The future of Africa lies in our ability to use our natural resources to create industries that will sustain our communities…
What is it like to be an entrepreneur in Africa today?
It’s a world of possibilities. There is still a lot to be done, a lot of services and products that are available in other parts of the world but not available in Africa. From an optimistic point of view which is what entrepreneurs tend to be, it’s an exciting time to be an entrepreneur in Africa today. We have a blank converse for us to create new services, products and most importantly shape entrepreneurship in the continent. On the other hand, entrepreneurship comes with so many challenges and that is because our entrepreneurial ecosystem is not as developed as in other parts of the world. The major challenges that we face are financing and finding the right people who share your vision.
What exactly do you do at J-palm?
We maximize value for oil palm. Liberia is a place where palm trees grow naturally in the country all year round however farmers are not benefiting from the palm fruit because of certain challenges like access to capital and machinery. Our goal is to create partnerships with communities and install machinery and processors to enable farmers to increase their productivity. We then buy the raw materials from them and produce skin and hair products that we take to the market.
Why did you apply for the Africa Netreneur prize?
A friend emailed me about the opportunity, they believed I would be a good candidate for the initiative. I went to the ANPI site and I was impressed with what I saw, especially the fact that it was being spearheaded by Jack Ma who is an entrepreneurial icon. The fact that he comes from China and as we know it, it is a country where more than 30 years ago was very similar in terms of economic development to most African countries. Through innovation and entrepreneurship, China has been able to climb the ladder very rapidly. I applied for ANPI because I needed access to this kind of network to learn from them. The other reason for applying is the vision for ANPI which is to provide a platform where entrepreneurs can share their stories and inspire more people to start businesses in the continent.
Being an entrepreneur from Liberia did it ever cross your mind that you will be among the top 10?
Honestly, No! Because Liberia is not popularly known for entrepreneurship, unfortunately, we are known for the wrong things like Ebola and War.
How has the entire ANPI experience impacted both you and your business?
I would say a lot. There was a time when the ANPI team sent a camera crew to our country to capture the impact of what I do from the people I am creating impact for. We engaged with the farmers we serve from the grassroots level when we visited the villages. All this reminded me of why I do what I do. I was also inspired by what other entrepreneurs are doing all over the continent. Talking to them made me realize that we are all going through the same challenges. I am glad I now have a community to guide each other, where we learn and share challenges.
How was your experience when you interacted with the Nailab team when you came to Nairobi for the semi-final pitching event?
We need a Nailab in Liberia. It was very impressive to see the way Nailab works with other entrepreneurs. Most entrepreneurship programs I have been through take the format of a lecture whereby they let you go to implement the things you’ve learned on your own. Nailab is different in the sense that entrepreneurs are part of a community thereby receiving continuous support as they build their businesses.
Nailab made my stay in Nairobi seamless. They were very organized especially in setting up flights and hotel coordination. Pitching events are very stressful and it does make a huge difference when you do not have to worry about flight issues or accommodation.
How would you define Mahmud?
Mahmud is a simple guy trying to make a difference. I come from a country where there has been a lot of turmoil and conflict. So I thought to myself how do I transform my nation? While in college I thought of working for the government and being among the people who make policies to drive change in my country but later on I decided to impact peoples’ lives through entrepreneurship. This has been my life for the last 7 years.
What do you do for fun?
I listen to music every day. I love all genres of music. Sometimes I cook because I like good food. I have a small group of friends who I go out with once in a while.
What advice would you give to startups founders who are looking to apply for ANPI in the coming years?
I would advise them to think about the bottom line of their businesses. It’s not enough to understand the numbers they need to go beyond that and understand the impact they are creating. ANPI is not about which business makes the most profit; it’s about having a business model that creates an impact on the lives of people. Entrepreneurs entering the competition need to articulate not just the financial aspect of the business but how they would make the world better if the business becomes successful.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs across Africa who want to get to your level?
Entrepreneurs need to have a clear ‘why’ of what it is that they are doing. That why should give them goosebumps, it needs to be bigger than your need to make you money. Your business idea should inspire you to keep going even on your darkest days. The long term success of your business comes when you endure, being able to go through the challenges and come out the other side better.