This founder spotlight is presented in collaboration with Global Entrepreneurship Network.
For years, Uju Uzo Ojinnaka split her time between a job in the Nigerian banking industry and co-chairing Beniz Group, her husband’s company which sells construction finishing products. Then Uzo Ojinnaka caught the entrepreneurship bug.
She made the jump to the family business full-time and enrolled in the China Europe International Business School in 2016 to help take Beniz Group to the next level.
But as she worked to complete her degree, Uzo Ojinnaka discovered that Chinese importers found it difficult to access credible suppliers in Africa. This was one of several reasons why the value of exports from Africa actually dropped by 50.4% between 2012 and 2016.
“I couldn’t believe that in the whole of Africa there wasn’t a platform that would show where to buy all different kinds of products, who has it, and where to buy it,” she says. “So that same night, I secured the platform and started immediately.”
This is how Traders of Africa was born: a Pan-African e-commerce marketplace for products grown, produced, or manufactured across the continent. The platform connects thousands of suppliers and farmers to market opportunities, making it easier for importers and buyers to discover African manufacturers and producers.
The platform launched in September 2017 with about 9,000 suppliers. Today, Traders of Africa has more than 16,000 suppliers from more thank a dozen African countries, including Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya.
From the very beginning, Uzo Ojinnaka knew she didn’t want to hold any product, just own the technology, which has proved lucrative for her family and her merchants alike. “Our mission is to create sustainable wealth for individuals, communities, organizations, and nation states in Africa,” she says.
Merchants on the platform sell a large range of products that span categories including agricultural produce, leather and textiles, construction materials, woodworks and furniture, food and beverage, and much more. In return, Traders of Africa provides escrow services powered by Ecobank and dedicated customer service. “We provide merchants with the platform, solutions, and support they need to grow their business and thrive,” she explains.
This approach aims to solve two key issues in the African economy: trust and time of payment. “There used to be a great distrust between buyers and sellers, but because of the platform, we see more buyers wanting to trade with others directly, rather than going to individual suppliers,” she says.
Last year, Traders of Africa closed the year with about $2.1 million in annual sales. This year, despite COVID, they had more than $5 million in orders during the first half of the year and project continued growth.
“Orders took longer because there was a reduced number of vessels coming to the ports, people were asking for deferred payments, so there were some disruptions during that period of March to June,” says Uzo Ojinnaka. “We are still committed to hitting our target of $10 million in sales for 2020.”
For the moment, the Traders of Africa team is focused on hitting that annual target and bringing operations to more African countries. The team is also working on translating the English-language platform into several African languages.
“What we’re doing is also formalizing the process of trade, which could help the government in planning, and create opportunities for African business and creating wealth for all the stakeholders, which are the suppliers — who are African — and the buyers, who can be African or from anywhere in the world,” she says. “That means that with what we have built, anybody can have a share of trade going on in Africa.”
Global Entrepreneurship Network operates programs in 170 countries designed to make it easier for anyone, anywhere to start and scale a business by fostering deeper cross border collaborations and initiatives between entrepreneurs, investors, researched, policymakers and entrepreneurial support organizations.