Kenyan entrepreneur defies the odds to grow her own coffee business

Angwenyi said there are misconceptions about the coffee business. “Every time you mention coffee to anyone in this country they think you are rolling in money. Sometimes people look at me and question whether I really know how to pack coffee.”

Despite these challenges, Angwenyi finds motivation in the positive customer reviews she receives and her passion for the business.

Defy expectations

“It’s the passion. I have fought many battles. We live in a society where women are looked down upon but I have developed a very tough skin. Every time I talk to someone who is on the same page as me, I get reassured that one day I will execute our long-term vision.”

Angwenyi said “being viewed as an underdog” by her male compatriots in the industry has worked to her advantage. In 2011, Vava Coffee was a finalist in the BBC World Challenge, which encouraged her to persist when her friends and family were telling her to quit.

“That made more affirmation not just to me but to family and friends who doubted for the longest time. People thought I had lost [my mind] long ago. For the longest time I was the errand person in my home because people assumed I had free time.”

Angwenyi finds inspiration from the success story of Ugandan entrepreneur Andrew Rugasira who has been in the coffee industry for many years and went through most of the challenges she now faces.

To be an entrepreneur, Angwenyi argued, one needs to be defiant and go against society’s expectations.

“You need some sort of crazy in you. You need to believe in yourself no matter what people tell you. There are lots of people who are not risk takers and the naysayers are the people who always discourage you.”

Big dreams

She added that entrepreneurship comes with a price and one must be prepared to make lots of sacrifices.

“Most people run away from high risk individuals. They will run. [People] will get tired of you. An entrepreneur needs to have that feeling you get when you go bungee jumping and you know you are not going to die. It is free falling, but something is going to catch you,” Angwenyi said.

Angwenyi advises entrepreneurs to build a team of people they can trust, treat promises with a touch of scepticism and be careful about divulging company secrets. They should also protect their intellectual property by getting patent and copyright.

“You also need to be patient and resilient. Don’t give up.”

Angwenyi has big plans for her business, including expanding the market reach and opening a coffeehouse.

“I want to have my products on shelves in the US and Europe. I also want to be the voice that speaks for dreamers. There are not many dreamers in Africa who are willing to take the risk. People dream and then squash their dreams and sweep them under the carpet.”

Despite the difficulties in business, Angwenyi hopes to inspire the youth and women across Africa to venture into entrepreneurship and not “settle for the comforts of a nine-to-five job”.

“I want to encourage young people to take a leap of faith and be risk takers especially when they have had the advantage of a good academic background. Why won’t you follow your passion and make a business out of it? It is tough, yes, but it is worth it.”