Lola Denga: Intensifying your Inner Beauty

As a seasoned businesswoman, Lola Denga has been in the beauty space managing her own business for the last nine years.  She offers exclusive services that can be enjoyed from either her own home or that of the clients. Her services include Swedish Massages and manicures among others. 

Over the years Lola noticed that these beauty treatments enhanced women’s self-esteem and decided to take a step further. Instead of just focusing on external beauty she decided to write a devotional called G.LO.W (God’s love overwhelms women) to help women intensify their inner beauty. 

In a 7-day devotional, Lola helps women foster a deeper connection with God and in doing so, focus on their internal beauty. 

She believes that beauty has to come from within and by connecting to the maker, God himself you will achieve wholeness.


What inspired you to open a beauty business?

From the time I was 14 years and went and got my first manicure, I have always wanted to be in the beauty industry. After going to beauty school, I’d go to certain places and see the standards were not the same as those taught in school.

That’s literally where my passion started; I really wanted to bring beauty’s standard and dignity back. I wanted to create an ambience where clients would feel like they are getting the best service and are relaxed.

Beauty school focuses largely on the outside. Why did you decide to go a step further with your devotional? 

I realized that after speaking to more women, a lot of them were dealing with inner issues.  Yes, they were coming to enhance their outside beauty which consequently led to a temporary sense of confidence. But, the truth is, only when the inside is in harmony with the outside, do you enjoy beauty to its maximum.

What has opening a business taught you about yourself?

It has taught me that I really love people. It has also helped me showcase my creativity and organization skills. I have managed to pick up a lot of other skills through this experience.

What setbacks have you faced while starting and continuing your entrepreneurial journey?

There’s been a couple. It has taken me longer to get off the ground as I personally finance everything. I’d be saving to try and buy equipment by doing other jobs on the side.

Also, people’s attitudes have also posed a challenge. They are becoming more receptive to luxury beauty but largely it is seen more as an unnecessary indulgence rather than a necessity. It has made me see a gap in the market for education.

Educating people on everything from the healing properties of beauty treatments like a massage. I also educate people on how a good regular self-care routine can help reduce stress levels and create a work-life balance.

Where do you seek encouragement during those moments?

I am fortunate to have a strong support system.  I have my parents, my husband and my friends and definitely my relationship with God.

When I feel like I am about to give up, I remember why I am doing this in the first place. - @lolaruZW Click To Tweet

How important do you think a relationship with God is to an entrepreneur?

Honestly, it’s very important. Number one, it will keep you sane! There are a lot of things you’ll come across that you didn’t expect to come across. Business competition notwithstanding, there are people you expected support from that disappoint you.

Having a strong relationship with God ensures you know that this is not just a business idea. It is actually a gift and you need to understand that you are using it to worship Him and to impact lives.

At this point, your business should have a purpose and should not just be to make money. The purpose part makes sure that you don’t give up easily.

What are your proudest moments during your nine years as a businesswoman?

One of them was when I published my book. I was very proud of that! Over the years I have been involved in numerous photoshoots as a makeup artist. Those were enjoyable experiences.

I think overall, every day has something that makes you feel like it’s worth it. Even the small things like when a client expresses their gratitude are enough for me.

Do you feel that in Zimbabwe there are enough structures put in place to assist women to open businesses?

Until recently no. But so far, it looks promising. There are quite a few women in business organizations that are starting. The government is also coming in with funding.  I am excited to see how this will translate for future business owners.

As a seasoned businesswoman, what are you doing to support women in the entrepreneurial space?

I like to host prayer lounges. During this event, I keep in touch with women in business and keep encouraging them. I also offer career guidance tests if people are unsure of which direction they should be heading in.

I definitely do want to grow these ventures and I have intentions of being a facilitator and speaker in this year.

How do you balance it all?

I’d say time management, though I am not perfect at it yet! Prayer too, because that’s where I get my energy from. I also believe in incorporating things that you love to do even if it’s just reading a book. You need that time to distress and reflect.

That’s how you balance and you don’t end up breaking down or cracking. You have to make sure you get that allocated time for just being you and not thinking about business, not thinking about being a wife and just zoning out.

 

How do you unwind?

I like journaling, sometimes I’ll just journal for no reason. Occasionally, I enjoy either reading a book or watching a chick flick with a bowl of ice cream. I’m simple like that!

Definitely, I do try to spoil myself when I can. I go and get pedicures and foot massages done by someone else.

What are your top five tips for achieving wholeness?

1. You need to discover your strengths and weakness and accept them!

2.To realize your dreams, set goals and timelines for yourself.

3. Check your relationships with God, family and friends. Make sure that if there are any gaps, try to fix them. Also, let go of things that hurt as they will only hold you back.

4. Work on your self~esteem and general image. Once you find your personal style, you will avoid the pressure to follow trends and be a certain person.

