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Traditional And Thriving

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Rina Chunga-Kutama Rich Factory

When Rina Chunga-Kutama started her business, she was just trying to make some extra money while studying. Since then, her African brand, Rich Factory, known for its distinctive Zambian prints, has grown in leaps and bounds.

Chunga-Kutama was born in Zambia but grew up in Botswana and lived there for 15 years. She moved to Polokwane, in the Northern Province of South Africa, in 2004. Despite this, she’s never forgotten her Zambian heritage which is evident on her clothing.

She studied fashion at LISOF in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital city, but started working on her business during her gap year in 2007.

“I got a job from a designer lady in Polokwane who was sewing. I learned to sew and that’s when I started making pieces for people, creating garments for pocket money,” she says.

Rich Factory Rina Chunga-Kutama

A model wears a dress made by Rina Chunga-Kutama (Photo by Eunice Driver)

In 2008, she went to college but faced financial difficulties. Because of this, she had to alternate between going to school for a year and taking a year off. When she finally got to her third year in 2012, Chunga-Kutama still had two modules from the first year she had yet to complete and couldn’t graduate.

That did not stop the young lady from pursuing her dreams. Chunga-Kutama knew most of what she needed to start a business, and she was also not keen on being in the same class with younger students – she was 25 years old at the time – and so went straight into the working field.

“I wasn’t in school so I could do the business full-time, it was a full-time business because the clients were coming in and I was still working from home,” she says.

By 2013, it wasn’t about making pocket money anymore. She moved out of her sister’s home and rented a cottage in Melville, Johannesburg. Here, she installed mirrors and converted her home into a shop.

Chunga-Kutama has never looked back and has grown her business and worked with celebrities, like award-winning South African musician Zahara, actress Terry Pheto, and actress and model Nomzamo Mbatha.

READ MORE: Fashion Bloggers Signing Off In Style

Chunga-Kutama made an impression on Mbatha when they met at a shoot in 2015.

“I remember they had this girl [from] Rich Factory and she was doing the styling. The stuff that she had pulled for me was just so apt. Working with someone I’ve never met before, they knew exactly how to style me for that campaign according to my personality and body. Everything fit really well and I loved how funky and how out-of-the-box her thinking was when it came to styling and I just enjoyed her as a person,” says Mbatha.

After the shoot, a friendship was sparked and the two decided to collaborate. Rich Factory was now dressing Mbatha for red carpets locally and internationally, such as BET’s Black Girls Rock! awards ceremony in New Orleans, United States, the MTV Europe Music Awards in the Netherlands, and the Cinema Camp Film Festival, among others.

“The Camp Film Festival was a huge footprint for us because everyone was in their beautiful ball gowns and here’s this yellow, African, kente print walking the red carpet and everyone was having a moment,” Mbatha recalls.

Rina Chunga-Kutama Rich Factory

Rina Chunga-Kutama (Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla)

Although it is not something that Chunga-Kutama pursued, Rich Factory garnered business and free publicity from dressing celebrities.

Rich Factory has gained attention from its celebrity clients but has become more strategic about taking on famous clients. Chunga-Kutama doesn’t want it to be seen as a celebrity business and alienate other clients without the buying power.

Her first celebrity client was musician and TV personality, Nomuzi Mabena. Chunga-Kutama met her in 2011 while working as an intern for well-known South African fashion designer Khosi Nkosi. Mabena came second in a model search competition that Chunga-Kutama was styling. A few years later, Mabena won the role of an MTV Base video jockey and needed garments; Rich Factory was happy to assist. Mabena really helped Rich Factory take off.

“I was in the magazines and newspapers because of her,” says Chunga-Kutama.

READ MORE: Fashion in The Operation Theater?

In 2017, Rich Factory found itself walking the ramps at the South African Fashion Week (SAFW) in collaboration with Nestlé for its chocolate, Aero.

Chunga-Kutama was approached by Sunshine Shibambo from marketing and advertising agency Cheri Yase Kasi to work with the chocolate brand.

