Deborah Ogwuche is a published author, food blogger, healthy food advocate and the Founder of Food Channel Africa. She is interested in bringing awareness to healthy traditional diets that have been time- proven and tested to benefit humans. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Deborah shares insights on what inspired her to launch Food Channel Africa, her entrepreneurship journey and how she is promoting African cuisine. Excerpt.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about Food Channel Africa and the gap it’s filling?
Deborah: Africa is blessed with so many natural resources with a diverse and vibrant young population. As its population is dynamic so also is it’s varied nutritious traditional cuisines which is part of our heritage. Food channel Africa TV is a 24-hour food television channel that will showcase traditional cuisines from all over Nigeria and Africa.
Alaba: What was your start-up capital and how were you able to raise it?
Deborah: Up till this point, we have self-funded the venture. It’s quite challenging because when you have a project this big especially being the first of its kind, there is the usual reluctance but we are dogged in our vision to promote our rich nutrition culture and food to the world. Therefore, we believe that adequate funding to actualise the vision is only a matter of time.
Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?
Deborah: The business landscape in Nigeria has experienced growth in the last few years but is still developing and asa woman, a wife and a mum, it’s certainly challenging trying to balance the roles. It is not easy but it is possible!
Growing up I have always done what people said I couldn’t do or shouldn’t do. For instance, my baby was just 7 months old when I founded Food Channel Africa. I faced a lot of doubt and guilt about caring for my baby and trying to build this vison but thankfully I had a solid support system from my family.
Also, as a published author and a food blogger, I know that when you start something big like building the first 24-hour television dedicated to food, tourism and culture there are bound to be bottle- necks. What I did first is build capacity in my area of endeavour, put together a dynamic team who understand the vision and get to work. Therefore, my team and I do not see problems as obstacles but as opportunity for learning. And lastly, I never ever give up.
Alaba: Can you tell us more about your entrepreneurship journey and the learning curves?
Deborah: To be honest I thought writing would be my profession which it was for 4 years as a copywriter and published author. But what I also loved being an entrepreneur. While growing up, my parents and people around me were career professionals so I had no one to model after in terms entrepreneurship.
In spite of that, my entrepreneurial journey started at 17 years old when a friend and I bought a popcorn machine and sold popcorn to people on the streets. That was a learning curve for me because as a young girl, I could see how for instance power supply could help businesses thrive. We roasted the popcorns on generators but every profit we made went into fueling the popcorn machine.
Later in the year I got admission into the university and had to pack up the business but the lessons from that time stayed with me.And the lesson was, without proper infrastructure, businesses will continue to struggle. I have since embarked on more than 5 different businesses up till date.
Alaba: What’s the inspiration behind Food Channel Africa and how are you funding it?
Deborah: Food channel Africa came to be out of a mixture of frustration and passion. Frustration and passion because, we were losing our traditional diet history with our diet becoming increasingly unhealthy. No one was paying attention to the fact that Africa wasn’t just rich in its vast natural resources but also in its delicious, healthy and diverse cuisines. I read extensively about the French diet and so many diets from different regions of the world.
My recent travel to France only cemented the fact that African cuisine is one of the world’s healthiest cuisine and needs to be well- represented on the world’s stage. That’s our mission at Food Channel Africa.This is why we are actively seeking for investment to actualise this great vision.
Alaba: How are you promoting our African foods and culture?
Deborah: Food channel Africa is a 24-hour food television channel solely dedicated to promoting African cuisine, culture and tourism. We are developing programs that will not only showcase different traditional meals and how they prepared but also show the deep and rich culture of different African locality, the history behind some of the popular cuisines and the people’s cultural heritage. Food Channel Africa will be informative, educative and entertaining.
It will also boost the food industry in Africa and encourage the youth to pursue culinary education as a career. We would make Michelin stars out of cooks and chefs, people who will in turn take Africa to the world.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Deborah: I feel blessed being an African entrepreneur in this time because of a lot of opportunities opened up to entrepreneurs in the continent. The government and other organization’s drive to open up opportunities to African entrepreneurs especially women in terms of investment is commendable. However, I feel foreign investment shouldn’t be too restrictive to only fin-tech and online ventures.
The food industry and media industry are at a pivotal point as regards development in Nigeria and investors should be encouraged to invest in these areas because of the abounding opportunities and growth in that sector. The media industry is also seeing a lot of development because recently Nigeria converted from the analogue model to digital freeing up a lot of white space for content producers like Food Channel Africa.
Alaba: How can government best support entrepreneurs in Africa?
Deborah: The government’s economic initiatives aimed at empowering entrepreneurs is commendable but more work needs to be done. Incentives and legislation that encourages foreign investments and improve access to credit and loan facilities should be enacted. The government should provide infrastructure and economic enablers like tax incentives for small and medium scale enterprises. A safe and working society is also vital in ensuring business growth and development.
