She calls herself Africa’s youngest street entrepreneur. She started her manufacturing business with as little as N700 ($2). Instead of compromising her integrity for a job offer at the Central Bank of Nigeria, she opted to become an entrepreneur to create jobs. She is fast becoming a big time player in the agricultural industrial value chain. She is the MD/CEO of Utytrends, one of Nigeria’s emerging custard and cosmetics manufacturers.
She is a phenomenal entrepreneur who doesn’t take no for an answer. Her entrepreneurial journey gives absolute validation to the fact that an entrepreneur can start a successful business with less than N1,000 or $3.
She is Utibe Akwa, a female entrepreneur who turned her rejection into a business development opportunity.
In this interview, miss Utibe leads us into her entrepreneurial journey and what has made her become a reference point today. Enjoy her story!
Please Tell Us About Yourself And What You Do.
I am Utibe Akwa, a young entrepreneur from Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. I am a simple but unconventional business person who often describes herself as the youngest street entrepreneur around. In short, I am a passionate food entrepreneur who is committed to building locally trusted food brands that guarantee healthy living among African households.
I am the MD of Utytrends Enterprises, an emerging indigenous manufacturing start up that deals in the production of food consumables and cosmetology for individuals and corporate organizations with the aim of adding value to the consumables and cosmetology industry in the 21st century. We are the makers of Unik Milky Custard, an emerging brand providing an excellent alternative to foreign custard brands in Nigeria.
What Is Your Academic Background?
I hold an HND in Business Administration and Management from Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic and I am currently undergoing a Post Graduate Diploma in Economics from the University of Uyo. I am a certified Project Manager from the Institute of Project Management (IPMP)
What Inspired You Into Entrepreneurship?
My Inspiration is simply that once the passion is right, everything is possible. That is why I do not join the bandwagon, but stand out for a purposeful life. I dare to add value to my generation and make living life each day a meaningful and worthy venture, by innovating and creating and inventing, even re-inventing.
Who & What Inspired You Into Venturing Into The Business You’re Currently Doing?
Lots of factors culminated to inspire my guts to entrepreneurship; primary among these was my passion. But aside from my passion was my philosophy of life. I have the philosophy that I don’t need to depend on the society, but contribute my quota thereto. I have to contribute my quota to solving unemployment problems.
Again, another situation that morphed my inspiration was one unforgettable experience I had in the course of searching for a job. The story is tearful.
“When I passed out of NYSC as the best Corp member in a Central Bank of Nigeria sponsored contest in 2016, I was given an automatic employment with the Central Bank of Nigeria. When I took the offer letter to the person concerned for documentation, it turned out to be something else. I was demanded to play ‘the shit’ before I was given the job. I dropped everything and left and swore never to go back, because I couldn’t do the bidding, because the bidding was a ‘shit’ that defied morality. All these culminated into my venturing into entrepreneurship.”
In addition, I think my mother, father and unborn kids inspired me into entrepreneurship as I kept on asking myself the question: what image of a mother will they come to see? The answer to this question was only found in entrepreneurship.
Again, I was inspired to do this when I discovered the gap in most of the household products. There was a gap in Custard consumption. For instance, in custard production, I felt a need to address the issue of the stress of buying milk and sugar after making Custard. I had to create something new, by adding these ingredients to my custard production to make it different from ordinary custard in the market. That is how l came about one of our product lines, Unik Milky Custard. The drive behind this was to fill in the gap. And that is what I am known for.
Who Are The Model Entrepreneurs You Look Up To?
I would say, it’s Aliko Dangote and my greatest ambition is to operate along that standard.
Who Is Your Mentor?
My mentor is my Mother.
Have You Faced Any Challenges While Being An Entrepreneur?
No human venture exists without challenges. Mine is not exceptional. One of such challenges I have faced overtime in the course of this business is finance. There was a time I was getting fed up. While the demand for my products was getting higher everyday with so many supermarkets and shops demanding more and more, scaling up production was a challenge because first of all, I was yet to be registered with NAFDAC and certified by SON and other relevant regulatory agencies.
Also, I faced the challenge of lack of requisite machinery. Getting machines for my production, so as to produce in larger quantities and ameliorate the stress associated with manual production of large volumes was quite herculean. Today however, I have been able to meet these requirements and now my product is going international. I still have challenges though, but nothing can stop me from becoming a super successful entrepreneur.
Has There Been Any Business Success Story In Your Family Before Now?
No one has ever done business in my family. We are not known for business but civil service. My mother is a Head mistress while my Father is a school principal.
How Did Your Family And Friends React To Your Decision To Be An Entrepreneur?
When I started, no one wanted me to do that as they considered that I was too brilliant for it coupled with the fact that I had just graduated as the best student. I was mocked and rejected. But today, the story is different. Now, everyone wants me to be their referee.
What Can You Say Is The Secret To Your Success In Business?
In summary, the secret to my success in business is determination, consistency and persistence
What Is Your Greatest Reward Since You Started This Entrepreneurial Journey?
The greatest reward for me in this entrepreneurial journey is that I have been able to touch lives; reach the apex of my passion; affect the society in a very special way; serve as an inspiration to Nigeria youths. I feel so fulfilled being able to motivate and encourage the youths to eschew the practice of dependency after graduation.
My Reward also lies when I turn back to see that I have been able to train and raise manufacturers in over 26 cosmetics products.
Where Do You See Your Business In 10 Years?
10 years that you are asking is too much. In the next one year, my business will
*Gain increased market share for global consumption of our products.
*Gain brand loyalty for all our products
*Acquire all the legal registrations to enable us export our products
*Acquire a landed property for our factory
*Acquire a bucket sealing machine, a plastic sealing machine and a liquid mixer
What Books Do You Read And What Business Courses Have You Taken So Far On Your Entrepreneurial Journey?
I spend my time reading businesses. I have undergone so many business/Entrepreneurial Courses and am currently doing a Mobil and Cherie Blaire Foundation sponsored entrepreneurship development programme at the Enterprise Development Centre of the Lagos Business School
What Do You Think Is The Greatest Challenge Facing Startups In Nigeria And Africa?
Yes, many entrepreneurs will tell you that access to finance is their major challenge but I dare to debunk that.
I started my business with just 700 Naira ($2).
The major challenge many businesses are facing today is that they are unable to identify the problem their businesses are solving neither are they able to get their products to their target market.
What Advice Do You Have For Young Africans Still Contemplating About Embracing Entrepreneurship?
My message to all of Africa’s young people is that, instead of waiting for the employment that will take a long time before it comes (if it ever comes), learn to create one for yourself. Have your passion, be determined, be focused, be resilient and you will get there. Don’t give up on the lopsided employment situation in the country.
And for the budding youth entrepreneurs, the simple parameters are: Determination, consistency and persistence. It is one thing to embark on a project; it’s another to remain on top gear of the project to sustain it. It is important for every entrepreneur to realize that the business environment in our contemporary society is thorny, unfriendly, competitive and challenging; thus, it takes only resilience, persistence and passion to sustain and thrive up to one’s aspirations.
We hope you have learned a lot from Utibe’s story. Please watch this space for more inspiring stories of African entrepreneurs.