Inspiring Startups … June 3rd disaster moved me to start paper bag business

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Entrepreneurs always look for opportunities, in both good and bad times. Even in times of a national tragedy, business ideas can come out. And that is how one young entrepreneur, Sena-Emefa – who talked to the B&FT’s Inspiring Startups – conceived her business idea.

After the sad incident of the June 3rd flood and fire disaster occurred in Accra, she realised that one major cause of the flood was the enormous amount of plastic waste that had choked almost every drainage system in the city. She wanted to be part of the solution to the problem, hence her decision to start a paper-bag-making business. Read on as she shares her story.

Sena-Emefa Azaglo is the last of four children. She had her secondary education at the Ofori Panyin Senior High School where she studied business. From there she continued at the Accra Polytechnic (now Accra Technical University), where she studied accounting and graduated in 2013. She currently holds a degree in Management from the University of Cape Coast.

The thought of starting an eco-friendly business began during the infamous June 3rd 2015 flood and fire disaster that claimed the lives of more than 250 people in the capital city, Accra. For Sena-Emefa, what struck her besides the death-toll was the amount of plastic waste generated in the aftermath of the disaster. She felt something should be done immediately to address the problem, and it didn’t necessarily have to come from government.

So, in her quest to find a solution she recalled a time in her pre-teens when her church organised a camp where they were taught how to make paper bags. But she remembered little about that training, so she went on the Internet to watch videos on how to make paper bags. She started practicing it and got the skill back.

Having acquired that knowledge, she decided to invest more time and money into doing the paper bags. She started making them and posting on her WhatsApp status. At this point, she was not very sure about people’s interest in what she was doing until someone linked her to a business that wanted 100 pieces of the paper bags. That was when she realised she must take things seriously.

Tony Elumelu Foundation comes in handy

When she started taking the business idea seriously, she came across the Tony Elumelu Foundation which organises a programme geared toward supporting African entrepreneurs with funding and knowledge to run their business. She decided to apply the next year (2019). When she did, she wasn’t selected – leaving her discouraged and disappointed.

But some months later, to her big surprise, she received a call from the Foundation in Nigeria, informing her she had been selected as a replacement for someone else. That was a dream come true for her. She learned many things from the programme and networked with other entrepreneurs. Through the network she created, today she is planning on opening a branch in Nigeria. The Foundation supported her business with US$5,000.

Later, she enrolled in another programme organised by the British Council dubbed ‘Enhancing Employability in the Urban Youth’. She progressed to the second stage, where she qualified to be sent to Kenya for capacity building training. Currently, in a month she produces not less than 1,500 pieces of the paper bags. The paper bags come with different prices depending on the size – A4, A3, A2, and other smaller sizes for packing pastries among others. Customers also have the option of customising their bags.

Vision

Sena-Emefa says her vision for Enalaide Enterprise – the name of the company – is to have a big factory that will employ a lot of people and produce paper bags and other paper-made products in large quantities. She says she also wants to produce her own paper one day.

Challenges

One of the biggest challenges she faces on a regular basis is with delivery companies. Through their negligence and failure to show up at the right time, she has lost good business.

Another challenge, she said, is the fact that the paper industry is quite male-dominated and it requires extra effort to break through when a woman enters the industry.

With regard to challenges brought upon her by the coronavirus pandemic, she has lost a substantial portion of her market due to restrictions on restaurants and bars. But like every other serious entrepreneur, it has awakened her to the new reality of changing strategies in marketing. She is now getting aggressive with online marketing.

How education has impacted her business

Sena-Emefa says her background in accounting has really benefitted her in managing her business. She takes book-keeping very seriously, and this helps her track the progress of her business.

Her education, together with the training programmes she has attended, has also helped her know how to understand different customers and the professional ways of treating them so they are satisfied.

How important is economic empowerment of women to society?

For her, it is very important for women to be empowered economically as it boosts their self-respect in society. If a woman is not economically empowered, she says, they will have to always depend on men for even the basic necessities of life. With regard to this, she is calling on women business leaders and other entrepreneurs to help their fellow women rise from the poverty zone.

What government must do to encourage entrepreneurship

One way to encourage entrepreneurship, she says, is to start entrepreneurship training right from the basic school level, so that as young ones are growing up they will always consider it as the best way to look for a job.

And again, when it comes to funding she adds, government must set aside funds and make them available for entrepreneurs who have viable business ideas. Such funds, she says, should be managed by private hands to ensure fair selection of those who apply.

Advice to young entrepreneurs

“If you want to start a business, you have to be ready to sacrifice a lot of comfort in order to make your business succeed. It is difficult at some point, and so you should know that things won’t come easy all the time. Believe in what you are doing and put in efforts to make it happen.”

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