Ethiopian company BeNu Foods, founded in 2018, produces nutritious biscuits from local raw materials. Founder Amen Temesgen (27) answers our questions.
1. Give us your elevator pitch.
Ethiopia severely lacks affordable protein-rich products. Two out of five children in Ethiopia are undernourished and the country loses a staggering 17% of its GDP due to malnutrition. BeNu aims to tackle this problem with an integrated approach that brings together different stakeholders in the food sector.
2. How did you finance your startup?
My co-founder and I initially put in a small amount of money. Although access to finance has remained a great challenge, we raised funds from different organisations and individuals like Reach for Change Ethiopia.
3. If you were given $1 million to invest in your company now, where would it go?
Part of it would go towards R&D facilities where we could develop, design and manufacture on a small scale to test our products. Part of it would go to establishing a distribution chain and a small portion would help strengthen the digital platform we are developing to revitalise and enable different stakeholders in the food sector to work in partnership.
4. What risks does your business face?
Our sector is a low-risk one. But what has been a challenge is the unpredictable inflation of raw materials. It makes it harder to determine prices and to have a stable operation.
5. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?
Word of mouth. Our pilot project was on a Melka Oba School feeding programme with an American donor and we recorded tremendous results like illness reduction, improvement in academic performance and class attendance. The fact that we had a proven pilot project enabled us to receive interest from places we didn’t even expect like Nicaragua.
6. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.
Just days ago, we received a confirmation of the caloric content of our product. Before this, our claims were from our own analysis. According to recent results from a top laboratory, we learnt our product is 548Kcal/100g with 25% protein content. To put things into perspective, a child would get their protein requirement for an entire day. This is crucial information for me and those we need to reach out to in the future.
7. Tell us about your biggest mistake and what you’ve learnt from it?
Eighteen months ago, we received an urgent order and didn’t have the manufacturing capacity. We approached an accomplished manufacturer who informed us that with his baking machine, he could meet our production needs. We went ahead and scheduled production without checking his machine or organising the delivery logistics beforehand.
Our delivery was supposed to be on a Tuesday and the manufacturer seemed confident he would meet the delivery timelines but by the Sunday, it was clear it was not going to happen. We had to find another manufacturing facility in our neighbourhood and do the production overnight.
We learnt to ensure any business is formalised and we always do our due diligence before we go ahead with orders.