Yes, she is hitting the headlines in all news outlets in Ghana. Everyone knows she won the maiden Presidential pitch. Her business is just three months old, and what is more, she is just 19. But a few know that Vanessa, some few months ago, was just a ‘hawker’ who nearly gave up on her business. Read on as she shares her entrepreneurial journey with the B&FT’s Inspiring Start-ups.
Vanessa Aisha Limann is a product of the Methodist Girls Senior High School, Manfe Akuapem, Eastern Region of Ghana. After completing the senior high in May 2017, she decided to spend her idle time with her friend selling her mother’s cosmetic products. They moved from one place to another—on streets, shop to shop, offices to office, among others. She was enjoying her new exploits as it came along with some commission from her mother.
Her interest in starting her own business sparked when she partook in an exhibition held at the Trade Fair Centre, Accra.
“At the trade exhibition, I decided to go round and see the products of others. There, I saw a variety of products made in Ghana. I was very impressed and from that moment, I started thinking about starting something on my own.”
Well, Vanessa didn’t have to look far as she already had knowledge about breakfast cereals. Her mother used to make some for her to take to school and so automatically, she learned to do it too.
Having settled on making breakfast from cereals, she began with maize and rice. She made a mix of each cereal and other ingredients and packaged them in little sachets with the brand name Nesslac. Then, she gave it to her younger sister to give to her friends at school. It took no long for the lads to start rushing it as the one made of maize had the familiar taste of Cerelac—a well-known product in Ghana. Because of the rush on the products, the kids started buying it. This was the point Vanessa realised it will be a good business.
But the rice product became increasingly expensive for her to make so she dropped it. Having settled on the maize, she decided to invest her GH¢500 that she had saved to originally purchase a new phone.
“I said to myself that if I use this money to buy a phone, it may get missing or spoil one day. But if I invest the money into the business, I can make profit and buy a better phone later.”
So to improve the product, she took advantage of the internet and read wide about cereals and watched videos on YouTube to learn more. It was after this time that she started producing in commercial quantities.
Everyone who bought the product gave positive feedback about it and this motivated Vanessa to think of her next product—the wheat crunch.
So currently, in just three months, and in her second production line, she is selling two products—Instant Cereals and Wheat Crunch, and will soon add another.
Both products are instant foods and needs no further processing before they can be consumed. The maize product, which is called Instant cereal, is best enjoyed as breakfast by especially children and young adults. The wheat crunch is targeted more at the aged and people placed on diet, as its ingredients make it a health product.
Even though her business is just three months old, the vision is big. She wants to go international by exporting them to other countries and compete with the big brands in the industry.
That is not to say Vanessa had a smooth journey. There are times that she became so overwhelmed with challenges that she thought about quitting.
“The biggest problem I faced when I started this business was financial constraints. This business requires money to buy some machines to be efficient in production. But with just GH¢500, I could not buy any.
Another challenge I faced was the market. When I started producing, it was difficult convincing people about the product. Some people judged me by my age and felt I lack experience to produce quality products. So initially, when people asked who made the products, I replied that it was my mother.”
She was also not spared with the usual ‘you can’t do syndrome’ from close people. Until she won the presidential award, some felt it wasn’t really a profitable venture for her to invest her time and resources in as a young lady.
The Presidential Pitch…how it happened
Of course we cannot talk about Vanessa without mentioning what made her famous—the Presidential Pitch. Vanessa narrates how she heard of the Presidential Pitch.
“I was home one time and my mother sent me the link on WhatsApp. I didn’t even know what it was about so I asked her what it was. She told me it is a Presidential Pitch and someone sent to her but her age disqualifies her so I should apply since I qualify. Well, I was not so much sure about it but I decided to give it a try.
Once again, I searched online and learned how to write a business plan. But I had some challenges in writing one and sought the help of someone. I showed it to one man who works in one of the offices I sold my mother’s product. He fine-tuned it for me.
The day I submitted mine was on deadline day. I had to submit latest by 12:00 noon. After going through a lot of pressure on that day, I finally submitted, but at 12 noon, so I doubted whether the application will go through. In fact, I took my mind off it. Quite surprisingly, the authorities extended the deadline by one day. At that point, I kept my hopes alive again.
Three weeks’ time I received a call from the Business Development Ministry that I have been shortlisted among the 20 qualified entrepreneurs.”
Noteworthy in Vanessa’s journey was after she applied for the pitch. Within those three-week period, before she was called by the ministry, she nearly gave up.
“Things became tough for me during this period. I didn’t have enough money to inject into the business; sales had gone down; people were not buying that much, so I was discouraged and almost gave up. I kept asking myself who I was going to sell my products to. In fact, I really wanted to give up. But my mother encouraged me not to stop, things will get better one day.”
The story continues. After, she received the call from the ministry that she has been shortlisted, she was told to come for the first pitching.
“When I got there, I was frightened by the people I saw. I realised I could not match any of the entrepreneurs there. They were all older than me; educated than me; and more experienced than me, so I felt I had no chance.
But after the pitch, I was selected among the last ten. And they told us we are going to pitch in front of the President the following week. There, I became more anxious and tensed. But on that day, God helped me and I delivered the way we were taught to. Finally, I was announced as the winner. I could not believe it, I thought I was day-dreaming.”
So that was how it occurred for Vannessa in her rise to fame.
Advice to the youth
My advice to the youth is to be innovative and come up with something with the little resources they have. They shouldn’t always wait for government jobs. They should appreciate starting from humble beginnings with the little they have. I started with GH¢500 and now I have got a funding of GH¢75,000.
Contact Vanessa on 050 214 7624