Building Sustainable and Profitable Enterprises: An Interview with David Owumi, Founder of VisionCTRL Africa
David Owumi is the Founder and Lead Business Innovation Strategist at VisionCTRL Africa, a business analysis, design and consulting firm based in Nigeria. A social entrepreneur on a mission to achieve a lifetime commitment, driving Africa’s sustainable development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution(4IR). David in this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, talks about how his brand is developing its support for African entrepreneurs, the “Business Drive for Her Initiative”, why women talents should be developed and transformed into valuable tools for social and economic growth. Excerpt.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about VisionCTRL and the gap its filling?
David: VisionCTRL Nigeria, founded in 2018, consists of a team of seasoned Business Innovators, Business Designers and Business Analysts committed to providing professional business development services small and medium scaled organizations. We help our league of depending clients create innovative products, services and formidable business structures necessary to deliver on remarkable value propositions while scaling to generate more revenue and market share.
At VisionCTRL, we believe in the power of Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Technology as vital tools for the positive transformation of the African economy, creating solutions to social problems such as Poverty, Lack of Quality Education, Unemployment, and Infrastructural Deficit.
Alaba: What sparked your interest in starting this firm?
David: From the age of 10, when I started accompanying my mother to destitute and orphanage homes dispensing amenities such as food and medical kits, I have always wanted to solve social problems but ignorant as to which to focus on. My passion for social innovation, entrepreneurship and business matured as I followed religiously the popular TV series “Shark Tank”, unconsciously preparing myself for VisionCTRL.
Few months after we launched Salt Talks Africa in March of 2018 with a focus on fostering sustainable development in grassroots communities, we saw a need to help entrepreneurs start sustainable businesses that “solve real problems for real people”.
Alaba: How is VisionCTRL developing its support for African entrepreneurs?
David: We help startups and small scale businesses with their Market Research, Feasibility Study, Business Planning, Business Model Innovation, Product/Service Innovation and Business Development. We also provide Free Business Consultation, and organize business management workshops across the federation.
Alaba: Could you tell us about the “Business Drive for Her Initiative” and what it’s set out to achieve?
David: In Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, we’re coming to an understanding of the crucial roles women play in fostering socioeconomic growth in a community, through education and entrepreneurship. This has spurred government, as well as civil societies, to initiate programmes and opportunities to fast track gender inclusivity in education and entrepreneurship on the continent.
The Business Drive for Her Initiative is one of those projects we designed for the sole purpose of educating female entrepreneurs in Nigeria on the basics of business planning, management and innovation, to scale their businesses with a corresponding socio-economic growth in the country.
I believe it takes a collective effort, i.e. both the private and public sectors, to initiate projects that would lead to the long-term, growth of the African economy, and so, we have decided to contribute our quota.
We would be training 6,000 female entrepreneurs across 16 states in Nigeria in partnership with Tech Hubs in the country on Business Management and Innovation, as well as providing mentorship and funding opportunities in partnership with Access Bank.
Alaba: How do you intend to fund this project and measure its impact?
David: To be honest, this is a major challenge faced by social innovators in the private sector, designing financial sustainability for social projects, and as such we emphasize the importance of strategic partnerships. Asides funds set aside by the organization for the project, we consorted with tech hubs in Nigeria, and other organizations that share a common interest for women empowerment in the country, with Access Bank PLC, Salt Talks Africa and Adams Start being some of our major supporters.
Engaging Salt Talks Africa in the project development phase made our planning easier due to their experience in designing sustainable projects. So, instead of asking “Where can we get funds?” we rather sought organizations willing to provide some of the items and logistics we would be spending money on.
Its always better achieving success together.
Alaba: Why is it important for women to start their business?
David: Beyond business, it’s imperative that the talents and interests of women be developed and transformed into valuable tools for social and economic growth. It’s about empowering women with the freedom and opportunities to create and trade value with a sense of belonging, and responsibility for the development of their immediate communities, and the world at large. If women can, then why not?
Alaba: How can we increase capital, confidence and capability in women’s entrepreneurship?
David: It all begins in the home, educating parents on the importance and benefits of a gender inclusive society. Unfortunately, there are families that choose to invest their limited resources on the male over the female. This has to change, and we look up to civil societies and human right activists to champion this cause.
Though impressive measures have been taken to foster female participation in business, education and leadership in Nigeria and Africa, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. We need private and public agencies to deliberately allocate opportunities to women as a way of encouraging others at the bottom to strive for the same.
Alaba: What is your advice for any young woman who is thinking about starting a business?
