Today on the African Entrepreneurs Spotlight Series, we feature the 2019 Startup Nigeria Pitching Competition grand prize winner, Ikechukwu Amajuoyi of Kernelinc Resources.
Ikechukwu is one very ambitious entrepreneur that has carved a niche for himself having built a successful business in the palm oil value chain.
He is an industrial value chain actor that has positioned himself to create enormous wealth and employment opportunity by harnessing Nigeria’s rich oil palm potential.
It was this strategic positioning that won Ikechukwu the grand prize at the 2019 Startup Nigeria Pitching Competition. Startup Nigeria Pitching Competition is an Entrepreneurship Contest to identify and reward outstanding Nigerian entrepreneurs in Nigeria.
He is determined to restore Nigeria’s glory in palm oil production.
If you’re a consumer of palm oil, it’s very likely that the next palm oil you’ll buy in the supermarket will be from Ikechukwu’s Kernelinc Resources.
So, how did this journey start? In this exclusive interview, Mr. Amajuoyi lets us into his highly inspiring entrepreneurial journey.
Please read and enjoy!
Please let us meet you
My name is Amajuoyi Ikechukwu Kingsley. I am the Founder of Kernelinc Resources.
Kernelinc Resources is an integrated palm oil processing company located in Abia State. We harvest, process and package 100% organic palm oil.
We leverage technology to curb palm oil adulteration with our unique QR code and tamper proof seal.
What is your academic background?
I am a graduate of Industrial Chemistry from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO)
I also hold a Pg.D in Environmental Chemistry from the University of Port Harcourt.
What inspired you into entrepreneurship?
My entrepreneurial journey started early in secondary school. I used to make clothes for friends and family and the before long, I started mini-exportation of our fashion brand.
Kernelinc Resources (KR Foods) on the other hand, was birthed out of a vision to address the challenge of achieving food security domestically. We chose to start with palm oil because of its super functionality, versatility, propensity to create massive jobs and to address the environmental concerns associated with palm oil processing.
What informed your decision to venture into the business you’re currently doing?
In an unregulated market that allows the proliferation of adulterated palm oil that is injurious to health and the leading cause of cancer, we launched KR FOODS to curb adulteration.
Our aim is to provide a healthier alternative for the cooking needs of Nigerians targeting price conscious but health seeking teeming masses.
What were the challenges you faced when starting out as an entrepreneur?
Generally, doing business in Nigeria is not easy. The challenges we’ve faced have ranged from community resistance, extortion, multiple taxation to theft. But the biggest challenges have been: poor infrastructure (Power, roads), high logistics cost, ownership structure of palm estates and unregulated market prices.
Does your family have any background in business? Any business success story in your family before now?
My parents were both civil servants and are now retired. They might not have had business experience, but they taught me valuable lessons on money management which has helped me succeed in business.
How did your family and friends react to your decision to be an entrepreneur?
At first, they were skeptical about the idea of becoming a farmer. But they encouraged me albeit. When they started seeing the passion and resilience that I put into it, the various recognition I got and the impact of our products; they embraced it wholeheartedly.
Has their position changed now that you are successful?
Well, I won’t say it changed. Because, they have always supported me. What has changed is the constant reminder that I could get a job and then do this on the side. They now understand that this is WORK/JOB and the LIFE I’ve chosen.
What can you say is the secret to your success in business?
Well, I will attribute it totally to God. There were times I encountered challenges that put me out of business and all hope was lost.
I would say the secret is that I “DARE TO DREAM”. I have failed a couple of times while trying out new ways to improve my business, but those times I failed led to the success that is visible right now.
What has your business achieved so far and where do you see your business in 10 years?
We have Big Hairy Audacious Goals in different time lines:
Short-medium term: Our vision is to make KR FOODS palm oil the leading palm oil brand in Nigeria and Africa as a healthier and affordable choice for their cooking needs.
Medium-long term: To fully integrate our operations from palm oil and kernel production, to livestock and organic farming using by-products and wastes from our milling processes for feed and fertilizer formulation respectively.
We are dedicated to solving the problem of food security, contribute to socio-economic development and promoting climate smart processing.
Recently, you were announced the grand prize winner of the 2019 Startup Nigeria Pitching Competition. How did it feel to have emerged winner?
I was speechless… It was beyond the price money for me. Competing in a category that had Ed tech, energy, games and e-commerce business as competitors was a proof that what we are doing is relevant and that KR Foods is an agent for change and socio-economic development
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs wishing to win startup grants like you won the Startup Nigeria Pitching Competition?
Who is your mentor and how has he/she inspired you to success?
I have been motivated by the success stories of several people like Christiano Ronaldo, Tiger Woods etc. who through persistence, resilience and passion have become success stories.
Dangote is also an inspiration for me. He has footprints in every facet of our lives from real estate to food and transportation. We aim to have such impact in the lives of Nigerians and Africans at large.
What books do you read and what business courses have you taken so far on your entrepreneurial journey?
Truth be told, I’m not the reading type. But in the course of doing business, I’ve come to realize that it is essential. Books I’ve read are: LEAN STARTUP, TRACTION, EAT THAT FROG, BUILT TO LAST, BLUE OCEAN STRATEGY, 80-20 PRINCIPLE and articles on the Malaysian palm oil value chain.
I have taken entrepreneurship courses from institutions like: African Management Institute, FATE Foundation, Enterprise Development Centre and recently Startup Nigeria (Ventures platform)
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing startups in Nigeria and Africa?
The greatest challenge plaguing Nigerian and African startups is access to SME-focused finance. Existing funding sources have High interest rates, short moratorium and other stringent conditions.
In your opinion, how best can this challenge be tackled?
Provide access to impact investment through grants and single digit interest loans. Reduce bureaucratic bottle necks associated with loan documentation for SMEs.
What advice do you have for young Africans still contemplating about embracing entrepreneurship?
To all intending entrepreneurs, I’ll start by saying that this journey is not for the fainthearted. You’ll fail sometimes, go broke sometimes, make personal sacrifices… But keep at it.
I leave you with this quote from Calvin Coolidge:
“Nothing in the world can take place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
So, there it is! Such an inspiring entrepreneurial experience. Daring to venture into an agricultural industrial value chain activity takes only a determined entrepreneur.
He failed a number of times, yet didn’t give up. That’s a lesson for other African entrepreneurs.
Once again, congratulations Ikechukwu for winning the 2019 Startup Nigeria Pitching Competition.