Women leading climate resilience innovation in Africa: 4 tips for entrepreneurs and innovators

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we spoke to two inspiring women whose companies Catalyst Fund has invested in: Aisha Raheem, CEO & Founder of Farmz2U, and Claire van Enk, CEO & Founder of Farm to Feed. We learned more about what motivates them, the secrets behind their success, and the advice they’d give other entrepreneurs.

Here are their 4 tips for other entrepreneurs and innovators solving big problems.

Tip 1. Have a strong ‘why’

It isn’t easy being an entrepreneur, and having a deep understanding of why you’re working on the issue you’re focused on solving is critical to success.

“Have a very strong why because the dark days will come. Your ‘why’ will always help you stay centered, to remember that the sacrifices are worth it,” says Aisha.

According to Claire, entrepreneurs need pure conviction that the problem you’re solving is a huge one. In my case, the problem I am solving is a huge amount of food loss and greenhouse gas emissions. I feel strongly that there has to be a route to create change, because if we continue the way we are going I believe that climate change is not going to be solved. With the African population doubling by 2050, we have to transform the food system to serve everyone.”

Aisha reflected on what keeps her going, during tougher times, on “the mornings that [she wakes] up and [thinks] ‘why did I quit my city job? Why am I slaving away? Why don’t I look for something simpler and less stressful?’” She recalls building a connection with a particular customer, a farmer who was affected by the recent severe flooding in Nigeria. Because of Farmz2U’s product he was protected, and he still calls their team to discuss the impact it had on him. “The help I’ve given him [and his family] really matters,” says Aisha.

Tip 2. Understand your customers’ pain points and build to solve them

When you truly understand your customers' pain points and build a solution they need, you’ll be able to find product-market fit with less friction.

“Create a solution where you aren’t going to customers saying ‘buy my service’,” says Aisha. If you build a solution based on deep customer insights, then “those customers will come to you saying they need your product because it solves a pain point they have. Keep speaking to customers and understanding them, and build around those pain points.”

Claire also discussed the importance of this when marketing Farm to Feed’s odd-looking produce to customers, reflecting that “bringing the customers on board and making them a part of our journey is critical. We have to understand them, what makes them tick, and why they want this produce. Our customers are our partners so we need to understand and cater to their needs.”

Connecting your customers to your deeper mission (the ‘why’ in point 1) can also have big payoffs. “They are buying more than just vegetables from us, they’re buying transformation,” explains Claire. “I want them to buy from us so we can solve the problem of food loss and greenhouse gas emissions together. When I tell the story, most people are in. How do I make it easy for them to join us?”

Tip 3. Be selective about your investors

Both Aisha and Claire recommend finding investors who truly align with your mission and values as a company and owning the conversation with them.

“Don’t walk into rooms thinking ‘you’re doing me a favor’,” says Aisha. “This is a partnership. If an investor wants to be a part of our journey, we’ll discuss it. But I don’t think all checks are equal, some come with strings attached. Finding people that align with your values and the business’ values is fundamental.”

“I’m really passionate about finding investors that see the huge commercial opportunity and see the whole problem of food loss,” shares Claire. “Those two things are not mutually exclusive. I’m looking for those kinds of investors that see that these two things go hand in hand. They need to be innovative because we are the pioneers in this space, looking at carbon credits and building out the business model. They need to share our values and want to make a difference.”

Aisha has realized through her journey that it was important to partner with investors who care about more than cash. “Catalyst Fund has come in with a strategic partnership beyond cash, building with us and being in the trenches with us,” she shares.

Catalyst Fund is an investor that shares our values, a team where everyone wants to make a difference,” shares Claire. “Other than Catalyst Fund, I haven’t met anyone who thinks differently about what we’re doing, is testing ideas and working with us, and who wants to come up with innovative climate change solutions.”

Tip 4. Know that challenges come in seasons

When you’re an entrepreneur, the problems you’re needing to solve never end, but they do come in waves. Once you deal with one thing, another thing will pop up.

Aisha reflects on this by saying “challenges come in seasons. There was a time I thought money was the first important thing, until we got the money and we found other problems. We thought we needed to hire more people, we hired more people, we found other problems… Different seasons require different types of you.”

“Working towards milestones helps you deal with these constant changes. And knowing that when you’re going through the winter, you’re facing it together with your team,” shares Claire. “My team gives me energy, and I know we’re all on this ride together.”

Aisha agrees with this point, noting that “the biggest challenges center around people, so it’s critically important to have the right team with the right culture so you can get through it together.”

Agree? Disagree? Want to discuss something related (or not)? Get in touch!

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