David: If you can create value, and you are convinced you can execute well on your value propositions, why not? Being a woman is no excuse for mediocrity. Hone your craft, and be the best you can.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
David: I feel honored contributing to the advancement of Africa’s sustainable development. There’s no better time to be African than now, and making a conscious and deliberate effort daily to push the continent forward is one decision I’m proud of, despite the intricacies associated with starting and growing an enterprise in Africa.
Alaba: What’s the future for your business and what steps are you taking towards achieving them?
David: At VisionCTRL, we are on a daily mission to be a part of the success stories of businesses driving social growth and economic development in Nigeria, and Africa. We want to understand the dynamics of entrepreneurship and innovation on Africa, and supporting African businesses to be well positioned for these trends for maximum social impact.
To achieve this, we invest a considerable amount of resources in organizing workshops for entrepreneurs, as well as improving our knowledge and operations.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
David: I spend my leisure with family, and often researching. I’m a huge fan of Africa’s history, especially the colonial era. So, I’m often caught reading about the history of Africa on Wikipedia.
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B I O G R A P H Y
Owumi David Voke, 27, is a Social Entrepreneur, Tech-Innovator, Community Research & Developer and Fashion Designer, who is on a mission to achieve a lifetime commitment, driving Africa’s sustainable development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. David is a graduate of University of Benin, Nigeria where he bagged a Second-Class degree in Mathematics and Education.
He is the Director of Salt Talks Africa, a para-governmental organization currently operating in 3 African countries, designing and executing community development projects geared towards fostering sustainable development in rural communities across Africa. Through grassroots initiatives such a RuraLearn, R.E.I.A., Project Upcycle and Salt Talks Conferences held across Nigeria, Salt Talks Africa is indeed fostering Africa’s sustainable development in one of the most strategic approaches.
David is the Founder and Lead Business Innovation Strategist of VisionCTRL Africa, a Business Analysis, Design and Consulting Firm in Nigeria, building disruptive business ideas and enterprises. He believes disruptive social entrepreneurship plays a vital role in driving socioeconomic growth and sustainable development in Africa.
Having worked on several high-end successful and failed projects such as Upnepa.ng, Agro-Ex, Haypko.com (Now FuelUp.ng), Sew It Stores (Now Gods Official Clothiers), Hi-traffic.tech etc., VisionCTRL is well positioned to change the narrative of Africa leveraging an entrepreneurship framework.
He is also an advisory member of African Bio hub, Invent Hope Initiative etc. and a member of the International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA).
Mary Njoki is helping startups tell their stories through Glass House PR
Mary Njoki is the CEO and Founder of Glass House PR, an award-winning pan-African PR firm headquartered in Kenya that offers custom public relations solutions across Africa. She founded Glass House PR in 2012 at the age of 23. Mary has worked with more than 100 organisations, including SMEs/SMBs in Africa, African artists, Facebook, Viber, Paxful, Nissan, and African governments such as Zanzibar and Ethiopia among others through her company, Glass House PR. She has mentored entrepreneurs across Africa through “A Billion Startups, a free mentorship programme that educates entrepreneurs about brand visibility and sustainable development. 11 years after launching Glass House PR, Mary Njoki in this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, shares more on her entrepreneurship journey. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and your career journey?
Mary: I grew up in Ngarariga village in Limuru. I finished High school at the age of 16, but my mother could not afford to take me to University. I found solace in acting, doing some gigs at the Kenya National Theatre to hone what I thought was a fledgling acting career. A year later I gained admission in the university to study Information Technology at Graffins College. It was while here, I concentrated on coding. I then got a job with an IT firm as a marketer, then later a Business developer. I then moved to another IT firm as a Business Executive.
Here, I started volunteering at K Krew and I gained my first experience in the media which ignited my love for Public Relations. Soon after, I moved into a PR agency and it was in between my jobs where I enrolled for part time classes at Daystar University Majoring on Public Relations.
Alaba: What sparked your interest to go into PR and how did you launch Glass House PR?
Mary: After my two jobs in the IT industry and while working at the PR agency, I discovered more about PR and I was determined to find my purpose. Deep down I knew the future of PR was on Digital media. I resigned, determined to start my own company. Initially I wanted Glass House to be a social Media company as I understood technology. I started Glass House PR with an initial capital of Sh6,000 from my savings, a laptop, an Internet modem and tons of optimism.
Starting the company was not easy and the first year of business I did a lot of pro-bono jobs but I learnt alot. I then realized that there was a lot of groundwork needed for my company to gain establishment in the industry. I was a member of Business Networking International (BNI) when I was employed and this network and skills also became my capital. Presently, I have worked with tech giants like Viber,Facebook Paxful,Walt Disney Africa among others.
Alaba: What services does your company offer?