Alaba: What’s your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and investors in Africa?
Deborah: My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs in Africa is invest in yourself by building capacity in your chosen endeavour. Don’t use short-cuts or fall into the trap of making money quickly. Do your due diligence and don’t lose focus. If you bring a product in to the market for example, stick to the standard or improve don’t cut corner because you want more turn-overs. Integrity in business is priceless and rewarding so have integrity. Don’t settle for less and keep innovating!
My advice to investors is the best time to invest in African businesses is now. Don’t be left out!
Alaba: What inspires you and keeps you going?
Deborah: I believe true success is not how many material wealth you acquire but the number of people you impacted. What keeps me going is knowing that I am directly impacting so many lives and building a legacy that is bigger than me and would outlive me.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Deborah: I relax by reading. I love reading about history and biographies of great men and women. Give me a nice chilled (natural) drink, a snack and a good book and I’m as good as new. Cooking also helps me relax and is therapeutic for me.
B I O G R A P H Y
Deborah Ogwuche is the creative director and founder of Food Channel Africa, a 24-hour television channel dedicated to showcasing African cuisines. She is a published author, a food blogger and a healthy food advocate.
Black Canadians making travel safer for women by helping them rent spaces from other women with Femmebnb
Femmebnb Inc. Co-Founders, Yaa Birago and Diana Obeng (Source: Yaa Birago)
Dismayed by her solo travel experience in 2017, Yaa Birago made it her goal to curate a safe space where like-minded women travel enthusiasts can come together to plan, book, meet, talk, and share everything about travel. Softly launched amidst pandemic, Femmebnb Inc. is the first-ever social networking short-term vacation rental service powered by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) travel assistant that is at the forefront of reshaping ‘Women’s travel experience’, once the world reopens.
After being sexually harassed in-front of her airbnb apartment in Rome, and receiving no support from her male bnb host, Yaa Birago – CEO and co-founder of Femmebnb Inc., felt unsafe and unpleasant for the rest of her trip. This is exactly what was told to her when she announced her solo travel to her family – it’s unsafe! With this experience and the urge to change the travel horizon for women, the idea of Femmebnb sprung in her mind.
The validation of a need to have a platform and community that is solely for women travellers & hosts came from a survey initiated by Femmebnb where over 229 women shared that they would feel more secure knowing their host is a female, and that the rental is booked via a platform that deeply understands these concerns. This is the reason why Femmebnb has already received over 3000 registrations by women from 60 countries on the platform despite the travel industry being on hold due to COVID-19.
Source: Yaa Birago
“Being a hodophile, I was extremely disappointed when my solo travel to Europe turned out to be a nightmare as I faced sexual & street harassment. Upon receiving no support from my male bnb host when I discussed the incident with him, I realised that a female host would have naturally been more emphatic. This, combined with the help I attained from a female companion in France with whom I had merely chatted on Facebook before my travels, affirmed that we need to curate a safe social networking vacation rental space for only women where common concerns can be addressed and resolved together. This embarked the idea of Femmebnb in 2017. After 3 years of persistence and determination, fused with technology, creativity and research, we have finally launched and are ready to change ‘her travel experience’. – Yaa Birago, CEO & Co-Founder, Femmebnb Inc.
When Yaa proposed the idea to an old ally Diana Obeng, she jumped in right away to co-found the company with her.
Diana Obeng, Co-Founder, Femmebnb Inc. – “As a woman, I shouldn’t have to hope and pray that my safety is not at risk when I am planning to travel solo in a new country, but unfortunately, that’s the first thought that comes to mind. I cannot downplay that women fear their safety over every other concern related to traveling alone. Hence, when Yaa proposed the idea of curating a safe space for women travelers, I jumped on board in a heartbeat. We are determined and have invested every bit of our soul into this project and I am excited to help reshape ‘women travel experience’.”
Femmebnb is an exclusive membership platform, ensuring that every member on the platform is vetted. The verification process consists of 5 steps: email, phone, government ID, property documentation/utility bill and/or video verification. The on-site personality video feature facilitates trust and credibility between the host and guest. For the time being, a one-time subscription fee of $4.99 has been waived off the platform, making it free for all to register!
Source: Yaa Birago
A portion of every transaction made on the site for bookings goes towards providing menstrual equity, menstrual hygiene education and menstrual products to girls in Africa as a means to help eradicate period poverty.
(By woman/women, Femmebnb Inc. means anyone who identifies as a woman, non-binary, gender-fluid or non-conforming (womxn).
