Several weeks ago, I went backpacking to Benin Republic not for holiday but to discover its Business and Tech community. I connected with 4 young entrepreneurs in Cotonou who are disrupting the African startup space with very innovative products. I was impressed by their resilience to defy the odds in a closed economy and seek a market more diverse than their origin, satisfying a diverse demand with innovative products featuring unique African attributes.
Sarah, a young Beninese entrepreneur is the founder for PERLICIOUS, a handcraft brand dedicated to all things beads, corals and precious stones. She started out making handcraft beads specifically for men and with time expanded to female designs including complete jewel sets, beaded bags (which she produces with her team from Masai, Kenya), Wedding glam (which she produces with her team from Nigeria) and her newest line in beaded & stoned luxury fabric for occassional wears (sourced from Turkey, Senegal, Nigeria & Dubai).
In a bid to respond to a large demand from consumers outside Africa, understanding that Benin provided a limited resource base for her craft, she teamed up with experts from other African countries who had the skills needed for her product; training them and providing them specifics of what she needed to hasten mass production.
Perlicious is a unique brand in that each piece must feature at least 2 precious stones from 2 different countries in Africa. A necklace could feature black onyx from Nigeria, melted glasses from Ghana & a crystal from Czech Republic.
Her dream is not only to create a great Brand but also a global vision where Africa comes first and is revealed to the world. Sarah is a "disruptive diasporan", being a Beninese designer, sourcing raw materials from all parts of Africa, Turkey, Dubai. Her Brand is very diverse having her marketing manager from Ivory Coast, a Perlicious store on Etsy covering Northen America & Canada and a huge market in Europe.
"It's important for me to mix the culture because you learn a lot by mixing cultures - Sarah"
She graduated with a masters from Senegal where she studied with mixed students from different continents equipping her with major teamwork skills. She has worked with several companies however discovered she loved being an Independent woman.
"My dream has never been to work for anybody. I prefer to work for my Clients. My Clients are my Bosses - Sarah"
Jean-Philippe is the founder of TRITON where instead of the customer to go to the car wash, the car wash comes to the Customer. It's a mobile platform saving the planet by decreasing the amount of water to wash a car by a third (20-30litres). Triton also started its own car-friendly bio-soap, providing jobs for community women. Triton has provided over 2500 car wash services in the past 8 months & plans to enter the market of big cities in Africa.
Jean-Philippe started the company because everytime he wanted to go out, he had to visit the car wash miles away & wait hours for his turn. For someone who lived in New York for years, he knew life was much easier than that. He thought "what if someone came to wash my car while it sat idle during work hours?"
Triton's mobile car wash services works through an app where a user books the nearest car wash tricycle or via whatsapp, giving your location & simply opening your car. His customer base targets majorly the middle class population who works & have no time to visit the carwash. Payments are done either thru mobile money or cash.
Thanks to his engineering background, Jean-Philippe's tricycles are very unique. A commercial tricylcle is broken down to bits and a new model is built from scratch. Each Triton tricycle includes 1000litres of water, a vacuum connected to an energy generation system created specifically for the mechanism, soap and towels.
Gladly, TRITON has no competitors in Benin but are there any competitors out there? I believe TRITON should franchise this platform because the African Continent & its cars need a saviour. Jean-Philippe plans to target Niamey, Ouagadougou, Bamako, Lome & Accra markets next.
Nadiyath is the founder of EWA OKE, a handmade craftwork company. Her Brand mixes leather and the popular "Aso-Oke" to make handmade goods like bags, belts, bracelets, travelling suitcases etc. She sources her leather from Morocco, Dubai & Italy and Aso-Oke raw materials from Nigeria. Her brand is widely known to mix both materials in very innovative designs and products.
She produces her products with peculiar attention to quality, autheticity and poise. One of the challenges she faced were the demands from customers to recreate foreign designer brands which she refused by creating unique and classy products. Nadiyath's company is less than a year and her new line has began to make waves in a large market beyond Africa who are intrigued by the cultural fusion with modern designs and its longlasting durability.
Nadiya is interested in Nigeria, Ghana, Sengal, Cote D'Ivoire, Burkina Faso Markets. She encourages entrepreneurs to persevere and authentic in their work.
Tania Okanla, is the founder of A.M.T HOUSE founded in 2002. It is a platform dedicating to showcase African products online and has evolved into a product that sells Made in Africa "ready-to-wear" clothing lines. AMT House has two brands; one targeted to producing ready-to-wear clothing for target markets and install mass production centers for Made in Africa fashion brands produced by Africans in African cities.
Although Benin's market is not a real potential to consume "ready-to-wear" clothing, she is targeting a wider market in Africa in countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. She dedicated 1 year to train skilled talents in Cotonou's fashion industry due to lack of fashion schools, completing the value chain in Fashion from production, model training, photography, marketing, digital platforms, logistics and shipping.
"If Africa wants to be part of the global indsutry, we need to think mass market" - Tania
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