“The brand was looking for a South African designer to partner with that was expressing their positioning which was ‘let go’. Someone who is not confined by the prints or fabrics that they are working with but always finding a release in their fashion, new forms and new shapes. So she was the perfect candidate,” says Shibambo.

Rich Factory Rina Chunga-Kutama

A model wears a dress made by Rina Chunga-Kutama (Photo by Eunice Driver)

Chunga-Kutama was never going to say no to chocolate and showing at SAFW.

According to Chunga-Kutama, the brief was perfect because she has a playful brand. She used African prints only and didn’t use any western fabrics.

The collaboration was incredible, according to Shibambo.

“The collection had a play of the Nigerian shape with a combination of geisha and Asian inspired shapes, which isn’t the normal traditional form for a designer using African print,” she says.

Chunga-Kutama has a team of five people working with her. Two are based at a factory in Johannesburg’s central business district, while Dimo Kutama, her husband and business partner, has opened a store in Parkhurst, a plush Johannesburg suburb.

Her husband used to work as a client care advisor but now runs sales and logistics at Rich Factory. It’s not an easy role.

“The only difference is time. When you’re running your own business, you never have time for anything, including a haircut,” says Dimo.

From starting in a garden cottage four years ago, Chunga-Kutama is now dressing socialites, in African fabric, around the world.

Entrepreneurs

Why This 48-Year-Old Woman Is Building Ghana’s Biggest Solar Farm

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Chairman of UBI Group Salma Okonkwo. UBI GROUP

For more than a decade, one 48-year-old entrepreneur in Ghana has been quietly building up a multimillion-dollar oil and gas outfit called UBI Group. Salma Okonkwo is a rare woman to head up an energy company in Africa. “I don’t stop when the door is being shut. I find a way to make it work,” Okonkwo told Forbes. “That’s what propelled my success.”

She’s now expanding her reach across Ghana’s energy industry, working on an independent side project that may become the biggest in her career. Okonkwo is building Ghana’s biggest solar farm, called Blue Power Energy, slated to open in March 2019 with 100 megawatts of energy. It’s set to be one of the largest in Africa.

“Most of the multinational companies that come to Ghana don’t put in infrastructure. They operate a system where they invest very little and they take it away. They sell their products and leave,” Okonkwo says. “I’m hoping to provide employment and add to Ghana’s economy.”

Okonkwo grew up in Accra, one of 14 children born to a real estate agent and developer mother and a cattle dealer father. She often visited her grandmother in her family’s ancestral village. She’s a member of the Akan clan, whose women often sell products they make, like sandwiches or smoked fish, to make sure their children are provided for—and that left an indelible mark on Okonkwo. “The women didn’t know how to read and write, but they knew how to make a margin,” Okonkwo says.

After graduating from an all-girls boarding school with little running water, Okonkwo moved to Los Angeles for college at Loyola Marymount University. (Her family was able to pay her tuition.) She graduated in 1994 and briefly worked in California for a food brokerage company. Then oil and gas company Sahara Energy Group recruited her; Okonkwo returned to Accra in 2003 for the job.

Within a few years, Okonkwo realized that the firm could grow by opening up retail gas stations. She presented the idea several times over the years, but each time she was rebuked. Executives told her they wouldn’t change their business plan because it would be too political and would require too much of an investment in infrastructure.

At 36 years old in 2006, Okonkwo decided she’d heard “no” too many times and quit to try it herself, focusing on bringing liquified petroleum gas to the hard-to-reach region of northern Ghana, where many families still rely on burning firewood for energy. Because Okonkwo’s father was from northern Ghana, she knew firsthand how the business could change lives there. “It was just too hard to pass up the opportunity,” Okonkwo recalls. “It looked quite lucrative.”

But Okonkwo hit an early snag when she realized that she didn’t take into account a complicating factor: The North had few storage facilities for the liquified gas. To get it to the remote region, she’d have to build the storage herself, and she was already struggling to secure funding. So Okonkwo pivoted and started trading diesel and petroleum wholesale. A contract to supply fuel to Dallas-based Kosmos Energy came in 2007, followed by one with Hess in 2008. In the early days, she financed the operation by mortgaging some properties that her family and husband had inherited.

