Onyekachi Ekezie is a non-conventional entrepreneur.
Kachi, as he is fondly called, is neither a chef nor passionate about letting the women know there is no big deal in food. He simply wants to show that the taste of the pudding is not only in the eating, but more in the packaging. He is the CEO of a leading food and soup packaging brand in Nigeria. Hear him speak about this passion to sell Nigeria to Nigerians and to the world:
Tell us about your background and who Kachi Ekezie is?
My name is Onyekachi Ekezie from Imo State in Nigeria, and I am the Chief Executive of Kaptain Foods Limited. I grew up in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria, where I attended primary school and then went off to Benin, Edo State, to attend the Igbinedion Education Centre Secondary School. I completed my secondary school education in the U.K. I obtained a degree in Computer Science from the Bowie State University U.S.A. I worked in Houston with an Oil and Gas Company for eight years, and then relocated to Nigeria five years ago.
Food packaging may be seen as a feminine business, as a man why did you venture into this line?
Food processing, manufacturing, packaging and distribution is a commercial venture that is not tied to gender. As a matter of fact, this business space is male dominated due to the end-to-end value chain. And believe me it’s tedious, it requires time and high level of dedication. Kaptain Ready Stews is our first product that we launched into the Nigerian market. Cooking in the kitchen is culturally perceived as a role that should be led by women in our society, but as an innovative company, we are positioned to continuosly thinking of better ways to support life-styles, reduce stress, and provide healthy food options in a scalable way that can cater for all the various segments of the economy.
What has been your experience since you started the business?
My experience has been good so far, the business is growing, and I am proud to see how far we have come from inception. The team is growing and we are expanding the market for our products not just domestically but exports as well.
Do you have any difficulty doing a business believed to be for women?
Well, I get emails and I am addressed as “Dear Madam” because they assume the founder is a woman, but I get a kick out of it so I don’t view it as a challenge.
How do the social, economic, environmental, and technological environments impact your business?
Initially access to foreign exchange was a problem for us, but the FX issue has improved. The good thing about our business is that 95 per cent of our inputs are locally sourced. Power is also a challenge today in our operations, but we are looking at alternative sources of energy like solar to help reduce our electricity costs. Technology is having a great impact on our business; we are able to market our products on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (@kaptainfoods) and also sell on e-commerce platforms.
What strategies did you adopt to overcome the numerous challenges in entrepreneurship?
Firstly, entrepreneurship is about risk taking and you must first overcome the fear of taking risk. The second thing and most important is to create a plan and start small, mistakes are going to be made but it’s easier to correct them when you start on a smaller scale. Operational challenges will always come, but you have to remain vision focused.
What innovations have you brought into food packaging business?
We have brought innovation into our packaging because we want to be competitive internationally. When people see our product they think it’s an imported product, but it’s “made in Nigeria”, by a Nigerian, and I am very proud of that.
What is the scope of your business and how have you sustained the growth of Kaptain Foods?
We are focused on manufacturing ready to eat foods that provide convenience to over 180 million Nigerian consumers and beyond. Value embedded in a unique product that is tasty and at right price.
What are the challenges associated with sourcing for your raw materials and how are you able to overcome them?
Logistics is always a challenge due to poor infrastructure, but we partner with smallholder farmers directly for our raw materials to ensure we always have a control of our supply chain.
Many people are now wary of the nature and kind of preservatives used for foods, as some are considered as dangerous to human health. How do you guard against this?
I am somebody who is very conscious about what I put in my stomach, so Kaptain Ready Stews provides consumers with a healthy option because it does not contain any artificial colours, additives or preservatives. We use natural preservatives and technology to preserve the product.
Do you engage in exports and how do you cope in the international market?
Yes, we have opened up markets in Ghana, and we are exploring markets across sub-Sahara Africa, the U.K. and U.S.
If you were not into food processing, what else would you have done?
I would have either remained in the Oil and Gas sector or explored opportunities within the ICT sector.
What is your experience in getting funding for your business? Could the experience have been better, and how?
Well it has been all equity up to this point, and Kaptain Foods was also a beneficiary of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) seed fund implemented by the Nigeria Expanded Trade and Transport Project, which helped agribusinesses in Nigeria develop business plans, generate investments and facilitate exports. The business has reached the growth stage, and we are exploring all the options available to us.
What can unemployed youths who are interested in being entrepreneurs do under the current economic scenario to become successful business owners?
I think entrepreneurship is critical for the economic growth in Nigeria. Unemployment levels are really high so we need more youths to go into business and not rely on white-collar jobs. I believe more young people need to go into agriculture because this will help the nation move away from over-dependence in Oil & Gas. Funding shouldn’t be a deterrent because once the journey starts you will be able to attract funding from either grants or loans.
How do you think the government can encourage young entrepreneurs?
I think the government needs to create an enabling environment for entrepreneurs to be inspired to go into business and grow. I think it’s the lack of infrastructure and policies that prevent young entrepreneurs from taking risks that could facilitate growth in their businesses.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Innovation! Risk taking! And management!
Finally, where you see yourself and your business in the next 10 years?
Well, I hope to have built up a reputable company that operates on a global scale. I also hope to invest in other entrepreneurs, who also aspire to go on the journey and do my part to move Nigeria forward as a nation.