Access to the market is a serious challenge for many women-owned small businesses in Nigeria. This challenge seriously hinders their business growth, expansion and sustainability. The AWP Network Vendor Program is a solution to this problem.
The competitive AWP Network Vendor program, which launched last year (2020), received over 2,500 applications and 100 vendors were selected to participate in the program. Out of the 100, 61 vendors were certified to complete the program and received the opportunity to pitch their products to ShopRite Nigeria, FreshForte, Next Cash n’ Carry, and Miniso Nigeria.
This year, the AWP Network Vendor Program doubled its application numbers from 2,500 to over 5,000. 140 small businesses were accepted and only 70 completed the program. Yinka Osifeso recently participated in and graduated from the AWP Network Vendor Program where she is now certified as a qualified vendor. As a result of her participation in the program, Osifeso was selected to become a ShopRite supplier. She also received the opportunity to pitch to FreshForte and Miniso Nigeria. In this interview with The Guardian, Osifeso talks about what inspired her to start this business and her plans for the next five years.
How did you come up with your business name?
WELL, I wanted an Afrocentric name and a name that I felt best describes beauty, so I came up with the name: Orekelewa Organics.
What or who inspired you to start your business?
My personal health challenges inspired me to start this business. When my health challenges began, I started using natural ingredients and herbs to help boost my immunity against tonsillitis. Thereinafter, I stumbled upon the many benefits of coconut oil. As a result of this information, I began making coconut oil in my kitchen and shortly after replaced all of my cooking oil with coconut oil.
After a few months of this lifestyle change, my immunity was well boosted that I no longer had an episode of tonsillitis, it has been five (5) years now. Coconut oil has also helped me to get rid of dry skin and assisted me in growing my natural hair.
Who is your target market?
My target audience includes women, mothers, children, the elderly and salary earners.
How have you financed the idea?
Bootstrapping – I have financed my business using my personal savings.
What is your competitive edge?
The way that I source raw materials is what I consider to be my competitive edge. Also, my product packaging, affordable pricing, great customer service and the accessibility of my products are all part of my competitive edge package.
What is the long-term plan for your business?
The long-term plan for my business is to put Orekelewa Organics in 200 stores. Currently, Orekelewa Organics is in 162 stores as of the last count. I would also like to start a coconut plantation and reduce my cost of production by 30 per cent.
What challenges do you face or have you faced thus far?
Asides from financing, access to affordable raw materials have been a great challenge. Also, we have been exporting our products in very minimal quantities and I would love to get our products to the UK and the USA in large volumes.
What key things have you learned since starting your business?
Since starting my business, I have learned that you can start a business with limited funds and grow it. As an entrepreneur, you should be open to learning. You should leverage your relationships and your networks to help you move further along in your career and in life. You should always market yourself; speak proudly about your products and have your product samples with you everywhere you go. Lastly, having a great product is smart but having a cordial relationship with your customers and suppliers is smarter.
What five (5) things do start-up entrepreneurs need to know?
Register your business with CAC and open a business account at the bank. I have found that doing this gives your business a level of formality. Also, from the beginning, startup entrepreneurs need to separate business funds from personal funds; no co-mingling. Ensure that your company offers top-notch products and services. Invest in marketing your products and services to your target audience, integrate technology into your business processes, it will save you time.
Engage your employees and allow them to have a sense of belonging in your business, that way they are more productive.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money?
You can always start with where you are. Focus on having an excellent product, I started my business with N50,000.
How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
African youths can support one another through collaboration. Collaborating is a form of currency.
How many jobs have you created so far?
I have created a total of 124 jobs (full time and part-time).
How has technology enhanced your business idea?
Technology has helped my business in the area of record-keeping. As a business, we have been able to keep proper financial records using key financial tools.
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
We can support and improve innovation in Africa by providing an affordable power supply (electricity) so that businesses in the same industry can create business hubs to reduce the significant cost of purchasing machines.
How has the AWP Network Vendor Program helped or supported your business?
The AWP Network Vendor Program helped Orekelewa Organics create its first pitch deck. Pitching to Shoprite was certainly a game-changer for my business. Through the AWP Network program, I was also shortlisted to supply to Miniso Nigeria and this was a dream come through. Unfortunately, the day that I was to pitch to Fresh Forte I had a car accident.
What did you enjoy the most about the AWP Network Vendor Program?
I enjoyed all of the topics that were covered and the facilitators were experienced, knowledgeable and well informed.