By Bethany-Angel Chijindu, Staff Writer
Africa and Africans don’t always get a chance to tell their own stories. However, many African countries are now emerging markets that attract the world’s attention. Many of the people taking advantage of this are young people from the continent. This is the first part of a series on young African entrepreneurs.
Changing People’s Lives
As I began this series, I wanted to find out what made these young people take a bold step in starting their own business. This week the entrepreneur I interviewed was Obi Aniedo who runs her own business, a café in Lekki, Lagos, Nigeria called Live and Blossom. For Aniedo, the idea to begin her own brand started when she lived in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, and in 2009 she created the brand Blossom. But it wasn’t until she moved back to Nigeria in 2014, that she registered it as a limited liability company in March 2014 and began full operations.
Growing up in Nigeria and Zambia I know from experience that as children most people did not talk of being entrepreneurs. Rather, back then, the focus was on being a doctor, lawyer, engineer or some other prestigious job. So, I wanted to find out what Mrs. Aniedo wanted to be as child. And her answer did not surprise me:
“I thought I was going to be a lawyer because it didn’t involve mathematics, which was a very challenging subject for me as a child.”
So, what happened? How did many of us end up with other careers outside of our childhood dream jobs? I like to say we thankfully grew up and found out our strengths and passions. For some, finding our strengths and passion is a straightforward road. For others, it is a more complicated route with several detours. Aniedo ended up studying Finance and Banking, and her experience in college in the US prepared her for launching and running Live and Blossom after she left her job at Merrill Lynch and Co in New York City.
Our lives as individuals and the struggles we face can often lead us not only to find solutions for ourselves but to help others. For Aniedo, it was a struggle with eating disorders that ultimately led to her dream:
“Live and Blossom was first a dream of the future I so desired and was desperate for. For 14 years, I struggled with eating disorders, and in 2002, it spiraled completely out of control, and I started struggling with depression as well.”
This was her difficult quest: to find real foods that did the body good and to enjoy eating in absolute freedom. As a Christian, she spent hours in prayer to ask God to show her the foods he had created for the nourishment of the human body and to give her wisdom to choose them and enjoy them with self-control and autonomy. She hated what junk was doing to her.
It was while facing her struggles that Aniedo began to think of creating her own brand. This was not something she had envisioned she would do as a child, as she says:
“I didn’t grow up thinking I was going to run my own business. However, as I battled eating disorders, I would often daydream of the life I truly wanted to live. The idea of establishing a company like Live and Blossom to first cater to my own needs, and then the needs of others began to blossom in my mind. It was a dream that gave me hope and an escape from the vicious, seemingly unending cycle of defeat and failure I was experiencing with eating disorder and depression.”
Solutions don’t often come easily, and for Aniedo it would take another seven years before she gained her freedom. Now she is totally free from eating disorder and depression. She spreads her message with Live and Blossom co-owner Modupe Okougha by creating meals, snacks, and desserts with the whole foods only. Live and Blossom also inspires people to a culture of seamlessly eating healthy, wholesome, pure, living, unadulterated foods made with foods that have not been compromised.
Why Healthy Organic Food?
As Aniedo said, “Our bodies are made up of cells, tissues, organs, muscles, and bones that are nourished or weakened by the quality and type of foods we provide them. Through our choice of food, we could either help to build, repair, rejuvenate, and heal all the different parts that make up our bodies, or deteriorate them over time. Healthy organic food is the fuel given to us by God for the nourishment and upkeep of our bodies. So, it’s only wise that we go after them.”
It is easy to see what drives Aniedo to provide healthy food for her family and for her clients. She lives out her day doing what she believes and extends her value for health and wellness to anyone who is willing to try it and be part of it.
In a place like Lagos, where people are so busy they often just grab the things they need to make quick meals, Live and Blossom offers a solution. However, starting and running a business in Nigeria and any other emerging market comes with its own challenges. For Live and Blossom, it was sourcing for raw natural food materials, the core of the brand, that proved challenging. Initially, she sourced most of her raw products from the northeast United States because that was where she lived and started Blossom, so her knowledge of supply was limited to that city and nearby. However online shopping was also a big tool for her, especially for those places she couldn’t physically get to. Sadly, the Nigerian naira crashed, and the exchange rate made Live and Blossom’s retail prices look prohibitive, making it one of the company’s biggest challenges.
However, when it comes to marketing the brand, technology and social media have proven to be a successful tool, with the brand using specifically Facebook and Instagram to reach a much wider audience. The company uses these mediums to post pictures of their products as well as knowledgeable information about various foods, their benefits, recipes, as well as inspirations that are very relevant.
Live and Blossom is not resting on its laurels, as it has started holding events around whole foods that bring the family and community to feast on healthy foods at their café. The first event was an exclusive dinning affair in November 2016. In September 2017, they had two different events: a Back-to-School Social and a Family and Friend’s Brunch. In November, they are going to have the Dining Affair for the second time.
Live and Blossom is a wonderful example of people taking a bold step, and making a difference using their talents. And as Aniedo says to those seeking to start a business:
“Follow your heart. Stay true to yourself, and be diligent. There are great opportunities in Nigeria. Be willing to stay patient and dedicated as you create, mold, and shape your business.”