Chibugo Okafor is a trained pharmacist, a young entrepreneur and the CEO of Kendake Honey Limited. Her search for natural and unadulterated honey led her into a business that is fast becoming a household name in the country. In this exclusive interview with THE ECONOMIC TIMES she shares her success stories of being an entrepreneur in a challenging environment like Nigeria. Here are the excerpts.
Can you tell us a bit about your company?
So, Kendaky Honey was founded in March 2017 and has become something like my baby, quite personal to me.
The search started because I had an uncle who had diabetes and he transitioned from using sugar to honey, but he had a lot of issues finding natural honey; so he asked me to help him look for it and on my search I was quite disappointed to find that a lot of honey in Nigeria was adulterated.
As I searched for the pure honey, I then asked myself, “Why don’t I start up one hive for him?” And then one hive turned into something else and as he was getting better, I decided, okay let me make this five hives now and from five we got to ten, from ten we just grew like that.
How many hives do you have now?
I have 50
Where are they located?
Keffi in Nasarawa State
Are they all in Keffi?
Yes, at the moment.
So how did you come about the name Kendaky?
Well, Kendaky is a term as Kendake, Kentaky or kandes, it refers to the African Queens in the olden days the African Empire, the kingdom of Kush, and the way in which these bees operate, they sort of operate around the queen bee and I see a lot of similarities between myself and the queen bee in the hives so I thought the name would fit perfectly. You know the idea is to put Africa on the map to show that we too have excellent qualities of resources, products and we can produce them to an international market standard.
So how long have you been in this business?
Honestly, only a year.
What is your staff strength?
At the moment we have, what w e have employed a lot of youths, I didn’t want to just make this business solely about me, I really wanted to empower youths and young individuals so everybody in the organization is young and as ambitious and as hardworking and industrious as myself so at the moment we have between 10 to 15 if am talking through the whole sort of chain of the industry.
How did you raise the capital to start this business?
This is something that was quite difficult at first. Luckily for me, I will say that I am surrounded by a good network of family and friends who believed in my business.
Now a lot of youths get nervous about this. I think I have this great business idea. I start to worry about how to raise the funds, where do I get the money from, and the first thing is they are running and disturbing ministries.
But you will be so shocked that when you have a good business idea and people feel your passion even with just the smallest amount you can get started. You don’t have to get so much money instantly. You can start with a little amount and grow your business over time.
That was how it worked for me. I met with a few friends and said, hey guys look this is what am doing, and anything you can give. Someone gave me N10,000, Another gave me a N100,000, and so on. By the time I added everything up it resulted in what I used to start my business. So I think the biggest thing is having a good business idea, and being able to put across that passion and making sure that it is felt by the people around you.
So you got your fund because of the passion you exhibited and through your family and friends?
You said this business has been on for one year, so what has kept you going?
I think things start off when you get excited about a business idea or anything that you are doing or issue that you might have, the starting point is the passion. But I think when I look around and I see the effect I am having on youths around me, just the joy in having something to do, just because of what I am doing that is what has kept me, the fact that I go there and honestly see people who are so hardworking, the only thing they need is opportunity.
They don’t have the opportunity to be able to exhibit all the skills that they have so that is what has constantly kept me going, but then in general I think it’s time that Nigeria and Africa as a whole show the rest of the world that we can actually sit on the global platform and as you know, be equal players and equal countries and this are the little ways that we can do that so that is my drive I suppose.
You mentioned that Nigerian youth are willing to work and that the biggest challenge is having opportunities to work, how do you think as a country we can address this, given the way you have done yours, you are a trained pharmacist but you have dived into business as something that requires your time and effort to actually push it?
I know so many youths in different spheres across Nigeria you know outside of my business my day to day job is working with NGOS etc so I do a lot of work with young people and I have to say, honestly I don’t think I have ever met such a group of hard working individuals.
I don’t speak for all, but I speak for the ones that I have come across. I will give an example, there was a girl that I went to teach in a community and she is younger than me and she said that to see herself through education, she was packing and selling sand to pay her school fees. She did that day by day and I looked at myself and said “I don’t think I can complain ever again in my life”my advice to the youths is to get out there and do it, let nothing be a barrier to you.
When I came into Nigeria as Oyinbo, there were lots of barriers for me, you might think it would have been great but it wasn’t. A lot of people would look at me and think this one has come with her English, but that wasn’t going to get in the way of what I was going to do, I had a plan and I had a vision and I have been able to bring it to reality by the grace of God, so I think the most important thing is, do not let anything or anyone get in the way of whatever thing you have decided that you want to do.
Minus your passion for what you do, what else attracted you?
Answer: To me I feel like honey is something, somewhat divine, it’s so awesome it has so many anti-healing properties that people don’t know about at the moment. I fell ill a year ago and when I was in the hospital there wasn’t enough dressings for people with open wounds and they used honey as alternatives to heal the wounds. As a pharmacist I think I should know this but I didn’t at the time, and I was so shocked, I was like what does this mean, so I researched it and I found that it had anti-healing properties.
