I sat down with Ukamaka Okolo, the founder of Big Mama Africa Biz concept to discuss how she founded what she hopes will be Enugu’s food market hub.
Tell us a little about yourself
I’m Ukamaka Okolo, the founder of Big Mama Africa Biz concept, a business which is all about farming; production of crops and animal processing and packaging. I am a fearless, energetic, resilient, God fearing woman.
I am a graduate of Applied Biochemistry of the Prestigious Nnamdi Azikiwe University. I have background in banking where l spent nine years and got the award as the Best Supervisor of South East Nigeria. I am a great believer in woman power; yes I believe that women are very powerful.
What is your why i.e. bottom line? and how do you stay motivated?
My why is to live a life that does not conform to stereotypes about women; I am working everyday to be a successful, productive, independent, financially free and Godly woman that other women can look up to and feel motivated to aspire to more than they imagined for their lives. I don’t believe that anyone is here just to get by, exist and to make up population numbers, and my entire life is proof that everyone can live the best life they can possibly have. This hunger to change the status quo and become a pioneer and innovator is what drives me and keeps me motivated.
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
The courage to step out of the banking industry to start my entrepreneurial journey is my biggest achievement as taking that risk allowed me the opportunity to truly start living my life fully, meeting people and expanding my network, getting more knowledge, and being exposed to enormous opportunities.
If you had to write a book, what would it be on and why?
If l have to write a book, it would be on the struggles of the average African woman. This is something close to my heart, to bring light on what women suffer through just for being born in Africa. This book would also serve as inspiration to how women can become pillars of society, and support each other towards making Africa a better place for our girl children to be born into.
What or who has been your greatest influence in business and why?
Folorunsho Alakija is definitely my greatest influence in business because she defied the odds and that’s exactly what l am all about; she is a go getter, a fighter, a big achiever, a business mogul and more so a God fearing woman, she is indeed a perfect representation of the kind of woman l aspire to be.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The ability to see problems as stepping stones to greatness is one of the best things about being an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs have the uncanny ability to easily fall in love with problems, which is something I also enjoy about being one.
How did you come up with the name for your company?
I actually find this question very interesting. In 2017 while l was still working as a banker and pregnant with my fifth Child, a colleague (former now) chatted me up for something (l can’t remember exactly what it was but certainly on the job) and called me mama Africa. l thought she was referring to someone else but she insisted she was referring to me and asked, “Are you not mama Africa?”. It was at this point that l got her point; I am pregnant with my fifth child and the fourth l would have in the bank in a space of 6 years. Ordinarily, l was slightly offended but after thinking it over l realized that it was the perfect name for my business business, something I had been struggling with for over 2 years. So I took that, tweaked it a little and Big Mama Africa Biz Concept was official. l am actually currently in the process of modifying it to Mamafrika foods. Indeed l am Mama Africa as l have seven biological children.
Introduce your company the way you would to a potential customer.
Big Mama Africa Biz Concept is all about food. We farm animals, we produce crops, and we fish. We process and we package and we sell. Big Mama Africa is also about crop production and reduce the dependence of food from the North. We want to make sure that people are able to get decent food with their hard earned money and we fill this gap by creating quality food at an affordable price.
Our vision is to become the best food hub in Enugu, South Eastern Nigeria and we have already started with the production of garri. At Big Mama Africa, we produce food at a great quality, I like to say we sell what we eat, so if if it’s not good enough for my family, it’s not good enough for our customers. Though we currently produce garri, we intend to have the following products; fresh and dry corn, tomatoes, turkey and model a world class cattle ranch.
How have you carved a niche for yourself in your industry?
We have done extensive research in our industry for more than 6 months and have identified that food necessity is a
genuine need and people are willing to pay for our products. We do not undermine quality and we understand the power of good customer service. The combination of these three factors placed us at the forefront within two months of production. Currently, we have 3000 backorders for garri, which is our only live product because we have consistently delivered as promised.
What’s been the most significant thing you’ve done to grow your business?
Taking part in the nitty gritty of the business at take off has significantly helped to grow my business. I led the customer interviews, l was and is still part of the garri production process, l follow up and ensure orders are delivered as promised.
What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our community?
The best advice l have received in business is, “Think big, start small”. This is the force behind our launching out, without this philosophy, we would have waited till everything was perfect before launching, and things don’t really get perfect in life, all we can do as try to perfect them daily by constantly improving.
If you were given $1m to invest in your business, where would it go?
(Laughs) If l were given $1M, l would invest 50% of it in the farming project; acquire land (maybe a thousand hectares), buy modern machinery that would aid processing and packaging, set up world class cattle ranch and production of high quality cow milk (both fresh and dry). The other 50% will be used to kick start the construction and equipping of a world class hospital where lives will be valued and treated with utmost respect and concern. You would have noticed by now that l always use the word, “world class”, and that’s because l always go for the best.
Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?
In the next five years, this business would have become a household name in Enugu and its environs. We would have at least 50 of our products introduced to the market, having established ourselves as the food hub in Enugu. Our cattle ranch will be up and running. We would have empowered more than 500 women from the business, taking them out of poverty and giving them a better life. We are actually in the process of building a billion dollar company.
Ukamaka is currently on the High Growth Coaching Program working to grow and scale Big Mama Africa Biz Concept to become the best the food hub in Enugu and empower women to create better lives for themselves and their families.