also use your mistakes as learning experiences. Fourthly, never compromise on your standards and quality. Even though it might take a while for you to make tangible profit, delivering quality will make you stand out and eventually successful. Finally, pray for God’s favour.”
Lucy Agwunobi, Furniture Making
Born in Calabar in the 80s, Lucy Agwunobi has been married to her husband and business partner for the last 8 years. As a child, she was inspired to study Architecture from the beautiful homes she saw in the magazines that her mother bought every month.
She was drawn to the idea of being a woman in a male-dominated field but had no intentions of practicing core Architecture. It was the design, and not site work, that got her excited. She went on to work in a furniture company after her NYSC but left after about 3 years to start her own business, Arredo by TRT, with her husband. The goal is to locally produce high-end furniture with the finest quality materials, to create an international brand of made in Nigeria furniture. For Lucy, it has been deeply rewarding to see the hard work she put in, turn into something so big. As she recalls, building the factory in 2017 was a huge highlight.
“I always thought, who would give a 5.3 petite 26 year old girl, with no assets and experience millions to produce furniture for their house? I was afraid. Fortunately for me, my husband had the confidence, courage and good business acumen.”
“One of the major challenges we faced was getting loans to expand our business. We applied unsuccessfully several times. Another challenge was getting skilled workmen who could be retrained to understand our values.”
“Nigeria has the highest number of female entrepreneurs in the world. Starting a business for a Nigerian woman is not the problem. Women need support, tools and mentoring to build sustainable businesses. Hard work, persistence, innovative thinking and consistent results are needed to grow any business. I would ask them to do two things right now: One, chase purpose, don’t chase money! Following the path God has created for you is guaranteed to give peace, joy, and prosperity. Two: get a mentor. Mentoring can save you a lot of time and money! A mentor doesn’t have to be a public figure, someone who is successful at doing business can guide you to starting right. Don’t start a business without some type of mentoring.”
Rachel Onajite Okhifo, Baking
Rachel Onajite Okhifo is the CEO of Nappy Chef Bakery, a full-service bakery located in Surulere, Lagos. Growing up as an only female child with five brothers, she was attached to her mom’s hip – especially in the kitchen. She learnt to play the role of a commis chef for her and my aunt, setting up mise en place and clearing up after food preparation. As she grew, her love for culinary artistry grew as well.
Bringing Nappy Chef Bakery brand to life has been Rachel’s greatest adventure, but it has certainly not been a smooth ride.
“Most of the challenges that I have faced starting up and running my business have been managerial. Transitioning from an individual who loves to bake casually, to a chef owner/manager was not an overnight process. My business requires me to be a savvy financial manager, an excellent staffer, as well as a great baker/chef who has got in-depth knowledge of the ins and outs of the system.
To ease the demands of having to develop diverse expertise in different business domains, I have constantly leveraged the professional expertise of friends and mentors in my network. Learning to come to terms with some of my limitations and knowing when to ask for help has been crucial to prevent burn-out and undue stress.”
“Understanding what my production costs are, have given me a clearer and better idea of what price to charge and at what point I break-even. I am still taking time to master financial controls; there is an accountant and an accounting system in place which has made it a lot easier for me than it was in the beginning.”
“For a long time, women have been pigeonholed to practice only certain professions in our society. We see a lot of rising female entrepreneurs across industries, but the disparity between male-owned business and female-owned businesses is still high.
Differences among genders in relation to work experience, ease of access to resources and entrenched social norms are a few of the usual suspects behind this imbalance. However, I also find that some factors may have more to do with the internal prospects of women, some unconscious cognitive biases are likely to also play an important role.
Having discussions with young women like me who have ideas, women starting and growing businesses, I have observed that a lot of us still lack confidence. We still doubt that we possess the kind of skills and traits that is stereotypically associated with entrepreneurship. This dynamic suggests that so many ideas that can blossom into successful businesses that can be of great benefit to the economy have not come to fruition because the individuals pitching these ideas don’t feel like they are the “right people”. Also, a number of women with a regular 9-5 job appreciate the comfort of a steady pay cheque. Entrepreneurship is a risky pursuit that may not include such comfort initially. As much as that concern is understandable, I do believe that the rewards can be beautiful for those who take the risk.
In addition, I think that as women, we have not collectively made it a priority to help and support one another, we still find it difficult to celebrate each other`s success and achievements. There is still a lot of shaming amongst us, so we struggle to identify and connect with female role models who we can share our career paths and relate our experiences with.”
“My advice to anyone with a start-up idea would be to start it and stick with it, define your business idea, commit to it. Stay open, do not be afraid to ask for help or advice when you need it. Cast a wide net by forging genuine connections with people within and outside of your industry. Above all, believe in yourself and your process.
I believe there are certain skills every female entrepreneur should cultivate to prepare them for the business world. More so, in this society, women have been tagged as safe players for success when it comes to business, even though we make excellent business leaders.
Many women are taking the dive but not all are able to build a lasting venture, because aside from being passionate, possessing grit and courage, there are a few extra essential skills, like networking that every entrepreneur should develop.
There is nothing as important as being able to network effectively, taking time to build authentic business relationships is a skill on its own that a lot of people have not been able to cultivate. Talk to people, seek out and attend events where you are likely to find like-minded people, these people can connect you to other people and them to you.
You also need excellent communication skills; bear in mind that good communication skills go deeper than just being able to persuade your clientele. The ability to listen and take people’s opinions go a long way to earn you respect. You also need to be organized. Managing any business venture is a dynamic responsibility. It is necessary to stay ahead of obligations, honestly evaluate your ability to stay on top of things, track ideas and check progress. Thanks to technology, there are many applications today that help us stay organised, from time management to managing finances. Make use of them.“