Mmachukwu Omonode is a prolific writer, child nutrition advisor, baby food entrepreneur, child-care blogger and an aspiring health promotion specialist who works directly with parents to help them improve their children’s health, through nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
Her company, Mahauty Health Solutions, is a social enterprise that caters to the promotion of the health of infants, young children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and girls of reproductive age in Africa.
Their first product line is Somma’s Yummies, a high-energy nutritious baby food brand, manufactured and packaged from local Nigerian staples – whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, roots, tubers, and legumes. These food products are 100% organic, free of preservatives, no added sugar, chemicals, colors or additives.
FROM HAVING AN IDEA TO STARTING YOUR BUSINESS, SHARE YOUR JOURNEY WITH US
The idea for a health promotion company started back before my university days which was why I enrolled into a medical science course at University of Benin College of Medicine. I didn’t stumble upon this career. I knew what I wanted at a very young age and I built the right foundation for it.
However, my product line Somma’s Yummies was born out of the need to feed my daughter Somma naturally with nutrient-dense cereals. I preach healthy living for children and I had to practice it.
I did exclusive breastfeeding for her. At 6 months, when she was supposed to start complementary feeding, I couldn’t find the kind of healthy meals I desired on the shelves of Nigerian market. I set out researching and experimenting. I was able to create several recipes that not only satisfied her stomach and appealed to her taste bud but met her daily nutrient requirements as well.
Over time, I realized other Nigerian parents desire such nutrient dense foods that are free of artificial additives for their children too. I decided to meet that need to give Nigerian babies access to healthy, nutritious, fun, tasty and affordable meals right from the very start.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WHAT YOU DO? THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER BUSINESSES YOU COULD HAVE EXPLORED, WHY THIS?
My passion is to see people look good, stay healthy and live longer. I managed a hospital laboratory for a while after school. It didn’t take me long to realize this passion cannot be fueled in the diagnostic aspect of medicine but in the preventive. The huge decline in the life expectancy of Nigerians became a serious cause of concern. Most diseases we diagnosed patients of were nutritionally preventable! I needed to do something. Good nutrition is the cornerstone for good health. I have sound knowledge in nutrition. That is a good way to come in. Then I thought, what better way can I make a larger impact if not from the childhood stage? That was it.
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU KNOW BEYOND ALL DOUBT THAT THIS IS GOING TO WORK?
When I started feeding Somma my daughter with my personally created recipes, people always commended her looks. Most mothers around wanted to feed their kids whatever it is I fed her. She looked good, never fell sick and was very smart and energetic – way beyond her age. Next thing I know, mothers began to buy up foods I stocked for her. Hahahaha… As the money kept increasing and I kept running out of stock for her foods, I knew this was it. Wow! I’m meeting needs. I’m giving values. I have a solution. And most importantly, I’ve got myself paying customers. Hahahahaha. I started producing more and demand kept exceeding supply….
HOW DID YOU RAISE THE CAPITAL TO START YOUR BUSINESS, ESPECIALLY WITH THE HIGH COST OF RUNNING BUSINESSES IN NIGERIA?
Hmmm. It wasn’t an easy one but God has always remained God for me. I started with personal savings but being that this business is capital intensive, my husband added some money as well. I did some other independent consultancy jobs. I had multiple streams of income as a backup.
HOW SOON DID YOU START MAKING PROFITS?
Profits started coming in after the second month, although it has many purposes to fulfill as it comes. Lol
BRILLIANT IDEAS DON’T ALWAYS MEAN GREAT SALES, HOW HAS IT BEEN MARKETING YOUR SERVICES?
We haven’t really done any marketing. I simply give babies access to high-energy nutritious meals. Then the mothers, after they’ve seen the results, tell other mothers. It goes on and on. Right now, demand still exceeds supply. But we are putting structures in place to tackle that for good.
AS A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER YOU CAN’T DO EVERYTHING, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE HIRING STAFF AND BUILDING YOUR TEAM?
The first thing I do when I employ anyone is training. My staff is trained to be hands on.I don’t settle for less. I have been a leader in my church, Christ Embassy a. k. a Believer’s Love world, for years and if there’s something that has built in me, it’s personnel management. We are taught to practice excellence.
YOUR GREATEST SKILL/STRENGTHS THAT HAVE BEEN PARTICULARLY BEEN OF HELP IN STARTING AND RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS?
I would say my foundation – my strong background in basic medical sciences. Running a Child Health and Nutrition company comes naturally for me. I don’t struggle to do it. I’m very creative and innovative. When creativity meets great knowledge, you get unusual innovation. This is the basics to me. Every other skill I have just falls in perfectly.
DID YOU HAVE TO GET A FORMAL TRAINING OR QUALIFICATION TO BE ABLE TO DO THIS?
Yes. I have specialized education, years of research and training in this field. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Biochemistry (of which Human Nutrition and medical physiology was a core course) from the prestigious College of Medicine, University of Benin. I have a Certificate in Child Nutrition, Diploma in Nutrition and an Advanced Diploma in Principles of Nutrition, all from a UK based institution.
I also received an intensive training on Infant and Young Child Feeding from UNICEF.
Like I said earlier, I didn’t stumble upon this career. I was prepared for it. Little wonder our products are very innovative.
YOU HAVE BEEN RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS FOR SOME TIME NOW, WHAT DO YOU KNOW NOW THAT YOU WISHED YOU HAD KNOWN BEFORE YOU STARTED?
That I didn’t have to wait to have all the needed capital before starting out. Hahahahaha. Despite all I saved and put in, it never seems to be enough.
ANY LIFE EXPERIENCE THAT HAS PARTICULARLY PREPARED YOU DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY FOR WHAT YOU DO NOW?
Yes. I did a lot of businesses while in the university. In fact, I owned one of the most sought after boutique opposite my school hostel then. I started the boutique with #5000 and was into fairly used clothes and was able to grow into importing clothes from Spain, US, and the UK, all on my own and at a very young age. I sold it out for a huge amount. You see, I know some business too. I’m not just all about child nutrition and health. Lol..
CHANGE CAN BRING OUT A PART OF US WE NEVER KNEW EXISTED, WHAT NEW THINGS HAVE YOU DISCOVERED ABOUT YOURSELF IN THE COURSE OF STARTING AND RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS?
My strength! I knew I had a lot of brains but never physical strength. My mom and older siblings use to say that all my power were stored in my brains. I could read and write for Africa but I couldn’t work to save my life. Lol. Look at me now. I work for days non-stop, multi-tasking, taking care of my home and my child and yet I don’t break down. It’s amazing! Unbelievable!
THE GREATEST BUSINESS ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED AND BY WHO?
Stop complaining about regulatory bodies and those things you need to do for product authenticity. Just find a way to do them and move on because you must do them to move on. That came from my husband’s friend and my brand strategist, Daniel Oratokhai. He has been a backbone.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE MOST ESSENTIAL SKILLS FOR WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS ESPECIALLY IN NIGERIA?
Innovation, resilience and sound financial management.