Oceanhub Africa Team
OceanHub Africa, founded by Alexis Grosskopf and Stéphanie Canac is an organisation based in Cape-Town, South Africa that aims to accelerate the development and adoption of ocean-minded innovations, to unleash the power of African ocean innovators and place Cape Town at the forefront of a more sustainable ocean economy. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Alexis and Stéphanie shared their journey and vision to be the movement that inspires more ocean-conscious entrepreneurs and form the tribe that demonstrates the commercial viability of an ocean-minded economy. Excerpt.
OceanHub Africa OHA and problem its solving:
OceanHub Africa was launched in July 2019. It is a non-profit ocean-impact catalyst initiative, supporting ocean-impact ventures in Africa through online acceleration programs and leading an international ocean-minded ecosystem. The organisation is a response to pressing ocean challenges. Having realised that there were B2C organisations in the ocean impact space raising people’s awareness and shifting individual behaviours, some B2G organisations lobbying policy-makers to regulate for ocean conservation, but limited to no B2B organisations helping ocean businesses reduce their impact and support their transition towards a sustainable ocean economy (or Blue Economy).
This, combined with the fact that Cape Town – where OHA was initially launched- sits virtually at the crossroads of three oceans, has good business and entrepreneurship support, strong Marine Science universities and an appeal for sustainable development. It appeared highly relevant to launch OHA.
Set milestones, achievements and impact:
Our mission is to inspire and assist innovative impact start-ups and nurture an environmentally conscious and profitable economy that would effectively mitigate the oceans’ over exploitation, pollution as well as the effects of global warming on the oceans. The first acceleration programme was successfully completed in 2020 despite the challenges and saw 6 startups of different stages (prototyping to growth stage), technologies (digital and hardware) and industries (aquaculture/fisheries, shipping/ship-building, marine renewables/biotechnologies, coastal tourism/ocean-sports, awareness/education) graduating during the Ocean Innovation Africa Summit in Nov 2020.
Our second cohort started earlier in April with 6 new promising African-based, ocean-minded, impact-for-profit innovative businesses.
OHA is supported by a range of partners such as WWF, Mission Blue, 1% for the planet, Dassault Systèmes, Amazon, Sigfox, the V&A Waterfront, French and African Diplomacies, and International Universities. It is a founding partner of the 1000 Ocean Startups coalition to accelerate Ocean Impact Innovation, bringing together the global ecosystem of incubators, accelerators, competitions, matching platforms and VCs supporting startups for ocean impact. Our objective is to scale at least 1000 transformative startups by the end of the Ocean Decade to restore ocean health and achieve SDG14.
Oceans are a common good which means that we need all stakeholders onboard to achieve and sustain our impact. Bringing organisations together and setting common objectives has proven challenging at times but that was the reason for launching Ocean Innovation Africa, a platform bringing authorities, universities/research centres, investors/entrepreneurs, foundations/NPOs and ocean industries together with the objectives to inspire more entrepreneurs, entice more private investors and catalyse more partnerships, and ultimately to accelerate the development and adoption of new sustainable technologies and policies to place the African continent at the forefront of a decidedly more sustainable ocean economy.
Self-funded from the start, we are client-funded through consultancy projects and success fees on fund raises or commercial contracts for the startups we accelerate. That being said, we are looking for funding to support our growth.
COVID-19, business and survival strategy:
Initially, OHA was supposed to be an in-person program – enabled by the support of the V&A Waterfront. But our first cohort started in April 2020 when lockdowns were gradually placing our global economy on hold. We had to pivot in a matter of weeks to a fully online, more localised (SA) program and review our financing model. Indeed, regarding the latter, we had hoped to raise marketing and open innovation sponsorships from corporations to finance our activities but these two budgets were frozen in the face of the uncertain future of the then recent outbreak.
At that stage, we started our first consulting project – thanks to the support and trust of our partners, in particular the V&A Waterfront and WWF South Africa.