So somebody told me to do a honey mask on my face so I decided ok I will try it and it really helped so with my pharmaceutical background I have been able to sort of understand the molecular level in which honey operates and I can tell you it has so many properties and functions that a lot of us Nigerians are not aware of.
As an entrepreneur how has the government diversification drive helped your business or affected you?
The government has definitely helped me, you know, they offered a lot of training. I think that’s the biggest thing, you know like I said, I told you the journey of how I got here it wasn’t what I planned. I wasn’t familiar with the traditional methods of how to actually get on the ground and produce honey and I had been offered a lot of support from quite a few of the governmental organisation so they have been very good to me.
Can you mention the government organisations that provided this training?
The first would be the Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, they have been very supportive to me, they have this small committee that focuses on trying to get honey to be listed as an export product of this country from Nigeria and they have been so supportive in terms of training.
The next is the Nigerian Export Processing Council, they offered 8 weeks free training, which I went every Saturday and it was life changing.
I must say that it was very useful and the Ministry of Industry, Trade & Investment has offered a lot of services to me interms of the GEM programme they have.
What is currently the biggest market for your business?
At the moment, because we just started, it is been a year, so we are here in Nigeria and we are here in Africa, but the idea is to enter or penetrate the international market and I am working with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development to make that dream come true.
So currently you sell most in Nigeria, Lagos, Abuja?
Lagos, Abuja, Utako it’s Nigeria.
Have been following the issues surrounding the African Continental Free Trade Area, ACFTA which is supposed to open up the Nigeria to a market of 1.2 billion citizens, how do you think it will affect your business if Nigeria signs or does not sign?
To me I know that Africa currently consumes about three times as much honey as it produces, so if Nigeria was to sign this it will open up a whole different market for me and so I will be very happy if they do that.
So you are saying Nigeria should sign as an entrepreneur?
Well as an entrepreneur in the honey market specifically in the honey market where it affects me, I would say definitely, it would boost my business.
As a business person, who do you consider as a role model?
I would say of course Dangote, I know everybody always says this but I think am more inspired by his strategy to business. I think he has a very unique strategy in which he operates in the business field that is specific to him and that has really helped him.
What’s your proudest moment as a business person since you started this?
I think one of my proudest moments was when my dream of this business became a reality. You know its one thing to dream and tell people about your business and have these ideas in your head, but when you physically see it on ground it is a whole different thing. So going to the aquarium and seeing the hives is always something that shocks me because I can’t believe we were able to make this happen within the space of a year and I think the second proudest moment is being certified by NAFDAC and SON, the reason is because the whole point of me getting into this is to show that genuinely pure unadulterated honey was getting across to Nigeria & within the African market and so with NAFDAC verification on that and the certification of the quality of my honey is something am very proud about.
Some young entrepreneurs like you have always complained about getting certifications from SON and NAFDAC, so since you have gotten yours do you think it was difficult, if it wasn’t, what will you advice young entrepreneurs like you?
Unfortunately, the processes on ground at the moment especially around business is quite difficult in Nigeria especially when you are young person who is just starting up and maybe you do not have the capital to sort of spend here & throw around there, and so I do think it has being quite different in terms of that, I would say that there should be things to place, you know maybe a discounted fee for people who are young entrepreneurs who wants to get into a business and who are actually bringing very quality products, so I definitely think they should think about something like that.
What do you find most challenging Nigeria business environment?
I think there isn’t enough support for youths who don’t have that capital, the seed capital to get into the business, there also isn’t enough available information or research around how to get their business to grow within our environment first, if you see what I mean, there isn’t enough available information to say ok here are the step by step processes to get registered by NAFDAC or whatever industry he is in and another point I think is that people within the industry are actually going out in sort of sensitization programmes to then look for this talents and work with the talents to help grow them. A lot of the times you are the one who actually has to go out of your way to find them & that can be quite discouraging.
As a trained pharmacist, do you think you will ever leave your business & go back to your actual profession?
Well am a very young woman, by God’s grace I think I have a lot of years ahead of me so I would never say that I would forget about my background or what I studied. But I do also think that the honey is a step. Its just that this is a natural alternative medicine it still falls under the medical field and a lot of honey is actually used with the pharmaceutical industry as well as drugs and it is also used in the process of being researched for anti – cancer it actually kind of ties in but I do understand when people think that oh! She is in the agricultural, but like I said I do not think I can get rid of that.
As an entrepreneur or a business person who has run a business in Nigeria for a year which is tough to find in country where new business usually die after six months. What would you advice new school leavers who are thinking of venturing into a new business?
Think it through, it is one thing to be passionate and say oh! I want to get this done and get on the ground. It is amazing it is a pretty much one of the biggest characteristics you need to start a business in Nigeria, however I think you need to think it through, don’t carry a business idea without taking into the reality of what is actually on ground in Nigeria so do take your time to think it through. Do preach it to your friends, preach it to your family as people always have or think of things which you may not have seen and pray.
Are a religious person?
I believe in God.
What does that mean?
I don’t know but I wouldn’t want to sound religious but I think religion ties us.
How has your family supported this business; the idea, conception?
They are my biggest fans they are on the side lines, my cheer leaders, they just love just the fact that I have being able to do this, you know that if I was to stop here I would say they have being so proud of me.