Nobukhosi Ndlovu read once somewhere “Whenever you want to give up, just remind yourself of the reason why you started.” Those words get her though each day when she rises at 5 am and works long hours to grow her food processing business, connect with local farmers and customers, and acquire the capital she needs to fill demand and make the Nutri brand a household name in Zimbabwe and beyond.
“I wish someone had told me that being an entrepreneur is not easy,” the 30-year-old Zimbawean laughs. “Though it’s the best thing anyone can do, being employed by someone else is definitely a lot easier. But I’m proud I started Nutrie Foods and that everyday l face challenges that I overcome. God has always given me the strength to go on and I will never give up.”
Born in Gweru, smack in the middle of Zimbabwe, Ndlovu was one of 12 children. She inherited entrepreneurial genes and aspirations as her parents were farmers, owned a grocery store, and operated a trucking company.
“I always dreamed l’d be as successful as they were and own my business. I saw how people respected my mother, and l thought it would be great to employ other people and have such an impact on their lives. Every school holiday, l would work at the shop and saw myself as the owner. My parents gave me a lot of responsibilities and always asked my input on decisions regarding the business.”
Far from dreams of peanut butter, Ndlovu’s career began in human resources when she worked at Head Hunters International as a consultant and then business development manager for more than six years. Although she was a full-time employee, the enterprising Ndlovu couldn’t resist dabbling in side businesses and was selling imported clothing and homeware at a shop she opened and managed with one employee. The pull of becoming her own boss became increasingly strong and she started saving toward the goal. The decisive moment came when she enrolled in a Masters of Commerce program at her alma mater, Midlands State University, while continuing to work with the firm. Her plans of launching Nutrie Foods started to take shape.
“One of my aims when l finished my degree was that I wouldn’t be working for someone. I wanted to be my own boss and have a business that would not only add value to me but enable me to hire and empower others. Rather than focusing on the clothing and homeware business, which I still own, I decided to enter the food sector because I knew this would involve job creation, especially when the company would grow.”
“I wish someone had told me that being an entrepreneur is not easy,” the 30-year-old Zimbawean laughs. “Though it is the best thing anyone can do, being employed by someone else is definitely a lot easier. But I’m proud I started Nutrie Foods and that everyday l face challenges that I overcome. God has always given me the strength to go on and I will never give up.”
After graduation, although she’d been saving, Ndlovu faced a problem that is common to many women entrepreneurs in Africa: lack of funding. She didn’t have enough money to buy the equipment necessary to launch production.
“All African women are hardworking and have thriving business ideas with a lot of potential. But their businesses remain small and do not grow because they can’t access finance. This is mostly because they lack collateral to secure loans from the bank as most properties are in their spouse’s name. This was my problem! In the end, l approached Virl Microfinance. My business was new so they were reluctant to give me a loan, but l was persuasive and had no intention of giving up,” she laughs, adding with emphasis, “They approved my loan and I was on my way.”
That was three years ago. She grew Nutrie Foods by visiting wholesalers, distributors, and shops in person until the referrals started to come in. But even now, Ndlovu maintains a personal touch and regularly visits customers to keep relationships strong. Today, operating out of a production facility in Harare, the food production company has grown from 6 to 30 employees and produces predominantly peanut butter products but also corn chips, small grains and matemba or dried fish. Products are available across Zimbabwe with plans for export.
Although she has a well-established network of local farmers, a shortage of raw materials keeps Ndlovu up at night. Procuring new suppliers is a critical success factor for the Nutrie brand as the determined Zimbabwean is looking to expand her product line to include soya chunks, jam, cooking oil, fruit juice and household items such as scouring powder, and dishwashing soap.
And funding remains an issue too.
“Having access to finance is key because l already have a huge market for my products, but I’m not able to meet demand because my capital base is too small,” she clarifies.
But, if anything, Ndlovu is determined.
“The best moment of my professional life was when I first saw Nutrie peanut butter on the shelves of major wholesalers and supermarkets. I hold that feeling and it keeps me going. I’m not going to allow the economy or limited resources stop me. I started where I was, growing the business bit by bit. And with patience and hard work, I got to where I am today. The most important thing is to start and never give up.”
- If you have a dream or business idea, don’t wait for the right time, implement it now.
- Learn to celebrate every success no matter how small and also accept that every failure is a learning curve.
- Owning your own business is really hard work! Start small and take each day as it comes.