Mary: We are a Pan-African PR Agency, offering PR strategies, media relations and management, digital media communications, event management, we are a whole 360 PR agency that help brands tell their stories through different channels to their audiences.
Alaba: Before venturing into entrepreneurship, what lessons did you pick as an employee?
Mary: I have worked with SMEs, directly working with the founders, I learned and picked different lessons which actually formed the basis of the name Glass House PR. There used to be a lack of communication between us and the management, lack of transparency, and over time one realizes you do not need to share everything with everyone. But I felt that was lacking, and from that I learnt that when I start a business, I have to ensure that there is clear communication with all the public that I am dealing with. Working with millennials and GenZ, I realized the importance of employees’ inclusion, sharing with them the vision and allowing them to see themselves in it. After I resigned is when I realized I was just an employee and I was never included.
Alaba: What lessons have you learnt as a female entrepreneur?
Mary: I have learnt that growth is a process that takes time. Keep discovering and learning every day. Becoming a leader is a process, one has to build a community they can learn from, also lead and leave a positive impact on. I have learnt to walk in wisdom and be more discerning, I have learnt to have boundaries and while disrupting the PR industry, I have previously worked through naivety, which is the major challenge women go through but grown out of it. For one to keep growing, one has to communicate their vision while bringing others onboard.
Alaba: Could you share some of your accomplishments so far?
Mary: I have worked with more than 100 organizations, including SMEs/SMBs in Africa, African artists, etc. I have also mentored entrepreneurs across Africa through “A Billion Startups, a free mentorship programme that educates entrepreneurs about brand visibility and sustainable development. I have spearheaded the conversation of the future of finance in Africa through the annual ADFS summit “The Africa Digital Finance Summit”, which is held in conjunction with governments, regulators, start-ups, and thought leaders from around the world in the digital finance and decentralized finance industries. I have won several awards locally and internationally.
Alaba: How has Glass House PR impacted society?
Mary: I came up with a billion startups, we are yet to grow it to where it’s supposed to be. It is a platform where we have been mentoring entrepreneurs and we hope to do more across the world. Glass house PR intends to help these startups tell their stories, get their market share and learn how to position their brands to their audiences. We have also spearheaded certain conversations in the society like the “The future of finance in Africa” through African Digital finance summit; to redefine value exchange in Africa, inviting governments, regulators, stakeholders and private sectors to discuss this.
Alaba: What’s next for Glass house?
Mary: We are getting into a lot of content production and content marketing. We hope to be part of the people who will shape the future of media and how the future of decentralized media will look like.
Alaba: What is your source of inspiration?
Mary: I draw my inspirations from God, I have learnt from him over the years through practice. Everything I do, people or companies I bring on board, things I walk away from, I seek God’s guidance. Any mistake in the past has become a lesson that I have learnt from as a leader.
Alaba: Any advice to someone who wants to venture into PR and entrepreneurship ?
Mary: Pursuing a career in PR can be a rewarding and exciting career choice for those interested in telling authentic brand stories.
Deraya entrepreneurship initiative to boost job creation in Libya
Young entrepreneurs in Libya face many challenges, including accessing markets and financial resources, and navigating regulations and administrative procedures. The Deraya initiative is designed to equip entrepreneurs with the essential know-how to turn innovative ideas into successful startups. The initiative was jointly developed by the Ministry of Local Government (MoLG), and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with the European Union (EU) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Targeting youth and vulnerable groups, Deraya is open to innovative and aspiring entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 35. Through interactive webinars, the initiative’s participants will be given an opportunity to engage with experienced entrepreneurs, subject matter experts, and role models from Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia and learn from their success stories, wealth of knowledge, and expertise. The initiative will also entail startup weekends in Tripoli, Benghazi, Sebha, and Derna, culminating with a pitch competition where the winning startups will receive financial support, financed by EU and AfDB, to further develop, grow, and take their business ideas to the next level. As a critical step towards sustainability, entrepreneurs will be linked to the municipal business incubators being set up with MoLG with UNDP’s technical support.
Commenting on the launch of the programme, Dr. Bader Al-Deen Al-Tomi, Minister of Local Government, said: “The Deraya initiative plays a pivotal role in the Ministry of Local Government’s strategy to develop entrepreneurship and micro-enterprises at the local level, empower municipalities economically, and provide job opportunities in line with Law 592 and Resolution 15003. We are delighted to work towards these goals in cooperation with our international partners, EU, AfDB and UNDP.”
