Getting access to important new markets and networks is key for women entrepreneurs who are building global brands in Africa and the Diaspora. So on the evening of 26 April, Lionesses of Africa in partnership with Standard Bank Wealth International, brought its high impact Start-up Night! Africa event to London. The event aimed to showcase a number of exciting women owned businesses and brands from across the African continent and from the Diaspora in London, that are ones to watch globally in 2018 and beyond.
Start-up Night! Africa in London took place on a beautiful Spring evening at the trendy Oxo2 venue in Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, London SE1 on the evening of Thursday 26 April. Lionesses of Africa selected 9 leading women entrepreneur brand builders from Africa and the Diaspora in London to pitch their businesses and brands and to showcase their world-class, beautifully crafted products on the night. Each entrepreneur was given 3 minutes to introduce their businesses to the audience of investors, retailers, startup eco-system supporters and the media, followed at the end by a networking session. The event aimed to excite the London market about a vanguard of talented and innovative women entrepreneur brand builders from the African continent and the Diaspora.
Speaking about the importance of the Start-up Night! Africa London event, Melanie Hawken, founder and ceo of Lionesses of Africa said: “The African continent has a wealth of exciting businesses and brands being created by passionate women entrepreneurs who want to extend the reach of their world class products into more global markets. But getting access to those markets can be a challenge. At Lionesses of Africa, we are creating powerful digital platforms, neworks and global events such as Start-up Night! Africa London, to provide that all important market access. These events aim to excite investors, retailers and other decision-makers in each city in the sheer depth of entrepreneurial talent that we have in Africa and the Diaspora. The women entrepreneurs we are showcasing in London are some of the most successful and innovative brand builders in their fields.”
The event kicked off with a welcome from Will Thorpe, CEO of Standard Bank Wealth International, who said: "Our decision to form a partnership with Lionesses of Africa was an easy one to make. Like Standard Bank, Lionesses of Africa values celebrating success, exchanging stories, connecting and networking, learning from like-minded people, and inspiring and mentoring the next generation of entrepreneurs."
"Start-Up Night! Africa aims to excite London's investors, retailers, buyers and other decision-makers as we showcase the depth of women's entrepreneurial brand-building talent we have in Africa."
The evening's programme started in earnest with a panel discussion, chaired by Lionesses of Africa founder and CEO, Melanie Hawken, addressing the challenges and opportunities for Africa’s women entrepreneurs to build sustainable and exciting global brands. The panel featured leading African women brand builders, including Margaret Hirsch, co-founder of Southern Africa’s largest home appliance retailer, Hirsch’s Homestores; Bernie de le Cuona, founder and ceo of global luxury fabric brand, de Le Cuona; and Brenda Wilkinson, co-founder of South Africa’s multi-award winning Rio Largo Olive Oil brand.
The main focus of the evening, the pitch sessions, then started in earnest. Showcasing their businesses and brands in the first pitch session were five high growth potential women entrepreneur brand builders from Uganda, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, featuring: Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, founder of Gorilla Conservation Coffee, a high impact coffee brand from Uganda; Kim Addison, co-founder of 57 Chocolate, an artisanal bean-to-bar chocolatier from Ghana; Adele Dejak, founder of Adele Dejak, a luxury jewellery and accessory designer from Kenya; Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, founder of AAKS, a multi award-winning luxury handbag designer from Ghana; and Swaady Martin, founder of Yswara, a luxury African tea brand from South Africa.
The second pitch session featured women entrepreneurs and brands showcased from the Diaspora in London, including: Mimi Shodeinde, founder of Miminat, a contemporary African inspired furniture brand; Eva Sonaike, founder of Eva Sonaike, a luxury African interior product brand; Afua Dabanka, founder of Monaa and Mo Saique, a handcrafted African inspired shoe and accessory brand; and Hazel Aggrey Orleans, founder of Eki Orleans, a luxury African printed silk design brand.
