Inspiration for this piece was the tenacity of Uju when you hear her speak… and her life story… then add winning $500k to the mix from the most bodacious award name conceivable.
Award name: Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC)
Award winner: Uju Uzo-Ojinnaka (Regional Winner)
Uju was in Hangzhou was for Jack Ma’s eFounder’s Fellowship program when we created this piece. I want every word printed so let’s read from the Winner herself.
What is EWC: The Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC) is an international competition organized by the Misk World Forum in partnership with the Global Entrepreneurship Network. It is for entrepreneurs from all over the world with all kinds of start-ups, whether in the initial, idea, or growth stage.
How did you come to enter this competition? What a journey this might have been!
Yes, what a journey! We came across this competition online via social media. The journey so far has been both challenging and exciting. For us it was just a competition. It became real when we were contacted that we had been shortlisted for the final round. We didn’t expect to be selected.
The preparation for the finals started immediately, we spent the following days practicing our pitch to get it right as we were told we would have only 3 minutes pitching. This was challenging.
On the day of the finals we reminded ourselves that regardless of what happens we will keep pushing. This was the first we would be pitching to a panel, so everyone was nervous.
After pitching we just kept our fingers crossed and hoped for the best, and we were announced the winner. It was a feeling of so much Joy, excitement, and we suddenly realized how much an impact we were making as Traders of Africa.
What has been some highlights of the whole journey?
The Highlight of this entire journey was the actual winning the Entrepreneurship World Cup! It was something we never expected. It has given us access to a lot of resources from around the world, and good exposure. A lot more people are aware of the work we do at Traders of Africa and the impact we are making in Trade in Africa.
What is next for you after winning the award? I know you’ll be representing Nigeria in the global finals in Saudi Arabia.
We have a shot at winning the Global Finals this November in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. We are working really hard to tell our story better and show the entire world how much impact we can make with what we do in TOFA. We need a lot more hands on deck; we need Strategic Partnerships. We will not be able to achieve all of this if we fail to tell our story the right way.
However, I feel that we have won already; the opportunities for networking, trainings, mentorship opportunities, broaden our mindset to possibilities and opportunity to put TOFA on a global stage makes us winners already.
Getting the prize is just an icing to the cake.
At what exact point did you decide to leave the banking sector after 9 years?
I became restless at a point in my career; I felt that I should be an employer of labour, so I left after 9 years to start a toilet tissue manufacturing company in 2006.
In September 2007, we had to close the factory and I joined our family business – Beniz Electricals Limited which grew into Beniz Construction Depot – BCD.
BCD is a one stop construction finishing shop, trading in various construction finishing products like tiles, sanitary ware, Electricals, switches and sockets, light fittings, doors, kitchens and wardrobes.
Whilst with BCD, I conceptualized TOFA in 2017 and then the work started.
To what do you attribute your success?
What are your thoughts on Women in Entrepreneurship?
I think women have an innate strength that propels us to excel in any given task; we are able to multi-task, put people first, and are patient and tenacious.
You will agree with me that these are some of the qualities you need to make your business work.
Tell us about TOFA.
In 2016, I needed a broadening of mindset to better tackle the challenges we were facing in our family business as we try to scale hence, I enrolled for the Global Executive MBA – GEMBA from the China Europe International Business School – CEIBS; I am the class president of the Zurich GEMBA 2016.
In Nigeria at that time, the government placed foreign exchange controls so as to prevent the collapse of our Naira.
Our family business being import dependent had bills to settle in China and we needed USD. I was also seeking for a Chinese company importing from Nigeria – The idea was that we could settle their Nigerian bills while they settle ours in China.
In my search, one of my cohort in CEIBS introduced me to a Ghanaian Agropreneur – Elorm, who was looking for a partner in Nigeria.
Elorm had an Indian customer who required 20 containers of groundnuts. She wants to buy from Nigeria, the buyer would pay in USD.
I was elated, sent samples, buyer approved and asked that I assemble the products to a warehouse in Lagos and they would pay cash after inspection at the warehouse.
Groundnut is grown in the Northern part of Nigeria, therefore, I asked one of my cohorts who is from the North to work with me on the order.
We looked for suppliers who had that quantity of groundnut at the price the buyer was willing to pay, searched online, asked around but found no-one. Though we found a few sellers on Alibaba platform, but their details were incorrect or stale. We even tried buying from Benin but the pricing was high when we added the logistics cost.
I became quite frustrated and saw my dream of getting USD and some profit go into thin air. Even when the buyer reduced the quantity to 1 container, I was still unable to get a supplier except if I started aggregating from different small farms/markets.
I found it difficult to believe that there is no website where I can easily see various African products and get linked to genuine suppliers. I was quite worried that If I, a Nigerian, living in Nigeria could not find a large quantity of groundnut to buy, how would Chinese or Indians buyers find and access these suppliers/products?
We are determined to bridge this gap, not just in Nigeria but in Africa by creating visibility and access for African products and ensuring that trade occurs.
Traders of Africa – TofA is a team of young dynamic innovators sowing the seeds of qualitative trade out of Africa with a mission to create sustainable wealth for individuals, communities, organizations and nation states in Africa.
We created a pan African online marketplace for products grown, produced or manufactured in Africa ONLY – www.tradersofafrica.com it is a B2B platform.
Platform was launched in 5 African countries – Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria in September 1, 2017 with about 9,000 suppliers from these 5 countries.
Presently we have about 15,000 suppliers from various African countries.
We are strictly a point of convergence for buyers and sellers as we do not keep content.
Our mission is to be a point of convergence for qualitative trade with Africa.
Our Vision isto drive sustainable trade within Africa and between Africa and the world through technology.
Impressive. How can Ghanaians work with TOFA?
TOFA was actually launched in Ghana on September 1, 2017. Ghana was one the first contact points to onboard suppliers on the marketplace. We had Ghanaians doing the ground work and we still have agents in Ghana who represent us. Currently we have over 2685 suppliers of various African products from Ghana on our platform.
We are open to partnerships from Ghana especially people in the Agri-business, Out-growers, manufactures of African product only, those in the fashion industry and local farmers.
Also, our head of Digital is a Ghanaian.
The ATI platform is open for all investors from Ghana, you can fund transaction happening in various African countries and earn an incredible SOP.
We are Pan African; we are open to the whole of Africa, of course our buyers and investor are from all over the world.
Will you be open to mentor younger ones interested in farming and agriculture?
Yes, we are open to mentorships. It will surprise you to know that the younger generation is taking an interest in agriculture. We currently are open to internships and we’ve had quite a number of young people work with us and buy into what we are doing.
What do you think are the challenges most entrepreneurs face in Africa?
For me, I would say the challenges most entrepreneurs face in Africa includes;
Understanding the market.
Access to Capital (Funding).
Is there any philosophy behind your career?
I have a mantra. Ideas are key but IMPLEMENTATION IS EVERYTHING!