Yaa Birago’s Short Bio
Source: Yaa Birago
Yaa Birago is a tech entrepreneur, Co-founder and CEO of FemmeBnB Inc.; the first social networking vacation and short-term rental platform that allows women to rent their spaces to other women in hopes of maximizing safety, peace of mind and comfort, along with AI- Powered Travel Companion to help women plan their trip from start to end. She started the company to provide safe space and peace of mind for women travelers after she had a terrifying experience as a solo traveler in Rome.
Yaa holds a B.A degree in Criminology and Sociology from the University of Windsor but her passion for tech, women and children advancement led her into the Information Technology and Non-Profit sector for the past 11 years. Yaa is also the Co-Founder and President of Hands of a Hero Foundation (HOHF), a non-profit organization that provides mentorship, leadership, and career development programs for youth and children in Canada and Ghana. Yaa was a recipient of Global Impact Award and Women’s Courage International Award.
She was named as a Black Canadian Role Model and Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada. In addition, she was selected as Top30 under30 Pioneers by FOG and in March 2020, she was recognized as WOCStar Woman to Watch. Moreover, Yaa was recently recognized as the TOP 20 Women CEOs in Vacation Rental Tech by VR Tech and the Top 25 Women in the Travel Industry by TravelPulse.
Yaa is passionate and enthusiastic about travel technology, women travel safety, sustainable travel, and improving women’s travel experiences across the globe.
Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant creating the French Experience with an African twist
Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant, Chinedu Rita Rosa (Photo: Roger Das)
Most times when you think of a French wine expert, especially in Bordeaux, a strong-willed, driven and passionate Black Woman doesn’t come first to mind.
Chinedu Rita Rosa is making waves in the Bordeaux wine community. As a Nigerian Black Woman in her 40’s, she is a rare and long-overdue sight in the wine industry. Over the past six years, she has built a home in Bordeaux with her two teenage daughters and French husband.
For over 20 years Rosa has been active in the wine industry, though she came into the wine business by chance, as an unofficial adviser to her late husband selecting wines for importation into Nigeria. Originally working as a banker, wine did not become her profession until the passing away of her late husband in 2008 who was a Lebanese businessman.
In 2008 she returned to Nigeria and worked with her late Husband’s Friends in XO Wine Store as a Manager where she was in charge of organizing various wine events, teaching wine appreciation, and increasing the selection of wines from all over France. She did all this with minimal professional experience. She likes to put it into simple terms that anyone could relate to, “ I learnt while drinking on the job!”
With Nigeria being a beer-drinking society it was not an easy sell for wines, when she first started, although it was a delightful process, Rosa mentioned. She witnessed, ChiChi (as she is fondly called by her friends) mentioned. She witnessed, seeing the shift of peoples’ opinions about wine, especially when she found the right wine to pair with a client’s palette. Meeting people and discerning their taste and discovering their wine preference is an art that she is passionate about.
“As the years went by, it became much easier to match wines with clients taste” said Rosa. It was during this time that she also acquired knowledge of wine importation, wholesales, retailing and grassroots marketing strategies due to the distribution network of XO Wine stores.
After her first year, Rosa knew this was a profession that she would like to pursue, she continued studying, tasting and enjoyed experimenting with wine tasting pairings. She turned her wine education into a social circle with clients and friends who were also wine lovers. For her, these were some of the most rewarding best moments of her wine career.
Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant, Chinedu Rita Rosa (Photo: Roger Das)
She discovered how African foods reacted to different grape varieties and from different wine regions, not forgetting Champagne. She boosts “ If you haven’t tried eating àsun or suya with red wine, you must; it is not to be missed”
It was important to ensure sure that all her knowledge of wine and the industry was accredited, which led her to Bordeaux, where she learned about the technical side of winemaking, regions, and styles. Chinedu found herself the only black and African student for the entire term of the course. In the first step of her official wine studies, received a certification from the school of wine in Bordeaux “Ecole Du Vin.” She is a true believer that the best wines come from Bordeaux.
A fabulous wine lovers group was established in the spirit of the numerous tastings and to date, it exists in Lagos exclusively for members of the XO Family.
Continuing her wine education journey in Bordeaux was a dream and when she decided to re-marry and move to France there was no second-guessing where she was going to call home. Chinedu says,” Naija women are born Entrepreneurs.”This drove her ambition and she ventured into media marketing, blogging, and vlogging in the wine world of Bordeaux, and she also created a networking community where she is the president of like-minded people and entrepreneurs from all over the world that has settled in Bordeaux. The Bordeaux Business Network has over 1000 members and is a thriving support community for expat entrepreneurs.
In Bordeaux, Chinedu has become known as the black lady who is invited everywhere and also hosts a lot of events (not unlike in Lagos!) due to her professional commitments. She attends most wine and entrepreneurial events in the Bordeaux metropolis and is easily distinguishable as a black businesswoman with a glowing smile.
