It takes an uncommon degree of chutzpah for someone to leave a relatively ‘stable’ and lucrative job in the oil and gas industry to start a business from scratch, especially in a terrain that’s not only strange but treacherous to navigate.
But you underrate a born risk-taker at your peril and that, exactly, is what Onyekachi Ekezie is.
35-year old Onyekachi, born in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in South South Nigeria started his primary school education in the oil-city before moving to Benin City in Edo state for his secondary schooling at the Igbinedion Education Centre but he had to go abroad to complete his high school in the United Kingdom. He then proceeded to the United States of America where he obtained a degree in Computer Science at Bowie State University.
In the Beginning
The thought of becoming an entrepreneur and business owner dropped into his mind subconsciously as a solution to a craving. Living (and studying) in the United States, Onyekachi longed for the African stews and soups on which he was raised back home in Nigeria.
After graduation, he worked with Halliburton ESG in Houston as a field engineer and then Kongsberg Oil & Gas Technology as a software support engineer for a total of eight years but the craving to plug the gaping hole of his want persisted until he was forced to sit and think for a solution for him and hundreds of other people facing a similar situation.
Then the nickel dropped!
“It dawned on me I could package an authentic, easy way to prepare stew in an appealing way,”
“We thought Nigerians at home and abroad, especially students, would appreciate the convenience.”
Next step was to put his faith in his idea into practice. He quit his job and returned home to Nigeria.
And that was how Kaptain Foods Limited was born. Established in 2015, it is a food processing company which produces a blend of pre-cooked and packaged food products to serve the needs of families around the world.
The company produces a range of pre-cooked and packaged ready to eat tomato stews using locally grown fresh produce and spices. Other product variants include ready-to-eat, blend of fresh tomatoes, red peppers and onions prepared with state-of-art equipment in compliance with internationally recognized hygiene standards.
“Starting up was a lot of work,” Ekezie said of the early days when he started out of his apartment and the tiring engagement with regulatory authorities as well as unending negotiations with suppliers of ingredients as well as recruitment of staff.
The all-too familiar challenge that Onyekachi faced was that of start-up capital but he got succour from family and the United States’ Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2015.
Kaptain Foods Limited benefited from the USAID’s Nigeria Expanded Trade and Transport programme which assisted agro-entrepreneurs in the country develop business plans, generate investments, and promote exports.
This was the launchpad for Onyekachi and he’s not looked back since then.
Onyekachi has also had to overcome the perception that his line of business – food processing – is gender-biased. He claims that processing, manufacturing, packaging and distribution of food is a commercial venture that is not synonymous with a particular gender.
“As a matter of fact, this business space is male dominated due to the end-to-end value chain; and believe me it’s tedious, it requires time and high level of dedication. Kaptain Ready Stews is our first product that we launched into the Nigerian market.
Cooking in the kitchen is culturally perceived as a role that should be led by women in our society, but as an innovative company, we are positioned to continuously think of better ways to support life-styles, reduce stress, and provide healthy food options in a scalable way that can cater for all the various segments of the economy,” he said.
The Kaptain’s Advantage
Kaptain Foods Limited products have cornered the market in such a short time because they have a secret condiment which gives them the delicious, fresh, unique taste consumers want.
The fact that they do not contain any chemical additives or artificial preservatives as the natural ingredients serve as preservatives set the company’s product apart from the competition.
Accolades for a Winner
A little more than a year after he began his business, Ekezie was named one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa in 2017.
For Onyekachi, entrepreneurship is risk taking and
“the first thing an entrepreneur should learn is to overcome fear; then create a plan and start small”.
To become successful as an entrepreneur, Onyekachi reckons that you’ll need to be innovative, be a daring risk-taker and have hands-on management skills.
To also combat the high incidence of unemployment, Onyekachi would love to see more younger Nigerians take the bold step of going into business rather than to rely on white-collar jobs.
“I believe more young people need to go into agriculture because this will help the nation move away from overdependence in Oil & Gas. We need more young people to get into the agriculture sector. Funding shouldn’t be a deterrent because there are a lot of different grants that young people can apply for like I did.”
A product of his own experiences, Onyekachi is an advocate of starting small but focusing on quality products which can compete favourably.
In ten years’ time, his goal is to grow Kaptain Foods Limited into a global brand, help build up another generation of entrepreneurs and contribute to moving Nigeria towards self-sufficiency.
Start small but focus on the big prize
Have a vision. Have a plan. Take the risk