On current projects:
We are currently accelerating 6 startups from Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania and South Africa, as well as continuing our support in the form of an Alumni Program to our first cohort of 6 (all South African startups). In parallel, we are delivering on a couple of consulting projects to promote and support coastal community projects in the South West Indian Ocean region, as well as another one on plastic pollution.
Finally, we are working on setting up an African Ocean Impact Fund – but still a long way to go.
Ocean economy development in Africa:
Oceans are the life support of our planet. They drive our climate, provide food and water to all living things, and connect our continents. The annual value of the global Ocean’s Economy (formal and informal) is estimated at $2.5 trillion and is expected to grow substantially, doubling by 2030. However, our societies are already generating tremendous stress and strain onto these ecosystems and this vast untapped economic potential needs to be addressed in a radically more sustainable manner. We believe it is down to businesses to implement that change and up us to promote more Oceans-conscious innovative businesses: innovations led by science, technology and entrepreneurship will provide the necessary leverage points to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), at the right pace and scale.
Africa offers a particularly high potential in terms of Blue Economy developments, paving the way to ocean community-based resource management and offering an ideal ground to test and scale impact innovation. Africa’s ocean economy – three times the size of its landmass – is on top of the continent’s political agenda and seen to be a major contributor to continental transformation and growth of industries such as fisheries and aquaculture, marine renewables and bio-technologies, boat building and shipping, coastal tourism and ocean-sports, etc. The development of the Blue Economy is an immensely important first step towards creating Sustainable Development pathways and this is what OceanHub Africa (OHA) and the Ocean Innovation Africa event (OIA) do.
The future for OHA:
Growing our network of partners in African coastal cities to support our pan-African growth and impact. And of course, setting up our accelerator fund.
F O U N D E R S B I O G R A P H P Y
Alexis Grosskopf is the co-founder and CEO of OceanHub Africa. His desire to build this startup incubator, specializing in technologies that have a positive impact on the ocean, was born out of his entrepreneurial and technological skills, his determination to tackle issues related to environmental protection and his identification of a real need to develop solutions that support blue growth.
Alexis holds a degree in mechanical engineering, business management and environmental engineering from the Universities of King’s College and Imperial College in London. His career has revolved around the themes of innovation and sustainable development, starting with research on solar hydrogen production, then moving on to consulting in environmental engineering and management at Bureau Veritas before joining Bouygues Construction as head of Research, Development and Innovation in the renovation sector.
His activity then turned towards the development of innovations through entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. In 2017, he moved to South Africa to take charge of the activities of the French South African Tech Labs, an incubator with social impact in the field of information technology, before diving into the oceans with OceanHub Africa in 2019.
Stéphanie Canac is the co-founder of OceanHub Africa. Stéphanie co-created and implemented the acceleration program (content, tools, partnerships, mentors, application and selection process, etc.) and she has a mentoring role with accelerated startups. She participates in consolidating the local and global ecosystem, having in particular co-created the first international coalition of entrepreneurial support organizations focusing on ocean impact innovation (incubators / accelerators and VC funds) and representing the initiative in front of various institutions, such as the United Nations.
Stéphanie has former experience as portfolio manager at Silvertree Holdings, Cape-Town based VC fund (1.5 yr), supporting management teams on strategic decisions, setting up/ scaling operations and raising funds and as strategy consultant at A.T. Kearney (3 yrs), working across industries on strategic, operational and organizational projects as well as strategic due-diligences. She is a graduate from a MSc in Economics and Strategy for Business from Imperial College London and from a Master in Corporate Finance from Dauphine university in Paris.
Avila Diana Chidume: Building Greeting Cards and Gifts Platform for the Underrepresented
Avila Diana Chidume, Founder Avila.Diana (Image: Avila.Diana)
Avila Diana Chidume is a creative entrepreneur following a dream she had nursed since age 6, which is to have her own greetings card company. Growing up she struggled to find diverse cards, so she would make them herself using crayons and scrap paper.
