Young minds invade Namibia Start-up festival

Quite a flock of young people converged at the pristine City of Windhoek yard to showcase their businesses at the Namibia Start-up festival held over the weekend which also saw an array of evocative presentations by various business sector players.

The Villager took time to salvage through various products on display as well as engage the young entrepreneurs on how they are faring in the current challenging business climate.

From dolls to candy, green-solutions and software to fabric, Namibia’s emergent generation of smart minds is adopting a hands-on approach to business by either unhooking themselves from former spaces of employment or running side businesses to make all ends meet.

As much as their products were uniquely different but what seems to tie them together is the burgeoning desire to dare be independent, as well as the ever present menacing challenges that comes with the structure of the competitive market space and hardships in accessing capital.

Their fledgling businesses have all the hallmarks of “starting-small” and the desire to take over spaces taken by imports most of which flood from South Africa.

Perhaps the most striking of these entrepreneurs was Taati & Friends Dolls, a company that manufactures “proudly Namibian dolls” and seeks to change perceptions and with-hold the “black-is-beautiful” mantra.

Founded by Onena Shivute, the company celebrates Namibia’s cultural diversity by reflecting this on the fabrics that adorn individual dolls, from the typical vibrant-colored Oshiwambo dress, to the beautiful Nama and Herero traditional dress and so forth.

“The idea behind Taati was to find a doll that our kids could relate to. A doll that’s as beautiful as they are. A doll that enforces the message that dark is beautiful, kinky Afro-hair is beautiful,” said Christie, who was standing in for the company.

She said an American funded incubator contest she attended saw them scooping a prize which propelled them into establishing the company two and a half years ago.

With a ready market in the diaspora, Taati & Friends Dolls exports outside Namibia.

 We caught up with AfroPrint’s Ndeshi Fikameni who goes around collecting fabric cut-offs from Afro-prints which she uses to make various colorful products from haversacks to fancy sweaters and fluffy wallets.

“I love fashion and colour,” she said showing her stuff, “It’s hard to get patterns like these in shops so I said you know what, let me provide these items and make them available to everyone who shares the same passion.  We have markets all over, from Germany and so forth.”

With a mothly revenue of N$ 60 000 and having sprung off the ground three months ago, Fikameni says the economic scourge has not caught up with her as yet.

Others have taken the bull by its horns and walked the steep by venturing into the candy business, manufacturing home-made marshmallows of diverse succulent flavours in neatly done packages.

“Our South African competitors have taken over the market already, so I am trying to penetrate something that’s already saturated and there are certain standards which I have not yet met which they have met for years but it is possible with more time,” said one Vitoria who was displaying her products as well.

The Namibia University of Science and Technology also showed up with a solar powered cooking gadget, still a prototype, to showcase how green energy can save the nation from exorbitant power costs.

Proudly Namibian leather products company, Bark Design, owned by Schalk Steenkamp, also came on board to showcase authentic classy products made by hand.

“All the leather is Namibian, we don’t import anything. I have got two Nama ladies and one Nama-Damara guy that helps with the stitching. At the moment we are pretty selling off Facebook and Instagram,” he said.

The reason they have resorted to doing everything by hand, Steenkamp explained, was to as much as possible retain the unique natural touch to their products as well as to avoid the “mass-producer tag”.

Meanwhile, the festival pooled in some prominent names from every facet of business, music, technology, comedy to the arts and ended on a high note.