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Njeri is the founder of Hottpott Saucen Manufaktur, which produces chutneys, pastes, sauces with recipes, and spice mixtures from all over Africa. She established the only African cuisine cooking school in Baden-Württemberg. Njeri was born and raised in Kenya before she moved to Berlin to study economics. She worked a few years in corporate businesses and after taking some time off to raise her two children, she took the opportunity to start her own business in 2009.
Njeri, what motivated you to start your own business?
I took over 10 years off from work to raise my two kids and on top of that, it was quite difficult as a foreigner to find a suitable job afterward. The regulation for foreigners was also quite tough during that time. In 2003 I took a job, but I couldn’t work to my potential, and I wanted more - more satisfaction out of my working life. That’s why I decided to start my own business. And there has always been the deep wish to undertake something on my own, being an entrepreneur. I wanted to manufacture something. And so, the decision was partly coming from me and partly from outside.
What kind of challenges have you faced during your entrepreneurial journey? And what could have helped you?
I started manufacturing food and I was lucky that I worked in the food industry before. But the main challenge was to get premises to manufacture something. As a food manufactory, you have to fulfill a lot of rules and requirements and need permission. That was not easy to get, as you can imagine all the bureaucracy I needed to face. Another challenge was to get people working for me. As I didn’t need people full-time in the beginning and couldn’t afford full-time employees it was very difficult to get people on board. Another thing was that people undermine what one does. There are a lot of people who said: “Why are you doing this kind of job? You have a very good degree, so why are you doing such a job?” In Germany people are looking for security and like to be employed, they don’t risk starting their own business and failing or succeeding.
And what has helped or empowered you during this challenging time?
I had a very good network. I looked for them, or they heard of me, and I must say that was a big help. One of the networks which is still relevant to me is eight to ten women who all manufacture something. And we help each other, we don’t see each other as a competitor, we are even promoting each other’s products. And with the pessimistic and negative people, I just ignored them and moved on and that's what really helped me: just go, believe in me, and follow my way.
How can female founders who were not born in Germany be supported to really ease their way into entrepreneurship?
What I have realized is that most of the female founders with migration backgrounds were lacking are commercial skills, how to calculate the prices for the products they sell. But also, how to deal with the suppliers, how to buy the goods and all possibilities around like paying in installments. And networking is so important. Don’t see each other as a competitor, see them as women with similar challenges and you can support each other.
How did your cultural background influence your career?
I come from Kenya. And literally, everybody does some business on the side. It's common that people have something they're doing on the weekend or on the side or together with somebody else. On top of that, my father worked at a bank that financed African entrepreneurs and we could go into his office, and he talked about his interesting work which was quite exciting. And he got us, mentors. He got us kids mentors. And my mentor was a businessman, who had a small manufacturing business, and I could go to his factory and converse with him, ask whatever I wanted. That is the reason why I believe that mentorship programs are so important.
What is your personal hint for all female founders with migration backgrounds when they start their business?
Firstly, take care of your health. It is so important because you are your own capital, you are the most important capital in the business. On top of that, I think also having your own capital. There is sometimes very little understanding or partner warming up to such an idea and really supporting it. But taking care of yourself is the most important one!
Thank you very much Njeri!