5. Do stuff for others. Sometimes when we are hyper-focused on ourselves we can become closed off. Find something you enjoy doing that will bring impact to someone’s life.

Check your relationships with God, family and friends. Make sure that if there are any gaps, try to fix them.- @lolaruZW Click To Tweet

What does success look like at the end of everything? How will you know you’ve achieved your dreams?

Tangibly, it will be when I can see that loads of people have been impacted and there are many beauty shops open.

However, for me, impacting people is more about having a legacy than shops. So when my following has really grown and people come to know who Lola Ru is, then I shall know I have had an impact.

Finally, I intend to take the beauty industry by storm and develop a range of products from beauty school, shops, spas and others.


If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Kasope Ladipo-Ajai: Building Omo Alata for the next generation

The desire to work on a business that would showcase her creativity led 2015 SLA-Entrepreneur Showcase winner Kasope Ladipo-Ajai to starting her food processing company Omo Alata.

The Nigeria-based food service brand, launched in 2012, is focused on the production and sale of hygienically processed and packaged Nigerian soups, spices and peppers. It aims to promote healthy eating and to make cooking easier for busy people.

Kasope, with a degree in Computer Science, resigned from a full-time job to pursue her entrepreneurial ambitions. She worked for 4 years at Virgin Nigeria in various roles including IT Service Engineer, Project Coordinator and Business Process Analyst. She also handled core IT project implementation for Taytom Group. I caught up with the food production entrepreneur to talk about her startup journey.


Inspiration from travel

Travel, particularly to advanced countries, exposed Kasope to the possibilities of quick and convenient meal preparation. While on her trips, she went to various African stores and realized that many of the ingredients for cooking Nigerian meals were not produced or packaged in Nigeria. This is largely due to packaging issues in the country which rules out the exporting of some its food products.

Kasope: “We have all these products but why can’t we package it properly? If we package it properly then we can export it.” It was with this realization that the idea for a food service brand was birthed. Kasope decided to start by packaging pepper. “It is a produce that is basic to us in Nigeria.”

Once she had the concept for Omo Alata in mind, she solidified her decision to venture into entrepreneurship by registering the business. Kasope then carried out research on the product she was trying to launch. She looked into sourcing fresh produce, and best practices for cleaning, processing and packaging it.

She also solicited advice about brand development from knowledgeable people in her network. A lot of work was put into the graphic and package design aspect of it. Kasope knew that she had to come up with something that would both look right and catch people’s attention. The package itself, too, had to be functional.

Personal income

Kasope and her partner leveraged their personal income to get the business off the ground. “We had limited funds to play with. We asked ourselves, ‘What do we need to do?’ and ‘What’s the best way to do it?’” There were essentials for their company that they couldn’t avoid spending money on.

These included securing a factory space as well as the necessary equipment for production. They had to get creative when it came to spending money on professional services that they really needed.

“We leverage on our family and friends expertise for such,” Kasope said. “We told them our vision and asked them to work with us, and we pay them in kind or later.”

The process

The produce that is used in making the pepper mix —Omo Alata’s flagship product— is sourced from local markets. “We have relationships with suppliers who already know that we want the freshest products,” said Kasope.

The company organizes delivery of the tomatoes, onions and peppers from the suppliers to the factory. Contract workers at the factory sort the produce and remove any unsuitable ones. The remaining products are then thoroughly cleaned and all the stalks taken out.

Omo Alata logoThe next step in the process is to blend the produce to the finest mix. This is then boiled to preserve the mix better and reduce customers’ cooking time. The company’s quality control  specialist checks to make sure that the mix is being boiled at the right temperature and to the appropriate consistency.

It is then left to cool and packaged using the company’s special sealing technology. Each resealable bag is then labelled and frozen until the product is shipped to retail store partners for sale.

The pepper mix is purely organic. It doesn’t contain any food coloring or artificial preservatives. A testament to the startup’s commitment to providing its customers with the freshest products that have a natural taste.

Throughout the process, Omo Alata adheres to a strict quality assurance policy and hygienic processing methods that have been certified by Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

Growing pains

Kasope has had to tackle several challenges that come with running a business in the food industry. For starters the raw materials that are used for making Omo Alata products are seasonal. “The produce gets expensive when it is out of season,” she said. “The suppliers will try to exploit you.”

“You have to be on your toes checking to make sure suppliers are not taking advantage of the fact that you have a relationship with them,” she added. Farm produce does not have a fixed price. Kasope constantly checks the market to make sure that she is being charged the correct seasonal price.

Local interruptions


Omo Alata PackagingThe company also has to deal with the lack of constant electricity supply. This affects the business from processing to product sale. “The only way to cool the mix fast is in a cold room which requires electricity,” said Kasope.

