I started business with N35,000 – MSME of the year winner

Ifeoluwa Olatayo

Ifeoluwa Olatayo (30) won the overall Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) award of 2019 organised by the presidency. The award earned her an SUV: Hyundai Creta, N2 million cash and other gifts. She is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Soupah Limited, a company she started while in the university. Soupah Limited is an innovative enterprise on the agricultural value chain that engages in rooftop greenhouses, food processing and farm linkages for smallholder farmers.

Were you surprised when you heard your name as the overall winner of the 2019 MSMEs award?

I was very surprised.

You studied English, what prompted your going into entrepreneurship?

When I got into the University of Ibadan (UI), I started looking for opportunities by identifying different problems I could solve. I went to visit a friend living in another dormitory. There, someone said she was going for shopping at the Bodija Market; less than two kilometres m from the university. My friend’s roommates started giving her their shopping lists. This drama piqued my curiosity and I offered to go and do the shopping for them. That was how the idea of Soupah Limited was birthed.

What did you produce that earned you the award?

Basically, we work with local farmers and we collect vegetables such as tomato and pepper and spices. We process them into various soup ingredients and jollof mix. The mix has all the combination of ingredients like tomato, pepper, spices, herbs and salt. Once you constitute it with water, it turns into paste. Then you add your vegetable and palm oil. Within two minutes, the soup base for your jollof rice or soup is ready. This makes cooking convenient for people.

Soupah Limited is an innovative enterprise on the agricultural value chain that engages in rooftop greenhouses, food processing and farm linkages for smallholder farmers. We plant leafy vegetables using hydroponics technology, and we work with local farmers to process vegetables into spices that are fortified.

Funding seems to be a challenge for many MSMEs, was there any time you wanted to stop business because of funding?

Funding is a challenge, but it has never made me to want to stop business. I started the business out of passion, and money has been like a reward to the whole process.

So despite the fact that we need funding, I do not necessarily consider it as my entrepreneurial factor.

What are the challenges you have faced doing this business?

As a startup, Soupah Limited has not been without its fair share of challenges. However, the biggest of all its challenges was an incident on June 5, 2012; I had a fire accident which had me hospitalised for a whole month.

I had just washed, chopped and ground my pepper and was in the process of boiling it on a gas cooker when I heard an explosion and the last thing I saw was a large ball of fire. Neighbours as far as 300 metres heard the explosion and many fled to safety before I was eventually discovered and rushed to the hospital. I spent the first three days of a month-long hospitalisation under a respirator owing to inhalation injuries.

Occupational hazards are work-related injuries which can be physical, chemical, biological and even psychological, and every business person needs to know the possibilities of each occurring and think of ways to mitigate them.

What key things have you learnt doing business in Nigeria?

You have to be as tenacious as possible because you face a lot of challenges along the way.

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?

We are in tough financial times, so the earlier you start running your business, the better. As an undergraduate you can start your business and operate at spare times just as I did. Don’t give excuses. Just start with the little you have.

It is also important to know that doing business is simply solving a problem. People only want to exchange value for money, so there has to be a value (solution) that you are offering.

To start, research and understand your market first so that you will have a proper grasp of your deliverables. Put in a lot of hard work and try to focus on the future. You will be thankful you did.

How much money did you start with and how many jobs have you created so far?

I started with a small refrigerator and a capital of N35, 000. I was processing spices and combining them as ingredients. Gradually, I have been able to grow and improve the business. We have made a lot of progress.

Presently, we have 21 employees and we are located in Ibadan, Oyo State.

What are your plans for the next two years?

We want to expand to additional 10 states in Nigeria in the next three years. We want to be a household name; servicing at least two million homes with our products.

Presently, our products circulate mainly in two states: Oyo and Osun.

What is your educational qualification?

I graduated with a Diploma in Public Administration from Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo, Nigeria, in 2007, and obtained a BA in English from the UI in 2012.a

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