By Kongnyui Becky
Finding a Place in Entrepreneurship through Food Transformation
The Founder of the Fotabe University of Cameroon, Dr. Fotabe Elmine built the University on a solid Entrepreneurship Foundation. Each year, freshmen are given the opportunity to form teams. These teams brainstorm ideas for businesses they wish to start and run and then receive seed capital from the founder to start and run these businesses. This seed capital provided is a 10,000XAF note. No wonder many are not surprised the exercise is called the founder’s banknote challenge.
The Rules of the Challenge
The rules of the challenge are strict. Participants are not allowed to add money to the banknote, neither are they allowed to accept external investments. The challenge requires them to start and grow a business with XAF10,000. The team that grows the biggest becomes the winner and then qualifies for seed capital to own and grow their business.
My Journey into Entrepreneurship
I am called Nkongyuy Becky, I studied the HND in Logistics and Transport Management at FUNIC from 2019 to 2021 and I think the Founders Banknote challenge is the best tradition at FUNIC. A long-standing tradition that dates back to the creation of the university in 2015. A tradition that helps every student acquire their first and often times only worthwhile entrepreneurship experience. But an experience with lifelong lessons to benefit from.
The founder’s banknote challenge was not just an intellectual exercise, it was a true test of our ability to apply course concepts learned in class. Market penetration, transport planning, logistics, and sales were made to appear easy during classroom discussions. We were excited about the initiative, thinking it would be a walk in the park.
My team had selected the transformation of pepper into pepper oil. We decided to call the product Bio pepper oil, to show that our product was organic and free from additives.
Our first true challenge was that we had just 10,000XAF from which we needed to purchase pepper for production, other production materials, bottles for packaging, and the branding of these bottles. At first, we felt like only a miracle would help us use just 10,000XAF to accomplish all this and more.
Reality began to set in at this point. We started seeing just how challenging the project will be. We naturally started holding meetings to brainstorm and come up with creative ideas to put this money to the best use. As you can see, early in my studies as a level one student, I had already begun to hold meetings to address important issues affecting our business.
We decided to order our pepper from markets out of Douala, learn how to design our marketing material ourselves, then negotiate to print branding and packaging materials below the cheapest market rates. These are lessons that just could not be thought in a classroom.
Amidst a stressful production session, we laughed scornfully, saying to ourselves, “Production is tough, but selling is the easy part”. We would just apply sales lessons taught in class like a magic formula and then a trail of money will run behind us.
We exhausted our banknote and only managed to produce about 20 bottles of pepper to be sold at XAF1,000 each. We were not worried. We just needed to sell all 20 bottles, make XAF20,000, and make a 100% profit. At this point, I had never sold and had no idea what it was going to look like. But I thought it would be easy.
The shock of my life came when I could not persuade people to buy our pepper oil. After all, sales were not as easy as I had imagined. I still remember hearing the giggly anguish of banknote supervisors in a meeting that addressed our low sales and lack of growth. As you can imagine, our project made it to the end with very poor results and so we failed to receive the seed capital to register our Bio Pepper Oil.
The Founders Banknote Challenge changed my life forever
This experience changed my perspective in life and I know for certain that I am a completely different person today than I was when I first started school at FUNIC. I started having a deeper appreciation for and understanding of the things teachers explained in class, I could easily relate them to realities, seeing how they made sense and how practical they were for businesses. The banknote challenge provided me an intellectual opportunity to think critically about how issues in my specialty affected business.
This was just the training I needed to prepare for the state-supervised HND exams. Exams that I did not only write and succeeded, but I ended up, for the first time in my life, becoming the best student of my year, scoring a GPA of 3.6. As you already know, these results came from real-world practice of concepts through the Founder’s Banknote Challenge.
My Journey After the HND
A month after my HND results were published, I worked as Logistics Manager for Bright Future Foundation. But because my passion for transforming pepper into pepper oil had been ignited by the founder’s banknote challenge, I returned to making pepper oil and selling it as my business. A business I do to this day.
FUNIC is more than just a school, it is made up of people, lecturers, instructors, and administrators whose skills have been tested by fire. People who are wide-eyed and are always looking for ways to make a positive impact on our world. The success I have achieved, the curiosity for knowledge, and the skills I have acquired, is something I know will remain with me for eternity. These things and the people I met at FUNIC, have truly transformed me.