A UBI Group retail gas station in Ghana. UBI GROUP.

By 2008, UBI opened its first retail gas station. It soon owned 8 outright and managed another 20 through partnerships. That caught the eye of Singapore-based multinational firm Puma Energy, which had 2017 sales of $15 billion from operations in 49 countries. Puma acquired a 49% stake in two of UBI Group’s subsidiaries (retail gas stations and wholesale fuel distribution) in 2013 for about $150 million.

After the partial acquisition in 2013, Okonkwo says, she started developing her solar company. She estimates the company will spend about $100 million—financed by roughly $30 million in loans—to create 100 megawatts of solar power by early next year. Construction started earlier this summer. The plan is to add another 100 megawatts by the end of 2020.

Despite all the sunshine in Africa, solar power isn’t a prominent energy source on the continent. Most farms are concentrated in South Africa and Kenya. In 2009, Morocco announced plans to build one of the biggest solar farms in the world. The first of the project’s three phases opened in 2016. “I don’t know of another large-scale project like this in Africa that’s led by a woman,” says Arne Jacobson, who has been studying renewable energy with a focus on Africa since 1998 and is now the director of Humboldt State University’s Schatz Energy Research Center. “Power is fairly expensive in countries like Ghana. If they can keep costs low, this is will be a profitable venture.”

The project is also personal for Okonkwo. Half of the solar farm will be located in her father’s village in northern Ghana. The rest will be spread out throughout the North, which is Ghana’s poorest region, according to Unicef. The organization says the area has seen the smallest progress in terms of poverty reduction since the 1990s.

There are so few employment opportunities in the north of Ghana besides farming that most women migrate to Accra looking for work. Many can only find jobs as “kayayo”—working in markets carrying goods for customers, sometimes known as “living shopping baskets.” They live in slums and regularly endure harassment, theft and even rape. Okonkwo, aiming to create a better alternative for some of these women, says Blue Power Energy has already created hundreds of jobs in northern Ghana and that more than 650 will be created upon completion.

Okonkwo’s ultimate goal is to bring cheap energy to northern Ghana through the solar farm, which she hopes will incentivize companies to create lasting jobs there. In the meantime, she is opening a day-care center in Accra for children born to kayayo women, where, as she explains, they can “get educated and hopefully break the cycle.”

“I want to bring support to my people in the north,” Okonkwo says. “Then there will be more Salma’s all over the place.”

 

– Chloe Sorvino

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The Bloodless Battle Against The Malaria

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With Africa having a big share of the global malaria burden, technologists are developing new, cost-effective ways to detect the disease – minus the needle.

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The Nigerian Who Runs His Business On Luck

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Don’t tell Akin Alabi there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything. He just might tell you off.

At 41, he has built multiple businesses and is making money and time for more.

Alabi is the founder of NairaBET, Nigeria’s first and leading sports betting platform, a company he started in 2009 after he identified what he calls “a starving crowd”.

By that, he means a customer base willing and able to pay for services enough for him to make a sizeable profit.

Besides NairaBET, Alabi owns a small football club, has a book-writing business, is into digital marketing, business coaching and seminars, and is also contesting for a seat in parliament in the 2019 Nigerian elections.

The entrepreneur-investor likes to spend his days identifying specific gaps in the market and providing solutions to address them.

READ MORE: Nigeria; Where Football Is Life

Over the years, he has identified many ‘starving crowds’. He found the first one just after completing a diploma in business administration in 2001. At the time, there was a growing desire for Nigerian youth to travel abroad, especially to Canada, in search of greener pastures.

According to data from the Canadian immigration service, as many as 27,625 immigrants from Nigeria were residing in Canada by 2011.

Alabi tried his luck too.

In 2001, after his visa got rejected, he decided to collate his experiences navigating the complicated visa application process and sell that knowledge online to first-time applicants.

“So anything I learned, I created the information pack and I put it online and sold it,”

“I started downloading information tutorials and videos about the Canadian application process. I put all the information together and said some people will be interested in this so let me put it out there for sale. So in January 2003, I launched my first business, which was selling information products, and the first information product was this Canadian visa package,” says Alabi.

