Adja Sembene Fall, Senegalese “Agripreneur” and African Development Bank AgriPitch Competition winner says digital marketing key to luxury tea startup success
Senegalese businesswoman Adja Sembene Fall said she had no choice but to launch her start-up business online because her new Contanna fair-trade tea company only had $200 to its name.
“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. She says her line of luxury brand tea products is about more than taste. Fall says Contanna teas sell a “Senegalese experience” that promotes a women-owned, 100% locally sourced and processed product based on recipes infusing family and cultural traditions.
“Digitizing 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,” the 29-year-old added.
Contanna says its first year of operations, a focus on Instagram and its website drew $5,000 in online sales. As the online business grew, Fall said, Contanna hit $12,000 in sales and established a community of around 2,000 clients.
Contanna recently opened a pop-up stall at Dakar’s Sea Plaza shopping mall. In January 2022, it was named a winner of the African Development Bank’s AgriPitch Competition, which supports African youth agripreneurs by improving their business bankability and ensuring that they are “pitch ready” for potential investors.
The 2022 AgriPitch competition, which started last October, received nearly 750 complete entries from entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector – or “agripreneurs” – from 38 African countries. The judging panel comprised women- led enterprise support advisory firm, Private Equity Support; the Private Financing Advisory Network, a global network of climate and clean energy financing experts; and EldoHub, an education, innovation, and technology organization targeting youth and women.
The competition, which awarded $140,000 in prizes in 2023, is a key activity of the Bank’s ENABLE Youth Program.
“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 organizers selected 25 semi-finalists, 68% of them women-owned or led businesses, to attend a two-week business development virtual boot camp. The boot camp culminated in a pitch session to judges, who chose 9 agripreneurs to advance to the finals.
“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 women-owned business category.
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],” Fall said.
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.
Be on the lookout for the next rendition and call for applications for the next AgriPitch Competition – working to instill a culture of innovation, nurture agribusiness growth, create jobs and improve livelihoods among youth – scheduled for 2024.