Following the formal presentations by each of the women entrepreneurs, there was a call to action to investors, retailers, entrepreneurial eco-system players and the media in the audience to meet with the women entrepreneur pitchers and talk business opportunities. The real business of the evening then got underway in the networking and brand showcase session. Attendees were given the opportunity to meet with each woman entrepreneur, to see and sample their products at first hand, and to get a better insight into what each business needs to grow to the next level.
"The Start-Up Night! Africa events form part of the Lionesses of Africa Access to Markets program which aims to connect Africa's women entrepreneurs through various initiatives to important local, regional and international markets."
The Start-Up Night! Africa event in London was also the perfect occasion for a unique collaboration amongst the women entrepreneurs being showcased on the night - a fashion photoshoot featuring all the creations and products on show from each of the women pitching their businesses. Coordinating a fashion shoot is always interesting, but it takes on a whole new dimension when you have ten brands to feature in the same photo session. This was the challenge at the Start-Up Night! Africa event, held at the Oxo Tower on London’s South Bank on the evening of 26 April. Taking up the challenge to coordinate models, photographers, stylists, and products for the shoot, was the wonderfully creative Hazel Aggrey-Orleans, founder of luxury fashion company Eki Orleans, one of the brands being photographed on the night. The brief was to capture the real spirit of collaboration between all the women entrepreneurs being showcased on the evening, in a series of photographs that would celebrate all the proudly African-inspired designs, products and brands on display. The featured silk designer gown worn by guest model Mona M Ali came from Hazel Aggrey-Orleans’ beautiful new Eki Orleans collection; bold jewellery pieces were provided by the uniquely creative Adele Dejak, whose brand of the same name is winning fans around the world; handbags were provided by Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, founder of luxury handwoven accessory brand AAKS; beautifully ornate, handcrafted shoes came from Afua Dabanka, co-founder of accessory brands Monaa and Mo Saique. Props for the shoot were provided by Eva Sonaike, founder of the luxury interior design brand of the same name; Kim Addison, founder of luxury handmade chocolate brand, 57 Chocolate; Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, co-founder of Gorilla Conservation Coffee; Mimi Shodeinde, founder of Miminat; Swaady Martin, founder of Yswara; and Brenda Wilkinson, co-founder of Rio Largo Olive Oil. The resulting photographs not only celebrate the incredible depth of creative talent on the African continent and the Diaspora, but also a wonderful collaborative spirit that exists amongst women entrepreneur global brand builders.
"It’s about getting the world talking about the incredible women entrepreneur brand builders on the African continent and the Diaspora"
Lionesses of Africa's Start-up Night! Africa event is part of an exciting Program to create Access to Markets for Africa’s high growth potential women entrepreneurs. Whilst, a lot of attention gets focused on access to funding, Lionesses of Africa founder and ceo, Melanie Hawken, believes access to markets is just as important. She says: "We see so many women in the Lioness Network who have created great products and brands, but struggle to access international markets. They’re not getting into the game of reaching these bigger markets, allowing them to expand and really take their businesses to the next level. The catalyst for launching events like Start-Up Night! Africa London, came about when I met with leading women's economic empowerment champion, Brigitte Zypries, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meeting in Africa last year. She was then Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, a key architect of Germany’s Pro-Africa strategy. She raised the idea of getting Africa’s women entrepreneurs with exciting digital business innovations across to Berlin, to get them in front of a powerful audience of investors, influencers and potential partners. And, this led to us collaborating on the first Start-up Night! Africa event, which took place in Berlin last year in October hosted by Brigitte Zypries and the Ministry of Economic Affairs & Energy. The event was a great success, which led to a second one in Berlin in March this year, and now we will be rolling them out in capital cities around the world. Events like Start-Up Night! Africa London create an opportunity to showcase the businesses of African women entrepreneurs directly to the world’s buyers, influencers, investors and potential collaborators. Now, that's impact!"
To find out more about Lionesses of Africa and the Start-Up Night! Africa events, go to http://www.lionessesofafrica.com/startup-night-africa/