21-year-old Tanzanian talks about her soap manufacturing business

Brought to you by: The Anzisha Prize

Twenty-one-year-old Domitila Silayo is the founder of Jatropha Soap Production in Tanzania, which produces handmade soap with medicinal uses.

Domitila Silayo

Domitila Silayo

The idea of producing Jatropha soap came to her when she and her brother attended an agricultural festival in 2012 and were introduced to some of the medicinal and cosmetic uses of the Jatropha plant in her country. For example, the plant extract has healing properties for a number of skin problems, such as ringworm and dandruff.

“The plant has seeds and we extract oil from the seeds and we use the oil to make soaps. We have Jatropha plants in our country but people are not using it,” explained Silayo. “So I thought that was an opportunity and started making the soap.”

After researching how to make soap and raising finance from family to buy oil and equipment, Silayo and her brother went into producing Jatropha soap from a room they have rented. Today they produce about 1,000 bars of soap a month and have one other full-time employee.

Expansion plans

While the business is still young, Silayo has big ideas for Jatropha Soap Production. For starters, she sees an opportunity in producing hotel soaps and supplying the local hospitality industry in her area.

Silayo was the second runner up for the 2013 Anzisha Prize, a competition that recognises and celebrates young entrepreneurs in Africa who are using entrepreneurship to solve problems in their communities. She told How we made it in Africa that she is using the award money to modify her product range, and will then look at diversifying her products.

“So we want to invest in making sure the product we have is good and stands out in the market before bringing out another product,” she explained.

However, Silayo’s business faces a number of challenges that need to be addressed before she can take Jatropha Soap Production to the next level.

“My company is still small – it’s just starting, and there are other big companies that are producing soap with similar benefits to society in line with helping skin diseases. So the market is a challenge. People often run to the products belonging to a big brand first. They don’t always run to the new products that are from small brands and starting at the bottom. So that is a very big challenge.”

Business lessons and advice

“There are a lot of people who are entrepreneurs in Tanzania but not a lot of them are educated,” said Silayo. “Most of them call themselves entrepreneurs but there are some things they need to learn to be an entrepreneur. Like how to manage their finances.”

Silayo is currently studying a Bachelor of Business Administration and Marketing at Mzumbe University in Morogoro and this, alongside her own entrepreneurial experience, has taught her some valuable business lessons.

“I have learnt that nothing is easy. Business success requires hard work and determination and you need to keep focused on what you are doing. I have learnt that you also don’t need to do everything yourself. Entrepreneurs should learn to delegate to other people. You need to have people who can help and advise you. You don’t have to leave all the baggage to yourself.”

Her advice to other young Africans aspiring to become entrepreneurs is to become problem solvers in their own communities.

“They should try to look at the problems their society is facing and try to think of what can be the solution to the problem. That is how I came up with my idea of making soap with Jatropha oil… My society has a lot of people who are suffering from different skin diseases and the Jatropha soap is one of the soaps that helps in curing different skin diseases.”

She also advises young entrepreneurs to be brave enough to try new ideas and think differently.

“You should know that entrepreneurs who are successful right now also faced many problems when they first started out. Entrepreneurship is a process. It’s a process that someone faces and has to go through – from a small stage to a higher stage – without losing hope. Always try to pull up your socks and open yourself up to new ideas. And have the courage to know that you can do it, because all entrepreneurs face the same problems. You are not alone,” she emphasised.

“You must also have humility, determination and be able to work hard. All of this will help young entrepreneurs to have a successful business.”

The Anzisha Prize is the premier award for African entrepreneurs aged 15-22 who have developed and implemented innovative businesses or solutions that have a positive impact on their communities. Follow The Anzisha Prize on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.