African Development Bank AgriPitch Winner, Adja Sembene Fall Reveals Key to Start-Up Success

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Senegalese entrepreneur Adja Sembene Fall found herself propelled into the digital sphere when her nascent venture, Contanna fair-trade tea company, commenced operations with a meager sum of $200.

“Due to financial constraints, opening a physical shop was out of the question. We started in my brother’s backyard, selling our teas via social media over three years,” explained Fall. She asserts that Contanna teas embody a “Senegalese experience,” championing a women-owned, 100% locally sourced, and processed product steeped in recipes that blend familial and cultural traditions.

“Digitizing our purchasing process was pivotal. It allowed us to showcase and refine our product packaging online, emphasizing its premium quality and distinction from available offerings in Senegal,” added the 29-year-old entrepreneur.

In its inaugural year, Contanna recorded $5,000 in online sales, primarily driven by its Instagram presence and website. As the digital venture burgeoned, Fall revealed that Contanna achieved $12,000 in sales and cultivated a community of around 2,000 patrons.

Recent strides saw Contanna establish a pop-up stall at Dakar’s Sea Plaza shopping mall. Moreover, in January 2022, it clinched the African Development Bank’s AgriPitch Competition, a platform supporting African youth agripreneurs to enhance their business viability and readiness for potential investors.

The 2022 AgriPitch competition drew close to 750 entries from agripreneurs across 38 African nations. A judging panel, inclusive of women-led enterprise support advisory firm Private Equity Support, the Private Financing Advisory Network, and EldoHub, sifted through the submissions.

Edson Mpyisi, Chief Financial Economist and ENABLE Youth Coordinator at the Bank, commended the innovative concepts showcased by the participants.

Notably, 25 semi-finalists, with 68% women-owned or led businesses, underwent a rigorous two-week virtual boot camp. Following this, nine agripreneurs were selected to advance to the finals.

“Pitching in front of my shop was inspiring; passersby were encouraging upon discovering that our company is entirely Senegalese-owned, particularly led by a woman,” shared Fall, who secured $25,000 as the winner in the AgriPitch competition’s women-owned business category.

She intends to allocate part of the prize money to upgrade the digital payment system and provide computer literacy training for Contanna’s female staff.

Emphasizing their inclusive hiring practices, Fall explained that women were the initial applicants who were qualified for their roles. The company is equipping them with digital skills to streamline work processes, transitioning from manual logging to utilizing tools like Google Sheets.

Contanna and other finalists will benefit from post-competition digital expertise, business development, and investor engagement through the AgriPitch “deal room.”

“We anticipate collaborating closely with these entrepreneurs, offering individual business advisory support and fostering investor relationships in the deal room,” expressed Diana Gichaga, Managing Partner at Private Equity Support.

The forthcoming AgriPitch Competition, slated for 2024, seeks to fortify a culture of innovation, stimulate agribusiness growth, generate employment, and enhance livelihoods among youth—an endeavor worth anticipating.

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