Does this bother her? She has mixed feelings on the subject, Chinedu takes no issues with being the ONLY anywhere, it is a testament to her African upbringing after all. “‘Naija no dey, carry last,” she says. and Being yourself and standing out is important, but she is driven to encourage other black entrepreneurs and young people to come into this profession, where she believes the possibilities are endless.
Chinedu is a distinguished WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) certification, holder. Her wine knowledge spans the process of winemaking to marketing and exportation. She had envisioned that there would be more people of color in the wine industry with her qualifications that she could connect with on a cultural level but she is still left searching. She hopes that this will start to change soon.
Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant, Chinedu Rita Rosa and friends (Photo: Roger Das)
As the founder of VINES BY ROSA, an import and marketing company based in Bordeaux she now collaborates with amazing brands, representing them in African Markets. Some of her most notable representations include: CHATEAU DAUZAC, MARGAUX GRAND CRU CLASSE, HINCH IRISH WHISKEY, NINTH WAVE GIN, LGI WINES. These brands are Winemakers that tailor to the African Market specifically creating labels and even Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne.
Always thinking about the future Chinedu wants to continue to build on her passion, education, and dedication, increasing the quality of wines and spirits being imported into Africa and propelling wine appreciation in the continent. She is on a mission to demystify the art of wine tasting and bring good wine to every table at the right price. In the process of this journey, she hopes to inspire other black men and women to join the wine industry and looks to the day where she is not the, I am almost always the only professional BLACK (Woman) at tasting events and business functions, especially here in Bordeaux. “I want to change that,” she ends.
Taking it one- step at a time to secure long-overdue space for aspiring Black women in the wine industry, through the success of Vines By Rosa, she hopes to inspire more people to take their passion and dreams forward.
Vetwork Inc, MENA’s leading startup for animal care is bringing petcare to your home
Vetwork Inc Founders, Abdelreheem Hussein and Fady Azzouny (Source: Vetwork)
Pets today are considered family members, best friends, confidants, and so much more. Taking care of them requires more than just love and dedication, but also the right knowledge to recognize when something is not right. Vetwork Inc, MENA’s leading startup for animal care industry one country at a time and its mission is to make pets healthier, pet owners happier. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Fady Azzouny Founder and CEO of Vetwork Inc talked about his entrepreneurship journey, his vision for petcare with Vetwork and the future plan. Excerpts.
Alaba: Why did you start and what’s the passion behind it?
Fady: Petcare should be easy, as it stands its full of inefficiencies for both pet parents and vets. Instead of a crowded clinic with a waiting time of 30-45 minutes, vets come to you at home at the time you choose. Rather than try to muster up a massive amount of money to fund a clinic, vets can practice their services without any initial cost and make extra money to live a better life.
The vision of regulating the petcare industry involves a lot of innovation, our dream is to use the available technologies to make everyone’s lives easier and right now we’re on the right track.
Alaba: What is your background?
Fady: I graduated as a veterinarian, but I consider myself an entrepreneur. I saw some problems in the veterinary market while I was still studying and started a bunch of projects, with a few of them turning into medium sized companies. My initial problem was the absence of technology in my solutions, with Vetwork I think we can really achieve my vision of making petcare easier.
Alaba: What are the problems you are solving and what is your value proposition?
Fady: Its simple, we are solving the problem of finding a good vet by selecting our vets from a pool of more than 1000 annual applications. And the problem of waiting in the clinic through Home visits available 24/7. Also, we are addressing Vets problems of low wages and salaries by offering them easy access to extra income.
Vetwork is reliable, affordable and available petcare.
Alaba: Tell us more about the process, users, business model!
Fady: As we stand the process is the same across Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate (UAE). We onboarded more than 300 vets across these three countries. These vets help us cater to our customer’s needs. A pet parent can log into our website or app and request a service at the time of their choosing. A vet will be assigned and introduced to the client.
The vet will then arrive, conduct the visit and deliver a detailed orientation on the tips and tricks of petcare. Our medical records also allow us to follow-up with our pet parents to make sure that everything is going according to plan and their pet is getting better.
Alaba: What are your main challenge?
Fady: Since we promise to deliver all your pets needs to you, finding the right groomers, trainers, vets and boarding facilities is always a challenge due to our strict onboarding guidelines.
Alaba: What is your achievements and coming plan?
Fady: After launching in three countries our plan is to start expanding further into the MENA region and build our presence in the countries that need us the most. Our tech infrastructure allows us to launch in any country in a matter of days and we plan to take advantage of this to test markets and become your pets partner anywhere in the Middle East.
Alaba: Do you think the ecosystem support you?
Fady: Ideas and mentorship, we’re always happy to learn and listen to other people’s ideas on how we can make petcare an easier process. We try our best to promote pet adoption since a lot of shelters are full of pets that need a home. Access to people with a wider audience can surely help us deliver our message to the people that need us the most.