Maureen Okhiria: Starting Out in Business

Maureen Okhiria is the Founder and CEO of Charis Flavours Ltd, a snack production company based in Nigeria. In 2005, she began her entrepreneurial journey after a long search for a job on graduating from the University with Bsc. Degree in Industrial Mathematics.  In this article she talks about her business, challenges, successes, and shares key lessons for entrepreneurship.
Charis Flavours is a growing company involved in the production of snacks with our chief product being plantain chips. Our opportunity is to become the leading producer and processor of plantain in West Africa, producing and processing plantain year round for consumption in Nigeria and export to the global market.
Charis Flavours started in 2005 after a long search for a job on graduating from the University. We started with N1,000  producing chinchin and later went into plantain chips which became our chief product. We started with a bunch of plantain and moved to producing a dozen bunches of plantain in 2008 when a new business partner came on board helping to expand the business such that the business grew, producing up to 50 dozen bunches of plantain by 2010.
We began working on upgrading our production equipment in order to increase production and quality. Our intention has been to automate our production to meet global standards furthering our vision of contributing to meet the food security for the world.
Pursuits of these goals lead us to enter the Business plan competition YouWin of the Federal Government of Nigeria. We were one of the winners of the competition including a grant for business expansion and employment generation.
The grant was instrumental to further growing our business and we are now moving from manual means of production to automated production which not only boost production quantities and quality but also is generating even more employment opportunities. We were able with the grant to get a good factory space and get NAFDAC certified. The whole process of seeking the grant made us subject our business idea, processes and plans to independent evaluation and feedback thereby creating a learning curve for new growth in our business. The grant essentially is positioning us to meet global production standards thereby attaining certification and access to global markets.
Every business has its peculiar challenges. Starting with finding skilled and dedicated workers to sourcing raw materials for our production, not forgetting the power supply challenge and the logistics of getting the product to the market, our attitude towards the challenges is considering them as issues that we must overcome to reach our goals.
My advice to other SMEs is to commit to continuous learning and be open to collaborative relationships that could further their goals. Our growth has come mostly out of collaborative relationships with people, entities and government opening us up to new knowledge, processes and accountability.

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