Nigerian-born Edizemi Onilenla, founder of West African food brand Mama Shee, wants to create a nation of Jollof Rice addicts.
After winning the African Professional Network of Ireland’s (APNI’s) Lion’s Den business pitch competition – a twist on BBC reality series Dragons’ Den – she has big plans for her brand.
“In the next 12 months you will hear me everywhere because the market is there. The market is ready,” says the former Túsla social worker.
“I don’t even have the capacity right now, so I’m at the point where I need to scale and invest.”
Mama Shee’s groceries – including West African staple Jollof Rice and Suya, a seasoned beef skewer – are available in 13 SuperValu stores, but Ms Onilenla still makes them herself in a commercial kitchen in Tallaght.
“Thats only me. i cook everything I do all the admin. I love to give my best in everything I do.
“It’s not an easy journey, I have to say. So I could understand why many of my people who might have innovative ideas didn’t start or deal with it. They just need someone to encourage them because honestly, it’s not easy. Sometimes I would ask why am I doing this?”
Nubi Kay, former APNI President and head of startup programs at Paystack – the African payments company recently acquired by Irish tech giant Stripe – said the financing landscape for minority businesses in Ireland is still in its infancy.
“There is a big gap. I can only name a few black tech founders in Ireland. But it’s still early. At the Irish level we are still at zero. Maybe we need a few success stories just to get everyone’s attention.”
They all eventually suffocate and the energy dissipates
There is little to no data on minority startups in Ireland, but figures from the UK illustrate the funding gap.
Research firm Extend Ventures found that of the $13.2 billion invested in UK startups in 2019, just 1.7 percent went to “purely ethnic” founding teams – albeit black and multi-ethnic Communities make up 14 per cent of the UK’s population.
Black business owners in the UK report a median turnover of £10,000 less than white business owners, according to a 2020 report by British Business Bank and consultancy Oliver Wyman, while the gap is even larger for black women.
In Africa, investment in exclusively women-founded companies is on a downward trend, falling to below 1 percent of total investment (less than $50 million) in 2021, figures from FirstCheck Africa, the women-focused tech investors, show .
For Balbriggan-based Alex Oshunloye, founder of Surejobz – a recruitment app for high-skilled African freelancers – Ireland has a problem scaling small businesses, whether minority-owned or not.
Enterprise Ireland has “built a good start-up ecosystem, but there are still so many gaps in it,” he says, with little follow-up to help companies grow once the initial grants have been disbursed.
“I’ve been involved with brilliant startups where the same problem applies: they all eventually suffocate and the energy evaporates.
Tessy Ehiguese, photographer and co-founder of Eko Model Management – which places various models and actors for films and commercials – says she and her business partner Dave Olu would still like to go down the grant funding route.
Eko started as a way for Tessie and David to establish reliable contacts for their photography work but has evolved into a management agency.
“Now it’s like this, we need funding, we want to scale a lot more. It would be great not only to be online but also to have our own office to host clients and meetings and do the recordings.”
The agency now has 40-50 models on their books from a variety of backgrounds providing talent for Transport for Ireland’s recent Leap map ad. They also have a Jameson commercial in the works.
“We recognized that there is this niche and under-representation within the industry,” says Mr. Olu.
It will cost you a leg and an arm to get the smallest thing from African countries
“Fortunately, our start-up costs were not so high, so we could get started right away. By playing to our skills, we were able to keep our costs down.”
However, rising costs and delivery delays have hit fashion marketplace Umoja Linn, founded by China Soribe and Liswa McDonald, who met while studying together at NUI Galway.
The company was one of three finalists at last week’s The Lion’s Den event and pieces from Umoja’s Linn’s range were used in the video for Pharrell Williams’ 2020 hit ‘Entrepreneur’ starring Jay Z.
The pair are now finding it difficult to bring items to Ireland for their June pop-up event at Fumbally Stables.
“Some designers have to physically ship items to us, and others are struggling to actually ship those items because freight costs and shipping have increased,” says China Soribe.
“It will cost you a leg and an arm to get the smallest thing from African countries.”
Mama Shee’s Edizemi Onilenla also struggled to find some key ingredients, particularly UK beans.
She plans to use the proceeds from her lion’s den prize to buy a refrigerated van to take her produce to more stores across Ireland and hopes to hire three full-time staff.
While she wants to scale up and outsource some of the production, she’s nervous about lowering the “quality” of her food.
“I’ve never been a chef, but I’m just a damn good chef. Cooking comes naturally to me. No matter how tired I am, just tell me you’re hungry and I’ll jump up and make something for you. i love cooking And I love the feedback.”
Lion’s Den took place on Africa Day, May 25th and was sponsored by Dublin City Council, DogPatch Labs, Meta and HoaQ, an investor community supporting African startups.
https://www.independent.ie/business/irish/minority-owned-businesses-on-a-mission-to-break-into-irelands-mainstream-market-41697144.html Minority owned company with a mission to break into the mainstream market in Ireland