Senegalese tea start-up wins $25k in AgriPitch competition

AgriPitch competition winner Adja Sembene Fall earned $25 000 in seed money for her Contanna tea company in Senegal. Photo: Supplied/Ventureburn
AgriPitch competition winner Adja Sembene Fall earned $25 000 in seed money for her Contanna tea company in Senegal. Photo: Supplied/Ventureburn

Senegalese businesswoman Adja Sembene Fall’s start-up Contanna has been an inspiration to many in the agriculture sector. Despite having only $200 to her name, the luxury tea products brand was launched online, and the digital space has been instrumental in the success of her company.

“Due to [lack of] finance, it was not possible to get a physical shop. We started out in the backyard of my brother’s house. We sold our teas via social media for three years,” said Fall.

“Digitising our buying process was really important. We [were] also able to present and adjust packaging of our product online, [to emphasize] it was premium and different from what was available in Senegal,” she added.

Contanna’s focus on Instagram and its website drew $5 000 in online sales in the first year of operation. The online business grew, and Contanna hit $12 000 in sales, establishing a community of around 2 000 clients.

Contanna recently opened a pop-up stall at Dakar’s Sea Plaza shopping mall, and the company was named a winner of the African Development Bank’s AgriPitch competition. The competition supports African youth agripreneurs by improving their business bankability and ensuring that they are “pitch ready” for potential investors.

The 2022 competition, which started last October, received nearly 750 complete entries from entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector.

“I was pitching in front of my shop where customers were passing by. They were so encouraging when they discovered that [my business] is a 100% Senegalese company and especially that the founder was a woman,” said Fall.

She received $25 000 as the winner in the AgriPitch competition’s women-owned business category.

Contanna’s tea products are about more than taste. They sell a “Senegalese experience” that promotes a women-owned, 100% locally sourced and processed product based on recipes infusing family and cultural traditions.

“African youth have great ideas. It was exciting to see the high level of innovation and passion from these young agripreneurs, particularly the large number of women-owned enterprises like Contanna,” said Edson Mpyisi, the bank’s chief financial economist and ENABLE Youth coordinator.

AgriPitch organisers selected 25 semi-finalists, 68% of them women-owned or led businesses, to attend a two-week business development virtual boot camp. The bootcamp culminated in a pitch session to judges, who chose nine agripreneurs to advance to the finals.

Contanna and the two-dozen other competition finalists will retain access to the AgriPitch “deal room” to avail of post-competition digital expertise, business development, and investor engagement.

“We look forward to working closely with the entrepreneurs in the coming months through individual business advisory support and investor engagement in the deal room,” said Diana Gichaga, managing partner at Private Equity Support.

Fall says she’ll use part of the prize money to upgrade a digital payment system and for computers and digital skills training for Contanna employees, all women.

“We don’t eschew hiring men. The women were first to apply and were qualified. They currently log their work production and stock building in paper books. We are training them to build capacity to use Google Sheets [and other digital software],” she said.

The 2022 AgriPitch competition’s winners and runners-up included:

Early start-ups category: Etoduma SARL from Cote d’Ívoire received $25 000 as the winner. The first runner-up, Agrisiti from Maatalous Nasah in Nigeria, won $15 000. 

Women-owned or -led category: This category was won by Adja Sembene Fall’s Contanna company. The first runner-up was Legendary Foods in Ghana who walked away with $15 000.

Mature start-ups category: The winner was Minagro Group from Togo who won $40 000. The first runner-up was Faso Elevage from Burkina Faso who received $20 000.

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