Sometimes entrepreneurs simply need another perspective to bring out a concept’s fullest potential—and at other times, that outside viewpoint can help grow an entirely new idea. Such was the case with Cynthia Ndubuisi, a young Nigerian businesswoman committed to using innovative ideas to tackle social issues in her home country.
Cyndy first joined MicroMentor to gain support and guidance for her new business, EverGlow. The company was formed out of her observation that 80% of Nigeria’s population uses bar soap to hand wash their dishes each day—despite the economical and hygienic advantages of liquid soap. She saw an enormous potential to fill an unmet need in her country by creating a superior liquid dish soap that is non-toxic, plant-derived and biodegradable. Yet, she lacked the technical expertise to get her business off the ground.
Through MicroMentor, Cyndy was matched with Gary Mastro, the former Vice President of Brand and Product Marketing at UPS.
Gary’s extensive experience with sales, marketing and global logistics were a great fit for Cyndy’s business needs and with his help, they were able to tackle a number of significant challenges—from implementing a major rebrand to making crucial labeling, pricing, packaging and distribution decisions.
In less than six months, Gary helped Cyndy gain a competitive advantage within the burgeoning liquid soap market in Nigeria and begin exporting EverGlow products to Zambia. She experienced a 40% growth rate, which far exceeded her initial goals and was able to hire six new employees.
Due to the success of this enterprise, EverGlow is now being pursued by venture capitalists and bar soap manufacturers, who are looking to acquire the business to gain entry into the growing liquid soap market.
But the greatest fruit of Gary and Cyndy’s collaboration was yet to come.
As EverGlow began to pick up steam, Cyndy was struck by another remarkable business idea. Growing up in Nigeria, she knew firsthand how vital the cassava (yuca) plant was for the nation’s economy, which when processed, is used to make fufu (a commonly eaten food in Nigeria), as well as other products like baking flours.
Nigeria grows more cassava than any other country in the world, over 40 million metric tons annually—nearly double the production of countries like Brazil, Indonesia and Thailand. Yet, the methods and techniques involved in processing cassava are extremely tedious and time-consuming, making it difficult for many Nigerian farmers to turn a profit.
Cyndy felt compelled to work toward a solution to this problem: “I thought of how we could help farmers process the cassava to reduce their stress and increase their productivity. I came up with a fabricated cassava processing machine that farmers can bring their plants to, which can help them peel and grind the cassava, so they can be used in consumer goods, like gari and fufu—two Nigerian food staples.” While current processing methods only allow farmers to utilize 60% of their cassava crops, Cyndy’s idea enables them to turn a profit by utilizing 100% of each plant.
This exciting new project quickly became Gary and Cyndy’s primary focus. Their business plan was to have farmers bring in their untouched cassava plants, process the plants using newly developed grinding machinery, and then sell the processed cassava back to the farmers for use in consumer goods, at a rate far less than what it would cost them to do it on their own.
Cyndy has also come up with a green solution for disposing of the cassava peels. Currently, Nigerian farmers burn 12 million metric tons of peels each year, releasing 10 million tons of carbon monoxide and other forms of pollution into the atmosphere, which dramatically affects the air quality.
Cyndy discovered that those same peels could be processed into a cheaper and more nutritious feed for livestock—compared to the increasingly scarce and expensive corn feed (maize) currently being used. Over the last four years, 200 million tons of maize have been imported into Nigeria to compensate for the high demand and short supply—and the rising costs associated with this import have had a crippling effect on the livestock industry. Through Cyndy’s solution, Nigerian farmers can now buy locally produced cassava feed at half the cost of maize, making raising livestock more sustainable and 80% more profitable.
Cyndy’s idea has evolved into an innovative multi-pronged solution that has the potential to impact one million farmers across sub-Saharan Africa by:
- Empowering cassava farmers to save time and money processing their crops
- Increasing the profit margin of cassava and livestock farmers by roughly 50% and 40% per year respectively
- Helping reduce the environmental pollution associated with burning cassava peels by turning waste into wealth
- Allowing Nigeria to utilize 100% of its natural cassava resources, instead of relying on expensive maize imports
While Gary and Cyndy are still ironing out the specifics involved in rolling out this new enterprise, the project has already earned Cyndy a number of accolades, including a $7,500 prize for her second-place finish in the 2014 GIST Tech-I’s Idea category, as well as the award for best female presenter.
She has attracted interest from USAID and has discussed her plans with Jill Biden, amongst others. Currently, she’s engaged in a competition in Africa organized by President Obama. Out of 10,000 entries, just 20 get to travel to the U.S. to present their ideas and have the chance to win a $50,000 prize. She’s also speaking at the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture in Abu Dhabi later this month.
For Gary, the benefits of assisting ambitious entrepreneurs like Cyndy are clear: “The thing that’s exciting about working with Cyndy is the passion she has and the desire to make life better for people in Nigeria, for people in her local community, for people in her country and for others. That passion and pure entrepreneurial spirit to attempt changes like this, I believe will make an incredible impact.”
For Cyndy, the feeling is mutual: “I love working with Gary because, to me, he has this selfless spirit and commitment to helping people. He’s such an incredible person to work with and I see him not just as a mentor — I also see him as a friend and a father.”
With the potential to drive significant agricultural innovation in Nigeria, Cyndy’s business is poised to make an incredible impact. Luckily, with Gary as her mentor, she has the support she needs to keep building her vision—and perhaps even begin developing her next big idea.