Chigozie Bashua is an example of how far grit and passion can take a young Nigerian.
A graduate of Electrical/Electronics Engineering from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Bashua started her career as an IT support staff member. She had a stint in the telecommunications industry, working as a radio frequency drive test engineer for two years.
An IT expert, Bashua registered The Nut Place on the 20th of December 2013 after seeing an opportunity in nut-based food products industry. Full operations began on the 26th of July 2016.
The Nut Place processes edible nuts into healthy food products. All of its products are gluten-free and are used by people who have gluten issues, on a weight management journey or need special diets. Some of its products are nut flours, nut flakes, pastes and bars.
Apart from being the CEO of The Nut Place, Bashua helps businesses to plan, enabling them to access funding by taking them through simplified and proven processes of business planning via an online course. She likewise develops and reviews business continuity management plans and policies for companies.
What motivated the entrepreneur to set up the nut processing firm?
“In 2013, I recognised several needs, which were narrowed down to two points. One is heavy dependence on imported nut-based food products which led to increased food prices,” she says.
“Next is lack of food alternatives for healthy living. It boiled down to lack of food processing facilities, but we decided to carve a niche by processing raw edible nuts into healthy products that could be used as snacks, for cooking, baking, as additives, thickeners and in making beverage drinks,” she explains.
She did not always have it easy, having started at a corner of her mother’s kitchen—at a three-bedroom factory in Surulere area of Lagos.
Though Bashua began with processing tiger nut flour, she currently has five employees, four products in the market, and supplies to 10 stores.
Nigeria has 200 million mouths that must be fed. The majority of them are young people below 18. Bashua believes that this holds an enormous opportunity for her and the food industry, especially as it concerns using technology to make food distribution within Nigeria more accessible.
Unlike many young Nigerians who want external funding before starting, Bashua raised her own start-up fund from personal savings before getting grants for her business.
She raised money from the Growth and Employment Scheme, an initiative of the World Bank. She also accessed a grant from Tony Elumelu Foundation, which has supported hundreds of entrepreneurs across Africa.
The entrepreneur is a Tony Elumelu Foundation and a British Council Alumnus.
Recently, she was selected to join the second cohort of the African Women Entrepreneurship Cooperative (AWEC), a brain child of the Center for Global Entreprise (CGE) in the United States of America. She is now a mentor at the Tony Elumelu Foundation, which shows how much she has grown.
“Our vision is to become the largest producer and exporter of edible nuts and healthy food products processed from nuts,” she says.
“We hope to get our products into other African countries soon,” Bashua adds.
She advises entrepreneurs to be patient when dealing with regulatory bodies, especially the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
Like other entrepreneurs in the country, she faces challenges of poor infrastructure.
“Lack of electricity and cumbersome regulatory processes are key problems for us,” she notes.
“I believe that our licensing processes can be made easier and we can have automated means of getting these things done,” she recommends.
She wants upcoming entrepreneurs to understand that business success requires planning.
“Business requires a lot of planning and you have to consistently show up even when you haven’t made it,” she says
“There is nothing called ‘overnight success’. If it’s legitimate, it was not made overnight. You will have times when you will be frustrated, want to give up, but you need to keep moving,” she further says.
“Also, if you have a 9-5, you can use your salary to raise personal funds to start your business. Get a business plan before you start and put structure on ground even as a small business. Your business shouldn’t die when you are not around,” she adds.