In 2018, during her studies whilst in second year at Law school, she began creating again and founded Avila.Diana. With the goal to overcome stereotypes and change the world’s perceptions on underrepresented communities. This was achieved with the help of her brothers, mom’s living room table initially, and her remaining £32 for that semester.
Avila.Diana is a greeting card and gift platform created for people from ethnic minority backgrounds, the LGBTQ+ community, and people living with disabilities. A brand built to celebrate diversity and representation. With the majority of these cards designed by artists from these backgrounds.
In 2020 the dream was taken to the next level when she launched the World’s First Online global marketplace for diverse and representative greeting cards and gifts named, Kutenda. This was done in collaboration with Avila’s co-founder and younger brother, Nyasha. They discovered that large retailers either ignore ‘minority’ artists or steal their ideas, so through Avila.Diana they strive to provide these artists with the platform and support they need to grow.
Avila has always been passionate about helping people and has been trying to figure out how best to do so. She is very outspoken about her beliefs and mission on inclusivity with people. Inclusivity and its benefits. She engages people in topics which are uncomfortable such as race and mental health amongst the Black community. Avila is passionate about highlighting marginalized creatives creating their own diverse cards from different communities and celebrating their work. Her love for human rights and art have led her to where she is today.
Rhoda Aguonigho: Building a Fashion Hub for African Creatives to Create, Connect and Collaborate
Rhoda Aguonigho is a Fashion entrepreneur and cultural & creative industry advocate who is very passionate about the Creative industry in Africa. As a consultant, she has worked with several fashion entrepreneurs, teaching them how to launch their businesses and achieve their brand goals. As a project manager she has worked on some of Africa’s top fashion events and programs like Lagos Fashion Week, Lagos Fashion Awards, The Leap Project and many more. Rhoda is the Founder of Lhaude Fashion network an organization that creates opportunities for emerging Fashion Talents and the Creative Director of Rholabel. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, she speaks on her journey as a fashion entrepreneur and her passion for the creative and fashion industry. Excerpts.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself and your brand, Lhaude?
Rhoda: My name is Rhoda Aguonigho and I am a fashion entrepreneur. My work in the fashion industry includes consulting, project management and also running a couple of fashion businesses. I am currently the founder of Lhaude Fashion Network. A fashion organization that creates opportunities for emerging fashion startups and creatives across Nigeria and Africa to thrive and grow. We do this via our various initiatives and our digital community platform. We run a digital hub that is currently home to over two hundred creatives across Nigeria and we are spreading that to Africa in the next couple of months.
Alaba: What attracted you to the fashion industry and what do you intend to achieve?
Rhoda: Honestly, I don’t think there was a major thing for me except that when I was pretty much young, I just watched a lot of lifestyles and my interest in the fashion industry was more of wanting to design outfits. Then, I started styling, writing and then grew into becoming a magazine fashion editor, I started to do project management, working at fashion events, etc, and that is how I have grown in the industry.
I intend to achieve an ecosystem in Africa where the fashion business is sustainable and profitable, a system where creatives get constant opportunities to grow and thrive, where there is no gap between the emerging creatives and the top professionals.
Alaba: What were your initial challenges starting off?
Rhoda: I would say the first challenge was access. At the time I started, I was in school, and not in Lagos which is the fashion capital. I was running a fashion organization and needed fashion experts. But things started to get better as I finished school and was able to get into the fashion industry fully with a job.
Another challenge would be funding. You don’t have a lot of organisations giving grants or funds to fashion businesses or initiatives. Being an organization putting together events, initiatives, and needed funds to execute them. There was no amount that we could charge the participants that would cover the cost.
Alaba: How have you attracted members and grown the organisation from the start?
