Chidiebere Nnorom used to run a corporate food delivery service under the trade name Ebees. The company supplied home-made healthy food and serviced a client base that included members of the expatriate community. Being an environmentalist, Nnorom and her partner at the time didn’t want to do the deliveries using single-use plastic bags or packaging — as was the norm with most organisations — so they went all the way to source environmentally-friendly alternatives.
“We went as far as The Gambia to get them,” she told me early July at the launch of Orange Corner, a project of The Netherlands in Nigeria to help young entrepreneurs develop their innovative and management skills. The event was on the sidelines of the official opening of the Netherlands Consulate General in Lagos
Over time, the unfavourable Dollar-to-Naira exchange rate made importing the bags unsustainable and so the owners looked inwards, sourced raw materials locally and began to produce the bags themselves, learning and perfecting their skills along the way.
Unfortunately, the business had to wind up its operations owing to forces beyong the founders’ control. But something unexpected happened afterwards: the paper-bags Ebees supplied the food with had become a hit with the customers (“They loved it!” is how Nnorom described it), who then continuously placed orders for them. It didn’t take long for Nnorom to sense a potential new business on the horizon.
Smart ideas, successful startups
She placed samples on online selling platforms, Jumia and Conga.
“Thankfully, we still had a lot of the bags stored away, and so I dispatched them as requests came,” she said, standing a few feet from some of the branded products she has had to produce for a new crop of businesses across Nigeria, including high-end restaurants. “We are on a mission to change the way West Africans deal with single-use plastic bags. We want them to see it and treat it differently, and that includes creating a systematic collection process.”
This concern for pollution, the environment and its long-term preservation is what earned her a spot in the Orange Corner initiative with 19 other young, creative entrepreneurs whose collective creations cut across a spectrum of endeavours: renewable energy solutions, farming and agro-processing, education, recycling, organic food and nutrition, healthcare, leather ware, waste management and transportation, to mention just some.
“Beehive of economic opportunity”
“If I had to qualify Nigeria with just one single word, I would say ‘entrepreneurial,’ as I am convinced that there is no other place in Africa where you have such a great concentration of young creatives minds ready to conquer the business world,” says Michel Deelen, Deputy Ambassador of The Netherlands to Nigeria and Head of the Dutch Embassy in Lagos,
Deelen also describes Nigeria as a beehive of economic opportunity and innovation. “With its infrastructure, strategic location and rich endowments in both natural and human capital, it is one of the fastest growing economies of the world,” he writes in a booklet introducing the 20 entrepreneurs.
“Orange Corners are platforms for job creation and socio-economic growth across Africa and the Middle East that support aspiring young entrepreneurs in building sustainable and scalable business models for their innovative ideas,” a statement sent to The Daily Report by Cindy Ikpe (Community Manager, Orange Corner) reads. Nigeria is the sixth country in the region to host an Orange Corner programme, following South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Morocco and Sudan.”
The programmes are also expected to launch in – amongst other countries – Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Iraq, Algeria, Ghana, DR Congo, the Sahel region and Egypt. “Entrepreneurs from these different hubs will have the chance to exchange knowledge and experiences and explore opportunities and synergies together through an exchange programme to be launched in 2020,” the statement says
To run for six months, and engaging the FATE Foundation in Lagos as core partner, the programme will expose the ‘incubatees’ to training, mentorship, networks, facilities and all other essentials necessary to build a successful business.
“We look forward to working with other partners in the ecosystem to provide business incubation support for the 20 selected entrepreneurs over the next 6 months.” says Executive Director of FATE Foundation, Adenike Adeyemi.