Once the mix cools, it is packed and frozen. Again, electricity is required for this. Having an unsteady supply of electricity significantly slows down the process. It creates a lag time between cooling and packing and freezing. The startup has invested in generators in order to overcome this.

Some of the retail stores that they have partnered with don’t pay for the products until they have all been sold. “Others have policies like ‘We won’t pay until 60 days after delivery,’” she said. “This ties up our cash all the time.” As such, Kasope and her partner end up having to take money from their own pockets in order to keep the business going.

Kasope pushes through all these, thanks to support from family, friends, fellow entrepreneurs and clients. She is also driven by her ultimate vision which is to grow Omo Alata into a brand that will not only be a household name but also make a difference in society. “Getting calls from clients expressing their gratitude and praise is encouraging,” she said.

“It’s reassurance that we are on the right track.” Kasope and her partner knew from the get-go that it would take a while for their business to grow and they prepared themselves mentally for that. “The plan was to build a brand that will outlive our generation,” she said. “When we feel discouraged we remind ourselves of that dream and plan.” She then adds: “We know that building a brand like this doesn’t happen in one day.”

And the winner is…

Kasope won first prize in SLA’s 2015 Entrepreneur Showcase. She won a $10,000 cash prize, a mobile device from Etisalat, international media coverage and a host of other prizes.

Omo Alata Pitch - Kasope Ladipo-Ajai

Focusing on the future

The startup intends to have more product lines as it grows. Kasope plans on having tryout stands in stores to give potential customers the opportunity to taste the company’s products.

This will also give Omo Alata a chance to get in person feedback and ideas on the product line that the market wants to see launched next. As an entrepreneur she knows that her business has to meet its customers at their point of need.

Kasope’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: “It’s going to be tough but don’t let that stop you from starting.  Join a support group of other entrepreneurs. It helps to speak to people who are going through similar experiences because they understand you in ways others may not. These are the people who will keep you going.”

Ngozi Opara: Breaking through the $500B black hair market

Ngozi Opara started Heat Free Hair to provide women with high quality protective styling options that wouldn’t damage their natural hair. The Washington D.C. based company, launched in 2012, specializes in 100% virgin hair extensions designed to perfectly match one’s natural hair texture and curl pattern.

Heat Free Hair was a pioneer in the natural hair extensions market and quickly carved out a niche in the $500b black hair market. She Leads Africa quickly caught up with Ngozi to learn more about the entrepreneur who didn’t just create a brand, but a movement.
Heat Free Hair Product Photos

Who is Ngozi Opara? 

I graduated from North Carolina A&T State University with a degree in Finance and Accounting. Keeping with my field of study, I worked as a financial analyst once I graduated although I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. So I opened up a small hair studio in DC to tend to clients after work each day.

Ngozi Opara

Prior to opening up my own business, I worked for eight different entrepreneurs to gain experience in business ownership and management. My interest and passion for the world of natural hair sparked from being natural myself, as well as working as a manager for natural hair care industry lead, Carol’s Daughter.

What inspired you to start Heat Free Hair?

I owned a hair studio in Washington, DC. For a while back in 2011, 90% of my customers were using extensions to protect and grow out their hair. A majority of them also wanted to transition to free their hair of chemical processing and wanted to be natural.

When I noticed that during their transition with extensions they were reaching tremendous success in hair growth, but inherently experiencing breakage from heat on the portion of their hair left out, I felt like I was becoming an agent in one of the many issues surrounding black hair care, breakage.

started thinking that there had to be some type of way for women to wear extensions as their protective style of choice, while also protecting all of their hair. Thus, the initial idea for Heat Free Hair was born.

Once you decided that you are going to embark on the entrepreneurial journey, what steps did you take?

I started to really save up for the launch of my business and budget my living expenses. I did this by keeping my personal expenses at a minimum while I was trying to reach my goal.

To get in the right mindset and gain motivation, I started to read a lot of success books and attend different conferences in order to learn, as well as to network with like-minded people. I used my savings from my finance job to launch the business & lived completely off of the money I earned doing hair.

How do you prioritize what to spend the money raised on?

At first I needed people to believe in something they hadn’t seen so I invested in good images of the product and a website. I didn’t have enough to fully stock the product so I initially offered it for preorder and eventually kept investing back into the business’ inventory.”
Heat Free Hair - Natural Hair Extension Models

What are the marketing tools/strategies that you use to promote your business?

Word of mouth is the greatest marketing tool. Organic marketing has worked really well for us as well as influencer marketing and social media.

What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when Heat Free Hair launched?

There really isn’t anything I would go back and tell myself. I really do believe I was where I needed to be in life when I needed to be there. I learned the right lessons at the right time and because of that, I can stand comfortably and happily where I am today.

Obstacles along the road I traveled served as building blocks and I’m truly thankful for my journey and the development of my business.