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Saturday, 10 May 2014

Nigeria's Benedicta Elechi - Bringing Excellence into Food Production and Catering Services

Meet Benedicta Nkemdilim Elechi, founder of Dictachi Foods. The Anambra state indigene who is in her mid thirties is a graduate of Analytical Chemistry. Dictachi Foods currently has a product range consisting of 4 flavours of yoghurt, pastries, confectioneries and also offer catering services. See excerpts of her interview with Whoot Africa:

How did you get started in Business and what did it take you to get to where you are today?
Like I stated earlier I wrote my thesis on the quantity of ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate used in the commercial production of yoghurt in Nigeria, as against the level approved by the world health organization. The discoveries I made, gave rise to the insatiable need for me to produce yoghurt that meets world standards for the Nigerian market. However, shortly after my NYSC, I did a detailed market survey and production research bringing me to the realization that I did not have the financial capability to bankroll such a production facility, so I settled for catering, which was my 2nd choice.

I started by catering at home for friends, family, relatives and neighbours, right from my home where I employed 7 members of staff. This phase in Dictachi Foods history lasted for about 3 years. Shortly afterwards we were forced, by the increase in our clientele to move to our factory premises, which I had been constructing from the proceeds of my home catering business and support from family members. When we moved to the factory site we could now afford to accommodate my initial dream of owning a Food processing company, so we started phase two of the Dictachi Foods story by launching our yoghurt production line.

From the initial commercial success of the yoghurt produce, we were able to build phase 3, which was driven by the demands of our ever growing clientèle for bakery and confectionery products. The increase in demand for our yoghurt products in different parts of the country led us to opening depots all over key cities in Nigeria, in line with our vision to become a globally recognized food company of African origin.
Did you know you were going to be an Entrepreneur all along, or did it happen by chance?
From as early as I can remember, I have always wanted to own my own enterprise. I was greatly inspired by Nasco biscuits, wafers and cornflakes as a child and this spurred the notion of business ownership in me. By my university days I had playfully earned nicknames like ‘female Dangote’ or ‘female Bill Gates’ from my peers.

What do you love most about your business and your life as an Entrepreneur?
I dictate my own hours; I also love the challenges and surprises brought about by the dynamism of production. It has not always been like this though. When we first started I could not afford to leave the site for more than a few hours at a go, it was my waking up, and my rising of the sun encompassing my entire day. Due to the peculiarity of the Nigerian business environment I also had to learn a lot on the job and I added a few business courses to my credit.

What do you think are the most important personal skills someone must have to be successful in business?
You must be persistent, you have to believe in yourself and in what you are doing, and no matter what people say to discourage you, don’t give up on your dreams.

Who was the most influential person or mentor in your life?
A Fictional character Emma Harte from Barbara Taylor Bradford’s ‘A woman of substance’. This might sound funny but my intense love for movies made them a source of inspiration and motivation for me.

What was the BIGGEST risk you've taken?
Going into yoghurt business remains my biggest risk, and then diversifying into bakery and confectionery with almost 100% of my proceeds from the yoghurt business without any bank or family support simply crowned it all.

What do you think about college education? Should kids go to college now or get into business if they feel it’s a better choice? Considering some of the world’s greatest never had college education, your thoughts?
Primary and secondary education is paramount; however a college degree should be considered an optional extra as many successful entrepreneurs didn't pass through college. The biggest entrepreneurs I have done business with in Nigeria don’t have a university degree and I learnt a lot more from them than from my college education.

What would be the most important piece of advice you could give to young entrepreneurs and why?
Dream big, start small and grow fast.

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