Risper A. Opiyo is the Founder and CEO of BINTI AFRIQUE, a beauty and cosmetics company. Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, she is a budding entrepreneur currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in International Business Administration at the United States International University Africa. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Risper shares her passion for fashion, entrepreneurship and how her brand is impacting her community and her plans to penetrate the East African market with her products. Excerpt.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about your business and the role you play.
Risper: I had great passion for fashion and started BINTI AFRIQUE. I did most first runway show in MARCH 2015 and that’s how my entrepreneurial journey started. I have been on and off the runway and in 2018 I opened up a beauty and cosmetic shop with little savings that I got which was hardly enough and I had to raise the funds on my own. I had run out of options I tried borrowing from friends and family only to end up being ignored. I felt deeply hurt but I didn’t give up.
My role as a CEO is to allocate capital for the business operations and this is one hectic affair. Most banks are afraid of putting their money into startups and the whole process is like climbing Mount Everest. Apart from raising capital, my job is to make sure the products are 100% natural and do what they are meant to do. I also have to set strategy and direction for the company and model the company’s structure.
Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
Risper: I invested $375, funds that I got from my mum and uncle in the name of school project. This were funds for the fashion label and in 2018 when I opened the Beauty and cosmetics shop, All attempt to borrow money failed and I kept asking myself what shall I do? A few days later as I was heading home, I came up with a great idea on how I was going to raise funds in order to purchase stocks for the beauty shop, I started a self˗help savings group for small business within my neighborhood. I approached 20 small business men and women who were just shopkeepers, cyber café owners, boutique owners and other ran small restaurants. I sold them the idea of us putting our money together that $2 per day and within 7 days we give it to one member until the whole rotation was complete.
Luckily for me 15 agreed and the total amount I got within that week was $210. With this sum, I was ready to take over the world. The business started picking up slowly then all of a sudden the government banned the use of some cosmetics body creams, soaps and lotions which were proved to contain traces of mercury and hydroquinone which may lead to skin cancer in the long run. I and other beauty business had no other choice but to dispatch those creams as fast as we could or else we could face a long jail term or even risked paying a huge fine. Day after day customers came streaming in and were asking for better substitutes for the harmful creams they were using and I had to do a research .
This was where I saw a great opportunity right before my eyes and grabbed it with my own hands and ran with it. My idea was to make the best alternative body cosmeceutical creams using organic ingredients. And there LUXE INDULGENCE BY BINTI AFRIQUE was born. Our first generation products have been luxurious Face masks, Beauty soaps, whipped body butter and chebe hair products. Our products helps in solving beauty problems like pimples, acne, rashes, uneven skin tone, dark spots and age spots. Also we offer solutions for hair loss, thin hair and hairline problems which millions and millions of African women are seeking solutions for.
Alaba: What are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?
Risper: This challenges started while I was growing up. I was raised by a single mother after the death of my dad in 2002. It was a struggle seeing us through school but I was determined to leave a legacy behind. This kept pushing me forward to being a better version of myself.
The company has faced so many challenges just like any other. Lack of enough capital is a great pain in the neck as it always slows down the business. Sometimes compensating my team is a problem and at one time this shook the stability of the company. I had to think outside the box and wrote an agreement that the team will be paid 30% commission on every sale they make as the company cannot still forfeit salary yet.
Another challenge is that the market is super saturated with well-established and upcoming competitors who slightly under price the products and this gets so frustrating. However, we are doing research and developing our “hero” product something that the market would love. Another notable challenge is limited working space and warehouse. We operate our business at my mum’s small backyard as it is rent free but comes with lots of limitations in the production process.
Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of Africa?
Risper: BINTI AFRIQUE is slowly and surely contributing to the development of Africa in the following ways:
Creating jobs for the youth. Unemployment is a crisis in Africa and we have more jobless graduates coming into the job market every year. In Kenya alone we have 4.3 million unemployed graduates between the age of 21 to 35, this is according to Kenya integrated household budget survey. We have employed 3 hardworking youth who are part time students. Africa needs more job creators than job seekers and if we could push and squeeze the Entrepreneurship narrative into the Education system right from elementary school, then unemployment rate could soon trickle down.