Rhoda: value! People gravitate to where value is given. From the very beginning, in 2017 when we had our first event which took place in ile-ife, Osun State. We had the Style infidel and a fashion designer – Samuel Noon come down to ile-ife. It was a Lhaude network cocktail and a networking session between grassroots, emerging grassroots creatives, and fashion experts. We have various initiatives, a business incubator program, business advisory and mentorship schemes.
Alaba: What issues have proved to be the most challenging in your attempt to help support fashion designers in Nigeria?
Rhoda: I would say a mindset problem, which comes from lack of proper fashion education. Some of these creatives you are trying to help grow are not even as invested as you are in the development of their businesses. I mean we have those with great mindsets, but to a large extent, especially local creatives who have not had the opportunity to be exposed to the fashion business properly or on a large scale. They don’t see the importance of certain things like PR, Accounting and Bookkeeping, Business models, the core business part of fashion.
Alaba: How has technology impacted the fashion industry?
Rhoda: A lot of things are changing, gone are the days when you have to travel abroad for International fashion courses. You can sit in the comfort of your room and access courses with coursemates across the world. Technology is helping to widen access to the market, improve collaboration among fashion enthusiasts, experts and make the fashion community across the world much closer.
Another way is how technology is cutting down on waste. With 3D fashion, designers don’t have to create a physical collection to present. They can do it via 3D and clients select what they want and the designer makes the actual pieces. But in situations where people don’t like it or people don’t receive it, those samples are wasted.
Alaba: The term Fashiontech is still quite new. What is your opinion on this invention?
Rhoda: Yes, Fashion tech is quite new and I am so excited because the possibilities are limitless. Initially, it was just on the e-commerce level, connecting and building networks. But then it grew to 3D and now NFTs. I see innovations coming out of the fashion and tech industry and feel like there is still so much to learn and catch up with.
I mean, Africa, Nigeria, in particular is still growing but I don’t think we are doing so badly. I think orientation is getting so better, people are getting more aware, adjusting and beginning to adapt to technology in their fashion businesses. We still need more education on FashionTech, this is one of the things Lhaude is actually looking into more for next year.
Alaba: Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern fashion industry?
Rhoda: One of the things that excite me is the Fashion Tech like I mentioned in the previous question. The fact that innovation is limitless. I am so excited about the innovation, new ideas, new technology that are to come out from fashion with technology. Another thing is how as an African, there are no limitations to how you can express your creativity or culture, there are no border limitations, because of tech, we can express it to the whole world.
The third thing is building community. It is so amazing when you meet people from other cultures or countries who are interested in similar things as you. That is, as a fashion executive in Lagos, I can connect with a fashion executive or designer in London, Scotland, Australia, etc and we are building communities connected by our passion and drive for creativity, regardless of cultural differences.
Alaba: Where do you see Lhaunde Fashion Network and the Nigerian Fashion Industry in the next 5 years?
Rhoda: I see Lhaude being Africa’s foremost fashion community. The fashion hub where creatives across Africa and the globe plugin to Create, Connect and Collaborate. I definitely see Lhaude building a world-class hub for fashion creatives, where they get access to everything they need to build, to thrive, and to grow.
I see the Nigerian Fashion industry as one of the leading fashion industries across the world. An industry that will be known for innovation, creativity, and originality. With a rich culture and creative people leading the fashion sphere across the world.
Alaba: What piece of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Rhoda: My advice to them is, be resilient and innovative. I would say to not give up, be resilient and do not just be comfortable with the state of your business or your business idea, constantly innovate, constantly grow. The idea for Lhaude came in 2016 and it didn’t start until 2017. At that time, I was still in college. It was quite difficult running an organization and building a career simultaneously.
