Nigerian entrepreneurs pursuing opportunities, from cassava to sportswear

Ugo Udezue, founder of AFA Sports

Ugo Udezue, founder of AFA Sports

These six entrepreneurs have identified and capitalised on distinct opportunities in the market, ranging from agricultural produce to fitness and sportswear.

1. Pay-as-you-go cold storage for Nigerian farmers

ColdHubs is a Nigerian company that operates solar-powered cold rooms for fresh produce. It offers a pay-as-you-store service to smallholder farmers and market merchants. Founded by entrepreneur Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, ColdHubs addresses the issue of income loss due to spoilage from a lack of cold storage facilities. The company provides a flexible subscription model where farmers transfer their perishable foods into reusable crates that fit neatly onto the shelves, paying a daily flat fee for each crate stored. Read more

2. The NBA agent who moved back to Nigeria to build a sportswear brand

After a career in the US as an agent for some of the top NBA players, Ugo Udezue moved back to Nigeria to eventually start the sports and athleisure wear company AFA Sports, short for ‘Africa for Africans’. “The reason you don’t see a lot of international brands in Africa is that there are misconceptions about the target market, and the number of people that can afford these kinds of products,” says Udezue. “A lot of sports brands rely on their Dubai outlets to serve the whole of Africa. The Nigerian market in particular is an anomaly – if you are here, you can see how much champagne is consumed, how many people use iPhones. There are untapped opportunities.” Read more

3. Nigerian cookie company: From baking at 2am to $2 million investment

After completing her university studies, Debby Lawson, the founder of Nigerian snack and cookie company Fastizers, initially considered careers in the banking or oil industries. However, while searching for employment, she took a position at a bakery in Lagos. During a late-night shift to fulfil a large order, she was inspired to start her own cookie venture. She began with just 1,000 naira (roughly $0.64 in today’s money).

Balancing her bakery job and fledgling business proved unsustainable, prompting her to quit and relocate operations to her sister’s modest kitchen. She began baking every evening after family meals. “Sometimes I’d be in the kitchen at 2am baking cookies. But when you’re doing something you love, it really doesn’t feel like stress,” says Debby. “Seeing the progress, from 20 packs to 50 packs to 100 packs per day… It was exciting.”

Last year, Fastizers received a $2 million investment from Aruwa Capital Management to expand its production capacity. Read more

4. Businessman takes advantage of opportunity in fitness industry

Foluso Ogunwale navigated through initial market scepticism and financing challenges to establish iFitness, a gym chain with 21 branches across Nigeria, addressing a gap in the market for affordable and conveniently located fitness centres. In 2015, when Foluso Ogunwale first launched iFitness, banks and other potential financiers remained sceptical, doubting whether the market was substantial enough to support such a venture. At the time, fitness clubs were often seen as a luxury product rather than preventative health facilities.

Ogunwale emphasises that the proximity of the gyms is crucial, especially in a densely congested city like Lagos. iFitness has a checklist when scouting for the next location. It evaluates the area’s traffic, population density, and the adequacy of access routes. “Wherever there are 25,000 people in a 5km radius is where we want to have at least one iFitness,” he says. Read more

5. Entrepreneur grows farming business into chocolate and plantain flour producer

Selling has been in Nobert Okafor’s blood since he was seven years old. At the time, he would spend Christmas and holidays with his grandmother who grew bananas at her compound in the village of Nimo in Anambra state, Nigeria. She would give the harvest to young Okafor, with the instruction to go make some sales. “I would start in front of her house and when the demand dwindled, I moved the location to the front of my father’s compound. It was along a busier road,” he remembers. “When that didn’t result in sold-out stock, I went to the village market.”

Jump forward three decades and today Okafor is the CEO of the Noberto Group, with its subsidiaries Nobleman Industries, Joofid Construction Company, Noberto Farms and the latest addition, Noberto Renewable Energy. He is still actively chasing sales but has added plantain and cocoa to the bananas, as well as the products processed from these crops. Read more

6. Supplying cassava products to multinationals

Yemisi Iranloye conceived the idea for Psaltry International, a cassava processing company, in 2005. She was then an employee at a firm where she worked extensively with cassava, gaining insight into the crop’s commercial potential. Iranloye began purchasing her first plot of land in instalments while still employed, subsequently developing it into a farm and factory. Psaltry International, now, produces food-grade starch, high-quality cassava flour, and boasts Nigeria’s first cassava-based sorbitol factory. The company grows its own cassava, but also sources from local smallholder farmers. The food-grade starch, with nearly 300 applications in the food industry, is primarily used by beverage companies and for seasoning, noodles, and pastries. Sorbitol, being a healthier sweetener than cane syrup, is used in toothpaste, pharmaceutical drugs, and high-end drinks. Read more