EU Ambassador Mr. José Sabadell added: “Libya’s economic prosperity will be driven by young entrepreneurs with innovative, forward-looking ideas. They will be the key to a more diversified Libyan economy, a strong private sector and new jobs. Together with our Libya and international partners, the European Union therefore seeks to offer strong and concrete support to young Libyan entrepreneurs, to realise their business ideas.”
Mr Mohamed El Azizi, Regional Director for North Africa at the African Development Bank, further commented: “Private sector development is key to boosting economic diversification and job creation in Libya. Supporting the trajectory of young Libyan men and women to develop and grow their start-ups has enormous socio-economic potential and will contribute to job creation. It is also important to ensure an adequate business enabling environment and institutional support. The EEYES project, financed by the AfDB through the Youth Entrepreneurship and Innovation Multidonor Trust Fund, and implemented by UNDP, supports these components.”
UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Marc-André Franche, said: “Libya has a new generation of young people, women and men, with promising capacity and big ambitions. The country has the potential to be one of the biggest entrepreneurial ecosystems in North Africa, and through the Deraya programme, UNDP seeks to help inspire and provide young entrepreneurs with the necessary resources and assets to realise growth and innovation.”
The Deraya programme is part of UNDP’s Local Peacebuilding and Resilience efforts in partnership with MoLG, aimed at creating socio-economic opportunities for youth and vulnerable groups to promote sustainable growth in Libya, including the establishment of the first Municipality-led business incubator and the TEC+ Accelerator programme.
The Deraya initiative, co-funded by AfDB and EU, is designed and implemented in collaboration with a consortium consisting of Flat6Labs, Tatweer Research and MAZAM, bringing in years of experience and specialized knowledge in helping young entrepreneurs launch successful ventures in both the Middle East & Africa regions.
Senegalese Agripreneur says digital marketing key to luxury tea startup success
Senegalese businesswoman Adja Sembene Fall said she had no choice but to launch her start-up business online because her new Contanna fair-trade tea company only had $200 to its name.
“Due to lack of finance, it was not possible to get a physical shop. We started out in the backyard of my brother’s house. We sold our teas via social media for three years,” said Fall. She says her line of luxury brand tea products is about more than taste. Fall says Contanna teas sell a “Senegalese experience” that promotes a women-owned, 100% locally sourced and processed product based on recipes infusing family and cultural traditions.
“Digitizing our buying process was really important. We were also able to present and adjust packaging of our product online, [to emphasize] it was premium and different from what was available in Senegal,” the 29-year-old added.
Contanna says its first year of operations, a focus on Instagram and its website drew $5,000 in online sales. As the online business grew, Fall said, Contanna hit $12,000 in sales and established a community of around 2,000 clients.
Contanna recently opened a pop-up stall at Dakar’s Sea Plaza shopping mall. In January, it was named a winner of the African Development Bank’s AgriPitch Competition, which supports African youth agripreneurs by improving their business bankability and ensuring that they are “pitch ready” for potential investors.
The 2022 AgriPitch competition, which started last October, received nearly 750 complete entries from entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector – or “agripreneurs” – from 38 African countries. The judging panel comprised women- led enterprise support advisory firm, Private Equity Support; the Private Financing Advisory Network, a global network of climate and clean energy financing experts; and EldoHub, an education, innovation, and technology organization targeting youth and women.
The competition, which this year awarded $140,000 in prizes, is a key activity of the Bank’s ENABLE Youth Program.
“African youth have great ideas. It was exciting to see the high level of innovation and passion from these young agripreneurs, particularly the large number of women-owned enterprises like Contanna,” said Edson Mpyisi, the Bank’s Chief Financial Economist and ENABLE Youth Coordinator.
AgriPitch organizers selected 25 semi-finalists, 68% of them women-owned or led businesses, to attend a two-week business development virtual boot camp. The boot camp culminated in a pitch session to judges, who chose 9 agripreneurs to advance to the finals.
“I was pitching in front of my shop – where customers were passing by. They were so encouraging when they discovered that [my business] is a 100% Senegalese company and especially that the founder was a woman,” said Fall. She received $25,000 as the winner in the AgriPitch competition women-owned business category.
Fall says she’ll use part of the prize money to upgrade a digital payment system and for computers and digital skills training for Contanna employees, all women.
“We don’t eschew hiring men. The women were first to apply and were qualified. They currently log their work production and stock building in paper books. We are training them to build capacity to use Google Sheets [and other digital software],” Fall said.
Contanna and the two-dozen other competition finalists will retain access to the AgriPitch “deal room” to avail of post-competition digital expertise, business development, and investor engagement.
“We look forward to working closely with the entrepreneurs in the coming months through individual business advisory support and investor engagement in the deal room,” said Diana Gichaga, Managing Partner at Private Equity Support.
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