Kevine Kagirimundu: The Rwandan crafting eco friendly and fashionable footwear from recycled car tyres
Kevine Kagirimundu, CEO UZURI K&Y
UZURI K&Y is an African inspired shoe brand and manufacturer established in Rwanda since 2013. The company was founded by two women entrepreneurs (Kevine & Ysolde) who met at the University while studying Creative Designs. The two young women simply believed that it would be ideal to gather knowledge and create a common mission. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola speaks with Kevine Kagirimundu, the Co-Founder and CEO on her entrepreneurship journey into sustainability and fashion, why she is preserving the environment, supporting community and creating jobs through her eco friendly shoe brand. Excerpts.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself and your entrepreneurship journey?
Kevine: My entrepreneurship journey started when I was a young girl, I used to re-sew grandma’s clothes, no money came from it, just passion. When I joined university I changed my major from “Engineering to Creative & Environmental built”, it was an important step to starting my journey, I was 19 years old and determined as I started gathering ideas in a book, during that time I also met my co-founder Ysolde Shimwe.
Alaba: What attracted you into sustainability and fashion?
Kevine: I come from a creative family of painters, poets and writers. I loved hand making things and I thought that creating was really my passion, with that I really wanted to add a meaningful value that will bring positive change in my community; that’s why our company is part of the circular economy with a focus on waste management.
Alaba: What’s the inspiration behind your brand, UZURI K&Y and the problems it is set to address?
Kevine: UZURI K&Y is an African inspired eco friendly shoe brand with a vision to brand Africa as an origin of sustainable fashion items on the global market. It was established in Rwanda in 2013 by two university friends Ysolde shimwe & Kevine Kagirimundu with a purpose to solve the environment and unemployment issues in their community.
The company’s core problem that it’s solving focuses on recycling the wastes of car tires where everyday in sub saharan Africa, over one million of them are dumped in landfills and sometimes taking up space from inhabited and vulnerable neighborhoods. In addition to that, it takes up to 80 years for a rubber tire to decompose while polluting water, air and even become nurseries for mosquitoes that carry diseases. Furthermore, in Africa the youth makes 60% of the total unemployment rate and young women are more likely to be unemployed even more often than young men.
In order to tackle these issues we craft viable solutions to recycle car tyres to make functional and fashionable footwear for conscious millennial consumers. The company is also currently running its own production facility, four retail stores and using ecommerce to reach international customers. It is also equipping the youth with practical and soft skills to increase their potential of securing jobs or even creating small businesses. So far, 1,065 youth have been trained and among those 70% are women and 10 have started small businesses.
Alaba: How have you been able to attract customers and build the company till date?
Kevine: Our customers are women who seek shop eco products. Our strategy is to use storytelling via social media channels, we also set to offer a wonderful experience via our retail spaces.
Alaba: What challenges did you run into starting out?
Kevine: I would say there are 3 major challenges as we started: lack of skilled labour, dominated market with second hand and imports and access to finance.
Alaba: Are there other areas that UZURI K&Y is aiming to be more sustainable?
Kevine: We have confidence that we shall be able to brunch into a more diverse range of products, such as sustainable sneaker and even turning the wastes into more useful products.
Alaba: One of the things that stood out on your platform was your intense screening process for each item. Can you explain why you decided to go with this process and what it actually involves?
Kevine: We developed techniques and ways to safely produce our products and it has become our unique proposition. It is an advantage and very important to our customers.
Alaba: Is your brand gender inclusive? What is the importance of gender inclusion in the brand’s choices?
Kevine: Yes, it is important with a special focus on creating jobs for women who are often left behind in different fields. Inclusivity is crucial for the entire world to fight gender inequality, we are proud to be part of this change.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Kevine: I believe that entrepreneurs will be the key pioneers to changing the African continent, It feels like being part of a history book!
Alaba: Where do you see UZURI K&Y in terms of products and markets in the next 5 years?
Kevine: A household African brand, with a tremendous impact on the youth through skills transfer and entrepreneurship.
Alaba: Finally, what’s your advice to budding entrepreneurs, especially females in the sustainability and fashion industry?
Kevine: Trust yourself that you can do it!
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