Alaba: What’s your view on the development of Africa business ecosystem?
Risper: My view on the development of AFRICA BUSINESS ECOSYSTEM is that for business to thrive and Africa to thrive, we need to squash all the trade barriers within the region and to implement the use of a single homogenous currency within the continent. With this currency Africa will stop relying on foreign currency for development and trade. Imagine Africa with free movement of persons, capital, foods and services.
At the AFRICA E˗COMMERCE WEEK 2018, organized by UNCATD, where I was a delegate, a lot has to be done for Africa to realize its development growth in line with Agenda 2063ː The Africa we want. First of all, in order for us to trade we need to produce. We have to improve our productive capacity, physical infrastructure as well as interconnectivity before we can expand digital trade. If we do not do these, we will still be open and aggressively relying on more imports from outside our continent .this in turn destroys jobs, decimate MSMEs and distort development.
Alaba: Where do you see your business in 5 years and what steps are you taking to achieve them?
Risper: In 5 years’ time I see BINTI AFRIQUE making its foot print in East Africa, supplying our products to Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda etc. as the East Africa Community will be one single trade block which will ease trade among its country members. We will also launch our organic cosmetic line consisting of natural lip balm, lipsticks, pressed powder and face foundations. The steps that we are taking to achieve these are, looking for an investor who will be willing to come in and share his/her expertise, network and of course the funds that will stir the company in the right direction and achieve its full potential.
We are working on online campaigns that create awareness on the dangers of using cosmetics products which are made from chemicals and to telling the consumer on the best alternative which are cruelty free. We want to constantly innovate and embrace Artificial Intelligence in every aspect of our business.
Alaba: What advice will you give prospecting entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?
Risper: The advice I would give to potential entrepreneurs is entrepreneurship is not a get rich quick scheme. You do not plant a seed and expect to eat the fruits that same day…you have to exercise patience, persistence, constantly innovate and adapt to the shifts in consumer attention.
Alaba: What inspires you and keeps you going?
Risper: My inspiration comes from our continent AFRICA, we got a great potential that most of us do not see. By 2050 our population is projected to grow from 1.2 billion to 2.2 billion. Africa is a young ‘nation’ with untapped resources and potential, if only we could get the kind of leaders who are passionate enough to drive the continent into being a powerful global economy we would be talking of different story right now.. if we didn’t have the potential, global companies like google, Facebook etc would not establish their base here and china as an investor would not have spent a dime on this continent.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Risper: I take a day off my week just to go for nature walks in the park and visualize my week ahead and meditate on my present and future. I also love reading motivational and inspirational books written my renowned business men. On top of my list is Rich dad, poor dad series books by Robert Kiyosaki, I am a fan of Donald trump and have read his books too. Currently I am reading Girl wash your face by Rachel Hollis and looking forward to reading Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Her Short Biography:
My name is RISPER ACHEING OPIYO, born and raised in NAIROBI, KENYA. I am 26 years old and pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in international Business Administration at the United States International University Africa. I am a budding entrepreneur and a passionate youth leader. I have always been a book fan and that is why my educational journey has not been that tough.
My achievements so far include, starting INUA FUNDI initiative meant for the Kenya fashion industry which aim was to put funds together and be able to boost individual talents and later on opened our doors to small businesses. I have been a delegate at African summit on Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ASENTI) SINCE 2014. I have also been a delegate to the 1st AFRICAN E˗COMMERCE WEEK by UNCTAD held at the UN Offices in Nairobi which was a remarkable experience. In 2018 I got an award for being a great sponsor to youth empowerment activities. My company sponsored this year’s House of legacy Awards, an event recognizing and celebrating youth talents in fashion, entertainment and entrepreneurship. I am also a member of Ideal Democratic and Economic Party (IDEP) a newly formed political party by youth in Kenya.
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.