Viviane Assogba Tsogbaley, de Genial Wok: “It demands more than passion, training and support are also necessary”

Monday, 26 March 2018 14:52
Viviane Assogba Tsogbaley, de Genial Wok: “It demands more than passion, training and support are also necessary”

Hailed  by Ocean News as one of the five leading Togolese women-entrepreneurs, Viviane Assogba Tsogbaley has been heading for three years now Génial Wok, a business that specializes in vegan and vegetarian food, and makes natural fruit cocktails. In this interview, she relates with passion how the adventure had been for her over the past three years.

Togo First : You have been the head of GENIAL WOK for three years. Why did you decide to enter the agribusiness sector?

Viviane Assogba Tsogbaley (V.A.T): I had been passionate about agribusiness since my last year of Junior High. When I came to the university, I would provide my services to my friends, making cakes and other pastries for their parties. However, I thought of starting a business when I started working at SYL CONSULT. There, I was working under the National Agency for Employment (ANPE in French) and was responsible for amending young entrepreneurs’ projects. These young individuals were later funded and became business owners. It was then that I wondered ‘why should I keep writing job application letters?’

It was at that time that I started making juices at home. My initial goal was to open my own restaurant but to have enough customers, I had to begin by making juices. Next, the Organization for Food and Local Development (OADEL) took some samples of my products and liked them. It then ordered hundred bottles which were sold in their BOBAR shop that promotes Togolese products, agro-food products that is. Looking at the positive return our products got from customers, they decided to help us meet standards related to agro-food.

We benefited from their support for a year, from February 2016 to February 2017. We were trained in business management, taught to respect standards in place in the agribusiness sector such as the HACCP. After this, OADEL staff came to take samples of our products, again, and assessed them. Since the tests were satisfying, we officially launched our products.

T.F : So would you say that was the starting point of GENIAL WOK ?

V.A.T : Yes, indeed. We also got support to manufacture stickers where barcodes meeting standards are displayed. We decided to focus on these products and perfect them because they are good for health. There are lots of young people that currently suffer from diabetes, high-blood pressure, etc. At Genial Wok, we give particular attention to health and that is why we started selling vegan food. Regarding our cocktails, we have six flavours (pineapple-grapefruit, pineapple-banana-melon, pineapple-melon-passion fruit, pineapple-sugar beet-orange, tamarind). In fact, in one of our brochures, we described the positive impacts derived from consuming our products daily. Humans need an average of five fruits and some vegetables every day. One of our juices equates about two to three fruits, thus nearly half of the energy value recommended daily.

T F : Besides OADEL, did you get any other entity’s support? If yes, how did these contribute to your development?

V.A.T: Yes, besides OADEL, we were also supported by INNOV’UP, an incubator of startups, headed by women especially, for a year. It helped us better manage our business. Our incubation period ended in November 2017 which is why we officially launched on December 8, at INNOV’UP Centre. This was in the presence of Mrs. Assilevi (head of PNUD), ANPE’s Managing Director, Mrs. Leguédé (FEFA’s President). At the moment, OADEL is still helping us secure a license to export our products.

T.F : In terms of funding, how did you handle things ?

V.A.T : We were trained by the Support Programme for Grassroot Development (PRADEB) to secure funding but it yielded no result. We also submitted an application to FAIEJ, but have obtained no response yet. So far, we operate with our own funds.

T.F : You took a course in communication and marketing. So, how were you able to secure for yourself a spot in the nutrition and agro-food sector?

V.A.T: It’s true, I had the passion and my husband is a nutritionist. This helped me greatly as I had personally taken a course in marketing-communication. He helped us with the dosing before we launched. You would notice that it has been three years since we launched our activities but it is only recently that we started offering all flavours we had in stock. This is because they were being tested and we can firmly attest now that our products are good for health. They contain no added colouring, preservatives, or sugar.

T.F : You said your products were well received by customers so that brings us to ask at what pace you manufacture?

V.A.T: Presently, we produce 2000-2500 bottles per month, and soon, with FAIEJ’s support (hopefully), we could reach 5000 bottles. Some of our seniors who have been operating in the same segment the past six years and more (up to eight for some) actually produce 10,000 bottles. I believe that if we are able to reach 5000 bottles in less than three years, we will last long.

T.F : Do you eye foreign markets ?

V.A.T:  Yes, we do. Last year, we took part in the Forum for Young African Entrepreneurs and Business Owners (FOJECA) which regroups young entrepreneurs from West Africa. We were sent by INNOV-UP to Burkina Faso. Visitors were much interested in our products. Today, we have some partners in Switzerland and are in talks with them to determine how to export to this country. There is also another potential partner interested in importing them to France.

T.F : You were recently nominated among the five women-entrepreneurs making Togo proud by Ocean News ; how do you feel about this ?

V.A.T : When I came across this publication, I thought to myself that I should persevere because it was not easy, especially since we progressed with our funds. I am proud today to be an example for young people desiring to start a business also. However, it demands more than passion, training and support are also necessary.

T.F: What could you say to your young brothers and sisters who also wish to become entrepreneurs?

V.A.T : My advice to my young brothers and sisters is that it is good for one to work for himself. At first, it might not be profitable, but it is important not to focus on money. The most important thing rather is to realize that we are an example for others, it is to know that we can positively impact our society, to know that we create opportunities for others who will follow our steps and that our lives will not be vain.

Interview by Tajudeen Waliyullah

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