The guide was an instant hit. Alabi was selling it at N10,000 ($28) per copy and over 100 copies later, he knew he had struck a gold mine. It was time to find other crowds. Alabi decided to share his experiences making money online through his new startup in another how-to guide, which also found demand. After the success of the two digital products, Alabi decided to register his company at the Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).

“I went there myself and I did everything myself and I was surprised I didn’t need a lawyer. So I created another information product – how to register your business with the CAC without a lawyer in 21 days or less. I put that out and people were buying. So anything I learned, I created the information pack and I put it online and sold it,” says Alabi.

He had stumbled on a booming industry. According to Stratistics MRC, the global e-learning market accounted for $165.21 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $275.10 billion by 2022 growing at a CAGR of 7.5% during the forecast period. The flexible learning, low cost and easy accessibility of the market bolstered by the increasing proliferation in the internet during the dotcom boom, presented Alabi with a hungry market eager to grab anything offered online.

Akin Alabi. Photo provided.

Alabi’s story is one of organic growth. Setting goals and achieving them is a prominent theme in his new book Small Business, Big Money: How to Start, Grow, and Turn Your Small Business Into a Cash Generating Machine, where he presents a practical guide for startups looking to scale.

“As early as I can remember, I wanted to be rich. I was fixated on wealth because I did not experience wealth growing up. It is something I believe gives you freedom. Freedom to do things you really wanted to do and freedom to impact this world. You can help the less privileged and also give your family the basic comfort of everything they want,” says Alabi. “I know money is not the most important thing in life but it is reasonably close to oxygen in terms of importance.”

After the success of his digital offerings, business began to slow down, but Alabi wanted more growth. He decided he would venture out of Nigeria to the land of milk and honey, in search of that elusive wealth.

“I got to the UK and wanted to work. I looked at the potential of what I could make and after four months, reality dawned on me. I didn’t want to become an illegal immigrant and felt I was better off doing what I was doing in Nigeria. So I said ‘I had something going for me, it might not be big but there was potential’. I said ‘let me go back and make it bigger’. I was not investing in the business so it was time to do it properly.”

But before leaving the UK, a chance encounter with the bookers would lead to the serial entrepreneur’s most lucrative venture yet. His brother called him from London while he was in the town of Milton Keynes to make a bet in an online sports shop for a football game so they could win some money.

“So I played and I made some money and then I played again and I lost and I played again and I won. And I said ‘wow, anybody can do this and people in Nigeria will love it’. So I wrote down on paper, how to make money from football betting. It was just 14 pages and I put it online and I called my friend in Nigeria to help me go and run an advert in the local newspapers,” says Alabi.

He invested N200,000 ($555) in the advert and made N450,000 ($1,248). That demand was going to progress from online content to a new customer base wanting a platform to bet on sports.

READ MORE: Success Is In The Bag For This Entrepreneur

“So those that bought the information product from me started reaching out to me that the website I recommended they should bet on did not work in Nigeria. And I was like ‘wow, you people are actually taking this seriously’. They wanted to place bets from $100 to $750. So I got thinking, these people are actually sending money to me abroad to place bets for them. Isn’t there anyone in Nigeria that has a business like this? And there was no one. So I said to myself ‘I have to create this platform’.”

That was almost a decade ago. He could not afford the software to create the platform at the time, which cost almost $1 million so he used a local developer to create his first platform. Today, NairaBET, a major player in the online sports betting market, has steadily transformed itself from just a football betting platform to a 360-degree sports booking platform covering digital, SMS, apps and retail betting. And, they have a new million-euro software upgrade in place, according to Alabi.

The total value of the global sports betting market is difficult to estimate because of the lack of consistency in how it is regulated in some parts of the world. Betting makes up about 30% to 40% of the global gambling market, which also includes lotteries, casinos, poker and other gaming, according to a report in Reuters.

This has led to challenges regulating the sector in Nigeria with issues arising from double taxation from the Lagos State government. But Alabi is hopeful these issues will be resolved once there is proper legislation of the sector. In the meantime, he is betting on a career in Nigerian politics and the corridors of power.

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