Chibugo Okafor is the founder and CEO of Kendake Honey, a social enterprise focused on utilising the apiculture sector to provide job opportunities for women and youth turning them into sustainable income generators, enforcing food security and wealth creation for the African economy.
Two years on, Kendake Honey supplies hotels and supermarkets nationwide and has started to penetrate the international market. The exotic honey was recently awarded in the London International Honey Quality Awards for its uniqueness in taste and quality. Chibugo is a massive advocate for the various benefits of honey, and her main focus with the company is to provide women throughout Africa with a sustainable income. This is done through training and providing agricultural inputs alongside associated initiatives, provision of job opportunities and then access to market. This allows them to care for themselves and their families effectively. Empowering and investing in women is at the core of Kendake Honey’s vision, and is what gives the company such a competitive advantage over other businesses.
Having had no prior experience in the business world, Chibugo has dedicated the past two years entirely to the company, and her work has paid off. Chibugo is now studying for an MBA from Oxford, with the hope of learning more about the financial side of enterprise. In future, Chibugo hopes to see the continued growth of the company, staying true to its original vision and core values.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I am of Nigerian heritage, but was born and bred in the UK. When raising me, my parents instilled Nigerian cultures and practices in her, which made my intrigued by the country. After graduating from King’s College London, where I studied pharmacy, I moved to Nigeria on my own. However, during my time working with an NGO, I was deeply disappointed by the status of women in the country, and how they were treated. I felt that being a woman was a hindrance in Nigeria because of the country’s social norms and values, and have worked to drive gender parity in this space.
There was a particular occasion where I stumbled across a woman harvesting honey in the village, and it sparked the idea for the business! I wanted to widen the Nigerian and female representation, especially as the local honey there has so many uses and so much value to us all. I started researching and I knew I wanted to incorporate some form of social impact into its production, making sure to invest in the Nigerian community. That’s when I decided to launch Kendake Honey.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
There are definitely technical things which one needs to know in order to run a business; you need a good level of financial literacy because the journey of an entrepreneur is usually very unstable. But more importantly, I think entrepreneurship is about doing what you love or deem important and translating that into a lifestyle, having steadfast faith in your idea, and getting the purest sense of fulfilment from it. That’s what I’ve found from my entrepreneurial journey and it’s an irreplaceable feeling – there’s nothing quite like it.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
I was lucky in the sense that I didn’t need to develop my product; nature already did that for me! For centuries, everything that bees’ produce has been a wonder to humans in so many ways: for nutrition, skincare, and medical purposes. Once I approached the woman I saw harvesting honey in the village I started using it myself, and offering it to friends and family for free. The honey would always disappear in a flash, and people kept asking for more. That’s when I realized I had a viable business idea: to source, process and package this honey, and sell it, sustainably and ethically. As a pharmacist, I didn’t want to sell adulterated honey and compromise my beliefs, so I decided to set up a company where I would produce it on my own terms.
It was the success the honey had amongst friends and family that made me realise this idea was worth developing, and I’m so glad I did.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Firstly, flexibility. Take on customer feedback and adapt. The most successful businesses are ones that listen to their customers. You do have to have a good idea, but also understand that customer centricity is key! You are serving them, after all.
Secondly, perseverance. At the beginning of your business journey, you usually won’t be making profit. It’s important to persevere: to continue in the face of difficulty and failure, which is hard to do in practice but is an inevitable part of the journey.
Lastly, stay true to your vision and to what you set out to do. It can be discouraging when people don’t understand what you’re doing at first, but if the belief in your idea is something that drives you, never trade that to appease others.
It’s also important to remember that if it’s not making money it’s not a business, it’s a project. It’s important to invest in some form of financial literacy as an entrepreneur.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Definitely the freedom of waking up every day and getting to dictate how I spend my time while doing something that I’m passionate about. I’ve had the opportunity to meet the most amazing, persevering, phenomenal women across Africa, and travel the world connecting with great minds within the industry. All these people have massively inspired me and I’m extremely thankful for these experiences.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Maybe Conna Walker, the founder of the fashion brand ‘House of CB’, as she found interesting ways of penetrating the market. Or Elon Musk. He’s just a genius, but even he was met with several challenges in his start-up phase, which he was able to overcome. He has an unteachable focus and grit, which I really admire.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would ask them about the difficult parts of their journeys, the times where it didn’t feel like anything was going right. You are always told to ‘never give up,’ but I would want to ask them what that really means in practice: what their bad days looked like and how they kept going in spite of them. Finally I’d ask them if they would want to collaborate!
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
My most satisfying or successful moments have been when I’ve travelled to great places and seen tangible changes in the lives of women. Often I feel the spotlight of my company falls on me, but really it’s these women producing the honey who are the ‘wonder women’ here. Listening to their stories and watching the way they change their lives with the little that our company does for them, is more satisfying than anything else I’ve done. They express such a strong desire for a better life, and they go for it.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
I think I started keeping track of our financial records quite late into the company’s journey. My passion for the business took over the financial side of it, but it’s so important to make sure you are making money and monitoring it. Some of our equipment isn’t readily available in Nigeria and the lag at the ports meant that there were delays in the initial estimated time of arrival. This unfortunate reality has cost us in the past but now we ensure to incorporate this lag in future orders.
There was also a fire outbreak on one of the farms early last year because I didn’t fully understand the farming process in rural African areas. Due to the expensive nature of herbicides, farmers sometimes literally burn the ground to get rid of weeds. You normally use a firewall to prevent specific parts from being burned…but I learnt this the hard way.
How have you funded your ideas?
At the start, myself and friends and family did all the funding privately. I realise this is not an opportunity that many have so I feel very fortunate for it. Since then we have received grant opportunities, but there are several options for funding if you’re involved in social entrepreneurship.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
The Prince’s Trust has been brilliant; I received a year of mentoring and access to a grant too.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Oxford is great, it’s becoming a hub for all things entrepreneurial and the community in the city is very pro-entrepreneurship. As my business is a social enterprise I’ve been able to get involved with Oxford Social Entrepreneurs Programme. The Oxford University MBA has also been very useful to me as it is founded on social responsibility in business. I can’t think of anything bad about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
I would recommend the Oxford Social Entrepreneurs, which is a programme that provides mentorship, and funding, working closely with students across the Oxford network that have a social element to their businesses. The MBA I’m undertaking is enriching but I realise it’s an expensive way of learning entrepreneurial skills. The Oxford Foundry is also a great point of contact!
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
Definitely. I’ve often been the only female in networking spaces. People have asked me what I was doing there, when I was there to learn just like everyone else. There was one situation in particular where I went to an office with the intention of talking about scaling up my business, and the man sitting across from me said he had some advice to offer me. He said the best way for me to be taken seriously was to “fill out a bit more,” in order to look more like a woman, and to get married…I was shocked. Mostly because I was thinking about every other woman who has had to experience the same, and how many business ventures and ideas may have been halted because women felt discouraged from pursuing them due to sexist comments like that. I’m trying to combat that by being a representative for what I advocate for: women in positions of leadership and ownership of successful businesses, women taking up that space which has been typically viewed as “reserved for men”.
What resources would you recommend for other women?
Networking is really important and has been very helpful, so I would say make the most of it when you can. Read up on other women’s journeys, anyone who you find inspirational or who works in a similar industry to you. It is much more efficient to learn from other people’s experiences, so make sure you pick things up from what other people have done and apply them accordingly. If you are in need of financial support in order to make an impact, try to explore the very many networks that provide funding for women. Then strengthen the cycle by investing in organisations that support other women, once you have the means to do so.
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
As the current chair of the Oxford Women’s Leadership Alliance, I think that there are a lot of efforts being made already towards supporting women in the entrepreneurial space. I do however believe that due to the complexities of the issues women face in this space that more can be done for them to be pushed to the forefront. Oxford University is a place where global leaders look to for the ‘next steps’. If the institution is seen to continuously project and shine the spotlight on women’s breakthrough stories and experiences, other institutions will follow suit. It makes sense, both logically and economically, to represent the other half of the population – it’s beneficial to everyone.
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
I would remind women that they are capable of doing absolutely anything they set their minds to! Gender has nothing at all to do with capability, and don’t let anyone convince you that it does. I’ve taught in classrooms before and observed how much more confident teenage boys were than girls, they would shout out answers while the girls refrained from speaking up. I think social norms have meant that women don’t really believe in their capabilities to excel in their own areas, which ties into the poor representation of women in leadership positions. This changes when women start unlearning these negative social standards and redefining their vision and positions in society.
Any last words of advice?
Keep going! It may be quite cliché advice, but considering the events of the past year – quite necessary. Everyone starts their journey with something that drives and fuels their passion. Whatever that may be, remain committed to it, irrespective of what you have to face. Stay true to the vision.